Name a highly successful athlete--he has a coach. What about that internationally recognized opera singer? She has a coach. Atul Gwande, a highly respected surgeon, just published an article in the New Yorker explaining his decision to hire a coach. Why do all these already successful professionals have coaches? Because you just can't do it alone.

I'm a business coach, and I have a business coach. Clients laugh when I tell them, and I believe it gives them pause, but it makes sense. I practice what I preach because I believe that in order to grow and develop my career, it's essential to invest in an advocate whose sole focus is to help me.

An effective coach will help you reach your goal by bringing years of expertise to benefit you. She can see the challenges, "break down performance into its critical individual components[1]" and then respectfully share with you what needs to happen to increase your success. This insight is critical. It's a combination of experience, compassion, humor and the ability to explain abstract ideas as well as tangible next steps. Your coach is also an accountability partner. Paying someone to coach you makes you want to do the "homework" and use your time most efficiently. She's also someone to laugh with and celebrate successes large and small.

The idea of investing in yourself by hiring someone to focus on your success can be exciting and scary. We're taught that once we leave school we're on our own and that asking for help can be seen as weak. In fact, asking for and accepting help is the sign of a great leader.

Most business coaches will say that "business is business," and this is true. But the creative executive experience is a layer on top of business that needs to have equal presence in the coaching relationship. It's important that your coach understands the challenges of being a creative person and a business leader simultaneously. The most effective creative executive business coach is someone who understands the corporate mentality, the creative experience and the business world equally.

Anyone can benefit from outside help, but there are specific times in ones career where a coach can be especially helpful:

  • You've just been promoted and feel overwhelmed about if you can meet expectations
  • You want to be promoted but senior management doesn't see you at that level
  • Your management style isn't working
  • Your review is less than stellar
  • You're doing well and don't want to leave, but not feeling satisfied anymore
  • Your career has reached a plateau and you don't know why it has stalled
  • You've been reporting to the same manager for an extended period of time and feel a new perspective would add to your professional development

Working with a coach can be done in person or by phone and weekly meetings ensure momentum and that the work builds upon the previous weeks work. In general a 12-week commitment to start with is smartest because the discovery work happens in the first 4 sessions, the development work happens in the next 4 and the implementation often happens in the last 4. Of course this is a general guideline and each phase happens throughout the relationship, but the deeper work takes time to evolve. And that deeper understanding is what drives true success and continues to pay off across time.

As a creative leader, you likely set aside or request budget for skills training for your staff. Don't forget to do the same for yourself. It's a different type of training, but equally important in career development. Invest in your success and the ROI will astound you. Joy, laughter and a satisfying work experience are yours for the asking.

[1] Atul Gawande