When New, Get a Coach

by Torch Lytle

Executive coaching has become an industry, and the reason is suggested by the stories I’ve been telling and by the job-turnover statistics for superintendents and principals.

The challenges and complexities of the job can be overwhelming. Just because you are now at the top, people don’t necessarily want to be candid with you, especially if their feedback could be considered critical.

An executive coach is like a personal counselor, someone you can trust who is not an employee of your organization. In my experience with coaches, I’ve used them for one-on-one sessions to think through a challenge or to observe me running a meeting. I’ve also used coaches to scout the opposition — to learn about resistance and concern among employees facing organizational change. Their job is to be straight with me, regardless, to tell me the brutal facts.

Having a coach shouldn’t be considered a sign of weakness or uncertainty, but rather an indication that you are committed to personal learning. (In negotiating your first contract with the school board, you may want to include a provision for an executive coach.)

In New York City, this practice has become institutionalized. The New York City Leadership Academy provides coaches for all principals who complete its training program. The coaches are paid by the academy, not the department of education, and get continuing training themselves from the academy.

— Torch Lytle

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