A Research Paper By David Elser, Executive Coach, UNITED STATES
In support of fulfilling all requirements to complete the Certified Professional Coach (CPC) certification from the International Coach Academy (ICA), I have selected my research paper to be an interview with Carolyn Cosco. She is a certified coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) with 5 years of experience as a professional coach and an extensive background in Talent Development with many leading organizations. During the conversation, we discussed her work experience, a typical day as a coach, and advice on becoming an executive coach.
Advice on Becoming an Executive Coach
David Elser: Good morning, Carolyn, how are you?
Carolyn Cosco: I’m great, thank you!
David Elser: First and foremost, I want to extend my appreciation for the opportunity to interview you today and learn more about your coaching journey. I am conducting this session as part of my requirements to earn my Certified Professional Coach (CPC) from International Coaching Academy (ICA). As previously discussed, my questions and your answers will be shared with others within ICA. Please tell me a little bit about your background.
Carolyn Cosco: Sure! The last 20 years I spent in Industrial-Organizational Psychology holding the positions of Senior Consultant, and most recently, Strategic Account Manager. My job in consulting was to implement large-scale selection or development solutions within assigned accounts. I moved into sales in about 2008, where I held several different roles, most notably as the Strategic Sales Exec for some of our largest accounts. Before working in I/O, I was leading the training function for Hills Department Stores where I was responsible for all the store management and training within their stores for several years. Before Hills, I worked for a company called Thrift Drug and I supported the training function as well as internal communications. Before my experience in Corporate America, I was an Opera Singer – I studied music and performance at Carnegie-Mellon University.
David Elser: We have known each other professionally for over 20 years, and I was unaware of your entire background and work history until now. I was not familiar with your extensive experience with multiple organizations. Thank you for sharing. What brought you into the coaching profession?
Carolyn Cosco: In the last three or four years, I was considering retirement and wanted to have something to retire to. I wanted something that would take my vast work experience and help other people so that they could achieve their goals within their organizations. As previously stated, I worked with and for numerous companies and learned a lot about different leadership styles, different organizations and how they operate, and different people and how they interacted and how they got results.
Interestingly, my coaching journey revealed the plank in my eye. I could have been more effective throughout my career if coaching had been an option back in the day. It could have helped me get through and navigate some of the more challenging things that happened. So that’s what brought me to coaching. Basically, not only to help myself but also to help others and help them see what I didn’t have the opportunity to see.
David Elser: I wholeheartedly agree. Historically, I sought out mentors and what I thought were coaches. Now that I have learned what “Pure Coaching” is and its value, I am excited about my future and for those, I will help evoke understanding around improving their job performance and satisfaction. That will be my coaching niche within and outside of FedEx. Would you kindly provide a summary of what your definition of coaching is as compared to mentoring?
Carolyn Cosco: They’re different. Mentoring provides advice, guidance, and suggestions. A coach believes that the person is whole, capable, and wise and that they have the answers within. The coach’s job is to get them to the root cause of what is getting in the way of the individual’s success, whether it be an emotion, perception, assumption, gremlin, value, etc. We do not tell people what they need to do, we nurture their self-awareness and capability.
David Elser: Great comparison, thank you. Through ICA I have learned a lot about the history of coaching, and it wasn’t around when we started our careers. When did you formally enter the coaching profession and where did you earn your certification?
Carolyn Cosco: In 2017 I took coaching training through an ACTP Program at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa. I have taken additional courses over the last four years, and I sat for and passed the ACC exam through the ICFon Dec 30, 2020.
David Elser: What is your coaching niche and what are the reasons it was selected?
Carolyn Cosco: Initially, my niche given my long history in industrial-organizational psychology, was going to be career coaching and that’s what I started to build a lot of my materials and focus my plans around. Having done outplacement and run an outplacement center for Hills when they were bought by Ames, I also have in-depth knowledge of what it takes to do an effective job search.
