PERSONAL TRAINER: A colleague is acquiring an executive coach. This sounds very posh - should I have one?

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO)

The answer is yes. Executive coach is a rather posh term, I agree, but the concept of external mentoring or coaching for those in senior positions is an old and valued one. This is about acquiring the services of an external person for one-to-one sessions (which may last an hour or two) over regular intervals during the year.

What exactly do such people do? It is essentially about finding someone who has significant management and leadership experience to act as a sounding board. It is an opportunity for you to focus entirely on your issues and problems and to discuss how to resolve them. It is time out of the office where you are able to reflect on how you should handle your job with the prompting and assistance of someone who can assist your thinking process.

People might wonder how you can get someone who has no knowledge of the organisation or internal workings to coach you. Others argue that at very senior levels you should be competent and experienced enough to be able to sort things out yourself.

The problem is there are a range of issues that leaders in organisations find it difficult to discuss fully and openly with either trustees or with other staff, particularly staff reporting to you. The opportunity to have an in-depth exploration of a sensitive issue in a safe environment with someone there to assist and advise in the thinking process is invaluable.

I have had various mentors or coaches over the past decade. Indeed, I now have an "executive coach" (it must be executive because the office is in Harley Street). Executive coaching can come at a high price - a figure of £15,000 over a year would not be unheard of. ACEVO has been able to organise mentoring arrangements for many of its members from people such as management consultants who provide the service for free. You could look to colleagues in other organisations to provide a similar service.

In handling problems I have come up with solutions that were better than I had thought of before the intervention of my coach. So go for it. Don't believe that you are too busy for this. Leadership positions can be lonely and you need people who can support you.

Paul Boateng MP recently quoted Rabbi Hillel: "If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?"

- Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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