Trouble managing? Hire a coach

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Delighted, the Frankfurt-based Mr. Osenegg said. But on one condition: that he could have an executive coach.

Although he knew he was a promising employee, he also recognized that at age 31 he was relatively untested. &quotSo I wanted someone who would help me gain management experience,&quot Mr. Osenegg says, &quotin an efficient manner.&quot

Now, this vice president is a self-assured people manager, and he recommends coaching to others. And thanks to people like him, the American phenomenon of executive coaching has begun to take off in Europe.

&quotThere is a fairly strong movement afoot within the European business community for more of a focus on interpersonal issues,&quot says Mr. Osenegg's Frankfurt-based coach, Roger Lehman.

Coaches offer individual, team and corporate coaching. They typically are brought in at a crucial juncture, when an executive is given a promotion or when a company is facing a merger, for example.

Their approaches vary but they aim to help people realize their full potential and lead them through the change process, which is difficult but achievable, the coaches say.

They talk about emotional intelligence and re-engineering or fine-tuning their clients' already considerable skills. They help modify unproductive behavior -- temper tantrums, high-handedness, bullying -- and will teach clients how to delegate, for example, or how to cultivate their bosses. And aid them in making their own business decisions -- even in developing corporate strategy.

&quotThe fundamental thing is to help the person identify and access new resources to use as a conduit to change,&quot says Francoise Kourilsky, a French coach.

They insist coaching isn't therapy, though many come from psychotherapy backgrounds, nor traditional consulting, though many have been consultants. They also say they aren't gurus, although they might occasionally sound like one.

&quotA guru gives his truth,&quot says Daniel Cohen, a Paris-based coach with a background in the effects of psychology on physical health. &quotA coach helps people give birth to their own truth.&quot

Once negatively viewed as a hush-hush shortcut for dealing with problem employees, coaching now is openly regarded as investing in folks with potential, they say. Some Europeans, however, still reject it as American-style psycho-nonsense.

Individual sessions are typically held biweekly, and are offered in lots of 10 or stretch over as much as a year. Some coaches offer telephone hotlines. Their fees run into thousands of euros, can be based on 10% of a salary, and are usually paid by the employer.

Ms. Kourilsky, a psychologist, will coach an individual over as few as three sessions to prepare them for a negotiation. Coaches agree that for teams, short - for example, two-day - sessions can reap immediate benefits. But follow-up is necessary to prevent members from backsliding. Paris-based Bernadette Babault, an institute-trained coach and McKinsey & Co. consultant, seeks mega-corporate coaching contracts of two years.

Some coaches use formalized tools, like game playing -- such as asking clients to estimate how many building blocks they can stack to determine whether they properly gauge their own capabilities. Sometimes they train them in body language.

Coaching isn't problem-free, of course.

It is neither regulated, nor standardized, although a variety of institutes have sprung up to train coaches in their preferred methods.

Some executives are more than happy to recommend coaching for others but refuse to recognize that they could use it themselves, Ms. Babault says. Or a team might play along, fully intending to revert to their original form when the boss moves on, she says. She finds individual coaching inefficient because when the coached individual returns to an unchanged environment he can get frustrated and leave.

Dr. Lehman, a psychoanalyst, describes how his service works:

First he meets the client to make sure they are open to the idea. Then they identify the issues, and how best to tackle them, Dr. Lehman says. He also talks to the client's boss and the people who report directly to the client.

Dr. Lehman agrees on a schedule with his &quotcoachee,&quot usually meeting in his or the client's office for 90-minute sessions twice a month, then at less frequent intervals for perhaps three months to six months, during which he gets periodic feedback from the client's colleagues. (A six-month consultation costs roughly $10,000.) It's all easier if the individual has things he wants to work on, he says.

Which Mr. Osenegg did.

Mr. Osenegg says Dr. Lehman helped develop his self-assurance by confirming that his own approaches to problems were sound taught him to look at conflicts from other employees' perspectives and showed him how to spend more time on managing than on procedural duties.

The only thing Mr. Osenegg didn't like was the slight unease he felt about the uncertainty of the coaching process, he says.

But he didn't feel embarrassed with his colleagues about being coached, he says. Because one of the things your coach helps you figure out is what you are going to say to everyone about . . . your coaching.

Ms. Timberlake is a special correspondent to careerjournaleurope.com. She is based in Paris.

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