However, I have coach training and significant (over 20 years) of experience in Executive Assessment and Development, and honestly, the Leader and Executive Coaching have grown over the past year, and I am doubling down on my efforts there since there is a big need.
David Elser: Would you be willing to share your insights on your typical day as a coach, and information around marketing efforts, how you prepare for your client’s session, and how much time you work on your coaching business?
Carolyn Cosco: That’s a lot of different questions so I will break it down a bit.
A Typical Day as a Coach: I’d say there is no “typical”. It depends on what you want your practice to be – is it a full-time gig, or supplemental? Are you an internal coach, or an external providing a service to organizations or private clients? How many clients do you want to have? Are you an internal coach, and that’s all you do, or do you have a full-time position and just want to coach as part of that? As you can see, each one will have a very different “typical”, depending on the situation.
Marketing/Building the Business: All coaches have to promote what they do and communicate their value proposition. How you do that within a company versus on your own can change the amount of time you need to spend. Regardless, it’s a critical piece if you want to grow your program or practice. Some external coaches spend a good portion of their week networking, posting in places like LinkedIn, blogging, Vlogging, nurturing their websites or Facebook businesses. I have not done a lot of that because I am retired from my full-time job, and am not trying to build a huge business. Most of what I have gotten is through referrals, LinkedIn, networking, and others I have worked with in the past.
Internal coaches need to have marketing pieces that speak to the skepticism of their organizations. Your marketing may be on your intranet, through word of mouth, by reaching out to different leaders to discuss how your service can help them achieve their business goals and more. It’s a little easier if coaching is already offered within the company, and a process is already in place for getting the word out, but you have to market yourself – you value prop – to get people to know about you and how you specifically can help them. Also, have your Elevator pitch, or Personal Brand Statement, developed so when the opportunity presents itself, you can easily and succinctly share what you do and your value proposition.
Continuous Learning: Time is also allocated to continuous learning. I try to spend about 8+ hours per week reading, researching, locating articles, videos on YouTube, podcasts, etc – whatever I can find or provide a link to that will help my clients in their specific journeys.
Preparing for a Client: The research piece is part of it, but I also do not schedule people back-to-back. I use ½ hour prep per client to review notes from a previous session, assessments results, values, goals, successes, growing edges – anything that will be helpful to have top of mind when coaching that person.
One of the things I have all clients do after a session, is send me an email within 24-48 hours of a session asking them to recap 1) The learning they had from the session, 2) What their action(s) are, 3) How they will hold themselves accountable, 4) If there is something we discussed in the session that you want to explore more fully at a future session, and 5) The date/time of our next session.
Although I always ask what the main learning was for a client at the close of their session, so often when people do the email, they have had an additional insight or “aha’s” when reflecting, which can be very useful to them. Often this gives me an additional reason to reach out in between their sessions to see how it is going or to support a new aha or success.
I do not schedule the ½ hour after a session. I use that time to document additional support, follow-up, and research I want to do for the individual to help them in their success.
David Elser: Sounds like you have been having a fun retirement doing what you enjoy. When you take on new clients, what’s that vetting process look like to ensure that there is mutual chemistry with your client and that you are the right coach for him or her.
Carolyn Cosco: I always do a chemistry session and during that chemistry session I talk about what coaching is. When people think of a coach, they often have some pre-conceived notion of what they think it is, and what they want from you. Typically, they think you are a mentor or consultant who provides advice and counsel about how they can solve their problems. With career coaching, for example, they think I’m somebody who will craft their resume, help them network, tell them all the sites they should be on, link them up with recruiters, teach them how to do a job search, etc. I must be really clear with them that although I can help you write your resume that’s not what we’re here for. I explain what the coaching relationship is, and sometimes can provide ideas of people they can reach out to get some more help with their consulting/training/mentoring needs. While I “can do these things, they are part of a consulting engagement, not coaching.
