Leaders often ask me if there are times when they should be working with an internal coach versus an external coach. My answer is, it depends. Ultimately, what are they hoping to achieve as a result of their work with this person. As you look to engage the help of a coach to boost your own performance as a leader, consider the following:
Are you looking to smooth out a little wrinkle or are you in need of more intensive help? An inside coach, who usually resides in HR, can be a great resource when you are looking to make slight modifications in your leadership style. Most are easily accessible and are more than willing to spend a few minutes with you. However, if you are in need of more intensive support, then you will want to find an external coach who can dedicate the necessary time needed to help you make a major shift in how you present yourself as a leader.
Confidentiality. How likely are you to openly share your fears, challenges you may be experiencing and what’s really on your mind, with an internal resource? HR people are trained to keep confidence. However, they are human and that doesn’t mean that what you tell them won’t be taken into consideration when discussions are taking place on topics such as promotions and succession planning. An external coach may be the way to go if you have any concerns that what you tell someone internally may come back to haunt you.
Access. It may seem easier to access an internal coach than an external coach, as the internal coach is right down the hall. However, most likely this person has other responsibilities other than coaching, so he or she may not be all the accessible to you. And they most certainly won’t make themselves available after the office is officially closed. When I coach people, I offer them unlimited access to me via phone, email or Skype. I do my best to get back to them within 90 minutes. If your internal resource can offer you the same kind of access, then you certainly may want to consider this when selecting a coach.
Experience. Are you looking for a coach who has been in your situation or are you merely seeking a sounding board? Keep in mind that it’s one thing to take advice about jumping out of a plane from someone who attended a class on parachuting. It’s another to take that leap with someone who has made many jumps him or herself. Many internal coaches have received formal training from coaching programs. However, this does not mean they’ve ever been in the C-suite nor have they held a job that is similar to yours. The advantage of using an external coach, is that you can search for someone who has the exact experience you are looking for, as there are a number of great coaches to choose from.
As the business environment becomes more complex, there will be more demand for coaches. If your company is a strong proponent of internal coaches and you are not comfortable with this idea or if there aren’t enough internal people to go around, consider hiring your own coach. The investment you make in your future will most certainly pay off.