How IT pros can gear up for corporate leadership

Sheila Lam

A personal and structured experience

Despite a higher participation from the organization, an executive coaching program remains a personal experience between the coach and the individual.

"As a coach, I want to understand the person well as there could be hidden topics that hinder an individual from achieving his or her full potential," Willinge added. "Many personal issues will be shared, the confidentiality and the relationship are very important."

Willinge said coaching is best performed by external resources which bring experiences from across different industries and also allow the individual to feel comfortable sharing personal information.

A typical executive coaching engagement is a 12-month program with 10-12 monthly sections. In between sections there are self-observation exercises: the individual writes in a journal to record the learning experience and to review the outcome. Willinge noted the self-observation exercise is critical as it is a tool to ensure the coaching advice, which is designed specifically for the organization environment, is being applied.

"I'd say the most important part of this program is on-the-ground training," he said. "My philosophy is that in an executive coaching program, 70% is on-the-job exercises, 15% coaching and 15% education or training."

Willinge explained that unlike other off-site leadership development programing, executive coaching focuses on applying skills in real-world business scenarios and measuring achievements along the way. Both the individual and the sponsors review progress and refine targets throughout the program.

"We refine or adjust targets along the process," he said, "but we never lose sight of the end-goals."

Adoption among CIOs

Although executive coaching is gaining wider adoption, Willinge said it has yet to catch on with local IT executives.

"I focus on coaching senior executives like CEOs, CFOs and CMOs, but I've only coached one CIO so far and that person is in Australia," he said.

Willing pinpoints technical focus as a likely cause. Most senior executives at MNCs or large corporations take up different roles, ranging from finance, marketing and operations, as they move up the corporate ladder. CIOs tend to develop a technical career and are more likely to switch CIO jobs between different companies than different roles within a company.

Nevertheless, Willinge noted the job of a CIO, like any other C-level executives, is demanding and challenging. "Coaching is an important and liberating experience, because things that you don't realize about yourself and your career emerge," he said. "CIOs should be going through this program with the same intensity as other C-level peers."

Training for IT management

In addition to training for general senior executives from EMBA programs and customized engagement through executive coaching, there are also programs in Hong Kong that brings different value--an IT-oriented leadership development program.

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