CXO

Former CIO enjoys unexpected career turn into coaching

It doesn't pay the same to start, and it requires strong communication skills. Working as a career coach can be a satisfying career move, as one former CIO explains.


After 17 years as the president and CIO of his own technology integration firm, Glenn Schentag was itching to do something else. Exactly what that change would be, however, he wasn't sure.

"I was going through a period when I was almost feeling like it was time for me to get out of tech," Schentag recalled.

But rather than hightail it out of IT altogether, Schentag took a winding road on his quest for personal and career satisfaction. It began with the sale of his business in 1999, a deal that left him as the VP of IT for the acquiring company. But he left unhappy after only one year.

Schentag then took a 20-month hiatus from work, found a career coach, and did some soul-searching and personal development exercises. Ultimately, he decided to start his own executive coaching business.

Coaching requires specific skills
Executive coaches help CIOs and other highly placed managers improve interpersonal relationships that affect the work environment. Coaches can enhance leadership abilities or offer advice on career progress and work-life balance, among other issues.

Just like Schentag, many people step into the coaching profession during a period of career transition, according to Wendy Enelow, founder and executive director of the Career Masters Institute.

Few of these new coaches have the title CIO on their curricula vitae, however, making Schentag's career decision remarkable. The two main reasons CIOs and other IT execs don’t often turn to coaching is because it typically pays less, at least initially, and it requires strong communication skills.

“Tech people have a long history of not being great communicators," Schentag said. "If there's a broad sweeping generalization, it's that they talk down to people and that they're easily frustrated by end users." That's definitely not the archetypal disposition for a coach or life skills guide.

Yet, some attributes that made Schentag a good CIO also have helped make him a good coach, he said. CIOs must be active listeners, demonstrate sound decision-making abilities and, perhaps most importantly for the CIO-turned coach, serve as a trusted partner in drawing out problem-solving abilities, he said.

Some of these skills Schentag acquired during years of taking professional development training, such as at the Excellence Foundation's The Excellence Series. Other skills, he learned on the job while running his systems integration business. "Systems integrators have to listen to what people's needs are and combine resolutions that will solve their needs," he said.

Assess career needs first
Despite his seemingly natural ability, coaching was not the career path Schentag would have picked on his own. He arrived at it only after he completed a career assessment test and a career coach helped him identify his aptitude for human resources-type work—a prospect Schentag did not initially relish.

But by working with his coach, Schentag uncovered the reason he didn’t want to do ‘HR’ kind of stuff. He found that he lacked the confidence to probe deeper into the underlying reasons for employee dissatisfaction and motivational problems.

With that barrier out of the way, Schentag continued on his personal quest and underwent neuro feedback exercises, a form of mental fitness training. To round out his education, Schentag is in the process of getting certified under Erickson College's Professional Coaching Certificate Program, a 15-day series of classes offered at sites worldwide.

Erickson's program is one among several available to coach wannabes. Other providers include Results Coaching Systems, which offers face-to-face training or distance learning programs that can be completed in as little as three months, and the Executive Coach Academy, a 16-week distance learning program.

Coaching income not on par at first
Following his break from the daily grind, Schentag eased himself into his new role as executive/personal coach, starting part-time last year and supplementing his income with IT consulting opportunities. He's also running General Delivery Data Corp., a start-up ISP providing personal communications suites to clients.

Having a diversified source of income comes in handy, since full-time executive coaches don’t make a CIO’s typical salary, at least at the outset.

The vast majority of career coaches earn $30,000 to $65,000 annually, explained Enelow. But the salary can move up to the IT executive pay scale as coaches grab new clients and become well-known. And while a CIO’s salary is likely stagnant, executive coaches can develop lucrative long-term relationships as they become more established, earning as much as $20,000 to $30,000 for a three-to-five-year relationship, said Marta Driesslein, a senior consultant at RL Stevens & Associates Inc.

In Schentag's early coaching practice, he has been able to charge a sliding monthly fee based on three days of a client's salary. For example, a client with annual earnings of $100,000 might pay $1,200 to $1,500 a month for Schentag's services. Yet, not all clients agree to Schentag's fees structure; a client earning $2.2 million a year, for instance, recently asked to negotiate what initially would be a $14,000-a-month fee.

Career satisfaction can be strong
With six clients on his present roster, and each one committed to three or four months of coaching, Schentag's income has yet to equal or exceed that of a CIO. But that hasn’t deterred him. It's the excitement of helping others, not the money, that ultimately drives him, he said. And the executive coach often fills critical gaps in the work environment of highly-placed managers.

Take, for instance, the business executive with two teenagers who struggles to balance time between family and the pressing demands of running a corporation. Schentag offers the exec a place to blow off steam and test ideas, ultimately improving the executive's performance at work and at home.

Serving as a coach means "being an ear, being a friend, but most of all being supportive of what they're going through," Schentag said. "A lot of times executives don't have anyone to talk to. They don't have a lot of friends in the organization. They don't chat with peers in the same way as other workers in the lunch room because people's expectations of what a CEO should do are different."

Few downsides to the role
As far as downsides to his new career, Schentag said he’s found none because he doesn't work with clients who he thinks he can't help. At an initial meeting, Schentag ascertains whether or not there’s going to be a good, workable relationship to be had with the client. He noted that such quick assessment skills come with the territory of both a coach and a CIO.

And just because he's not coaching full-time isn’t a reflection on the financial viability of the career, he added. Rather, it's a reflection of where Schentag is with his coaching, he said. As he continues to wear multiple career hats, Schentag anticipates scaling up the coaching business in the next five years as word of mouth continues to spread about his services.

 

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