By Smurti Patel

How many times have you received unsolicited advice or heard, “Women need …” fill in the blank? Let’s add to that, “Women need to get a coach.”

Scepticism is high. Rightly so, when anyone can call themselves a coach and it feels near-impossible to differentiate between life coaches, mentor coaches, leadership coaches et al.

Actually, anyone interested in excelling and rising to their fullest potential MUST have a leadership coach.

A high quality one with the requisite skill set otherwise, as one of my bosses used to say, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!”

Due diligence is imperative before deciding to work with a coach and by the way, a high-powered executive with a lot to learn from might make an excellent mentor but they don’t necessarily have coaching skills!

The merits and results of working with a high quality leadership coach have been evident for a number of years and some of the most high profile business leaders have one.

Coaching engagements customised to a client’s needs are the most effective and yield the best results.

In my experience, women benefit greatly from two areas, in particular.

The first is influencing which I refer to as the master skill and because our professional growth is vastly dependent on our network, it is imperative that we learn how to influence others.

While women are often well skilled at maintaining and influencing their personal networks, they can fall short with their professional networks and it is a different skill set that is required for the latter.

The result is a series of missed opportunities ranging from profits to professional development leading to salary raises.

Whether you are starting out, in the C-suite, an entrepreneur or a professional, how rapidly you build relationships and the extent to which you influence your network, (inside and outside of the organisation), is critical to how quickly you can get things done.

In other words, performance. And high performance is a calling card that opens doors — fast.

A leadership coach can help you understand your network better and strategically map out how to influence it.

Additionally, you would be able to better understand your personal communication preference and style so influencing would stay authentic and natural.

A high quality coach will also hand-pick relevant resources from their own canon of materials to broaden your perspective, help build the skill set and most importantly, raise self-awareness.

The second area is conflict management and this is often where the greatest self-awareness work is done.

How often, in conflict, do we immediately blame the other person? It is extraordinarily difficult to take a neutral stand let alone examine our role in conflicts.

A leadership coach specialising in this area helps you understand your conflict profile and stance. What provokes? What is the history behind common triggers?

How can you manage yourself through conflicts and choose your response to others versus reacting?

A coach can help develop a skill set to manage difficult conversations that align with your values and even create a conflict philosophy.

How can you ask for what you want? How do you draw boundaries? Incidentally, it is a folly to think that conflict only means a blow out argument.

The most insidious kind is the slow, simmering, passive aggressive type that contributes to a toxic culture and paralyses organisations. Ignoring unhealthy conflict bleeds profits.

So, if we know that working with a leadership coach is transformative for professional growth why don’t more women work with one?

In my experience, I’ve watched how men will overwhelmingly prioritise their professional development and make the decision to do so almost instantaneously.

They will take the leap. The exceptions among women also do the same but largely, someone else decides for them as part of a strategic women’s initiative or perhaps it’s a visionary leader.

They won’t do it for themselves or ask for a coach.

A potential client engaged in conversations about working with me for two years.

In the same time frame, I completed an engagement with another client, a man, who practised his learning on the job, closed his gaps and got promoted with a hefty salary increase. She still calls to talk about an engagement on the same growth areas.

I give this example because I am left to wonder if the gender pay gap might narrow faster if women assumed a greater personal responsibility in taking charge of their own development.

Simply translated: invest in yourself and choose the best. You determine your worth.

Smruti is a seasoned leadership coach and facilitator specialising in conflict coaching. She has a career spanning corporate consulting and law. E-mail: [email protected].