My vetting also includes a discussion of the contract which includes a link to the ICF Code of Ethics and my pledge to uphold that; the confidentiality clause and the reasons that I should breach that according to the ICF; what coaching is and what it is not; how we will work together; terms of the contract, e.g.pricing, length of the contract, rescheduling/cancellation lead time, how we will meet (e.g. zoom/Microsoft teams, in person, by phone, etc.)I have a limited liability statement and a release of information statement that allows me to disclose basic info about them to the ICF for credentialing. I include a cautionary statement about using their work email or technology since those belong to the company, I others can see that, and if it makes sense, I will include a statement where they permit to record sessions to the credential.
In addition to contracting with the client, I have very clear guidelines for sponsors when working with Corporate clients, especially around what I will disclose to them, and what happens with no-shows/late cancellations if they become an issue.
David Elser: Thanks for providing that insight. What are your insights and pricing strategy?
Carolyn Cosco: Pricing strategy is depending on the situation. I have packages for people who contract directly that include pricing, length of service (3, 4, 6 months), how often we meet, etc. For Corporate Clients, I have a different structure/pricing to fit the situation. Often, they will want to negotiate that, but I don’t do less than a 3-month engagement.
I also do pro-bono and reciprocal coaching – those do not have cost, but they do have a contract.
David Elser: Thank you for sharing. Being in retirement and working part-time as a coach, what are your biggest challenges and joys around your coaching work?
Carolyn Cosco: I would say the biggest challenge is time and right now and not being able to do some of the things that I wanted to do when it comes to networking and so forth. Maybe that will change over the next year or so, come back and ask me these questions again and I’ll probably have a different answer.
Another challenge is the perception of coaching and what people expect. You have to be very clear about what it is and what it is not. With Executive Coaching, they want advice, suggestions, etc. They also can be resistant to “going deep” or dealing with emotions, gremlins, negative self-talk, etc. Helping them see the value is tough. This is where research comes in handy, and the ability to provide the information between sessions that they can review when time permits, is helpful. I always ask for permission to do this since I don’t want to inundate someone with unwelcome information. If they ask for advice on something, I will do a coaching “time-out” and discuss ideas and what I have seen others do in similar circumstances, but this is NOT a big part of the session.
The biggest joy is seeing someone succeed, and honestly, learning from my clients. To see them get that “aha” moment, overcome something that was holding them back, or truly achieve a goal is such a high for me. I love that part of the job. I also love what everyone brings to the table and how believing in them as a whole, capable, and wise brings out the best in people.
David Elser: That sounds exciting I think that’s one of the reasons why I have entered into the coaching space myself I just love watching people succeed and helping cultivate learning and growth to increase their likelihood for their success is rewarding.
My last question, what advice, do you have for me as a novice coach that will be working with officers and directors at FedEx Ground?
Carolyn Cosco: You need to allow yourself grace because growth comes over time, and growth comes with experience and growth comes with continuous learning. Dealing with executives in your organization can be a little challenging, because of the whole confidentiality thing. You have in-depth knowledge of the organization as a whole, which provides you credibility, but that can be a blessing and a curse. Distancing yourself from your specific feelings regarding people and situations will be difficult, and as much as you are equipped in many ways to provide advice or to consult, that is not coaching. It also makes you more focused on the problem and not the person. You’ll have to work harder at managing yourself and your own emotions.
David Elser: I greatly appreciate that sound advice. In conclusion, any final comments, advice, or a question you wish I have had asked?
Carolyn Cosco: I’d say there’s probably not much more to add other than enjoy the journey. Experiencing the goodness and great things that can happen for others is such a blessing, and the learning you get in the process is priceless.
David Elser: That is wonderful advice and a great way to look at it. Thank you for your time as I greatly appreciate the support.
Carolyn Cosco: You are welcome!
This conversation brought about many insights into the challenges I will face in the days ahead. Such as marketing my services as an internal executive coach at FedEx, understanding the importance of setting the expectations with the client, and marketing and pricing strategies if I take my services outside of my organization. The interview has left me inspired and motivated to continue my coaching journey and to always practice continuous learning on the subject.