Can coaching help college presidents to cope?

Some presidents are turning to coaching as a space to breathe, think, and reflect; here's what you need to know

“The greatest casualty of the job is time,” says Jose Bowen, Ph.D., president of Baltimore’s Goucher College and one of the presidents we spoke with in conjunction with the survey. “Coaching gives you that time.” Coaching is also essential to a growth mindset, he adds. It is a signal that the president is committed to learning on the job.

“It’s like adding a staff member,” says Thomas Minar, Ph.D., president of Franklin College in Indiana. “You’re literally increasing your capacity with someone who’s outside your organization. We often have situations that don’t seem very normal or circumstances that we think people in other kinds of organizations or settings aren’t seeing. A coach is someone who can validate what you’re going through.”

A few other findings that came out in the survey include:

Timing matters. Respondents felt the most critical time for coaching was during the onboarding period of the new role.

Trying it means liking it. Of those who experienced coaching, most said they were more enthusiastic about it after than before they had participated.

Institutional support is not a given. Fewer than half of those presidents surveyed suggested that their institution offered coaching for administrators.

Coaching still carries a stigma. Both Bowen and Minar note that there can be a stigma around the idea of coaching; staff or trustees may question why it’s needed.

What qualities does a good coach need?

Coaches need knowledge of leadership, business strategy, and operations, and should possess relevant coaching experience and qualifications (such as through the International Coach Federation). A background in higher education can help but, in some cases, could impede a coach’s impartiality. A coach brings real value by providing a neutral lens as well as an objective platform for sustainable behavior change, which can happen with or without significant higher-ed experience.

A coach will not put herself or himself in the president’s shoes. After all, being a college president is something only a few select individuals understand. “There’s not a president who doesn’t feel a certain loneliness,” says Minar. “Talking to yourself gets old, so having the opportunity to expand your internal audience is a great thing.”

How to find a coach

It is hard to find college-president coaches through a Google search. Here are some suggestions to get started:

Look to organizations like executive search and management consulting firms that specialize in university and college leadership; they often have consultants with ample experience.

Explore coach-accrediting organizations such as the International Coaching Federation or the Association for Coaching. These will be comprised of mostly corporate coaches but there will be some overlap with the education sector.

Peer referrals are a great source of finding a coach, so talk to presidents or administrators you know. It just takes one good name.

eSchool Media Contributors

"(Required)" indicates required fields