Seeking out executive coaching can be a great move for ensuring your success as an IT leader. But you need to be prepared to do some difficult work, which can include dealing with negative feedback, engaging in serious introspection, and making changes to how you work and lead. And you need to approach the process with the correct mindset.\n\u201cAs my coach says, nobody\u2019s perfect and we are all works in progress,\u201d says Keyur Ajmera, vice president of corporate technology and security at iCIMS \u201cThe industry keeps changing, and learning should never stop. That\u2019s why you need humility and self-awareness\u201d throughout the coaching experience, he adds.\n[ Learn from your peers: Check out our State of the CIO 2021 report on the challenges and concerns of CIOs today. | Find out the 7 skills of successful digital leaders and the secrets of highly innovative CIOs. | Get weekly insights by signing up for our CIO Leader newsletter. ]\nAjmera\u2019s ultimate career goal is to be \u201can impactful and successful\u201d CIO at a top company but he found that his trajectory at a large investment bank was moving him farther away from core technology, which he feels today\u2019s top IT execs need to understand at a deep level. So he took a position at a smaller firm that allowed him to become familiar with cloud computing and other corporate tech, but still felt \u201cI was missing that finishing touch, someone who could help me develop those core characteristics\u201d of a successful CIO. To Ajmera, it\u2019s not about just achieving the title but doing the job as well as it can be done.\nAjmera has been fortunate to have an in-house mentor who connected him with the right external coach. His company also pays the coaching tab, which is not unusual. Ajmera has had around a dozen meetings with his coach, but is ready at this point to take a break to fully process the lessons he\u2019s learned and put them into practice \u2014 and then resume meeting with his coach once he feels he\u2019s in a position where he can learn more.\nAjmera says the coaching process has \u201cabsolutely been working,\u201d to help him figure out and sort through options and handle on-the-job issues.\nWhy you need an executive coach\n Keyur Ajmera\n\nKeyur Ajmera, vice president of corporate technology and security, iCIMS\n\n\nTo get the most out of working with an executive coach, it\u2019s vital to be prepared before you start. First, understand why you want or need a coach; it might be to help resolve a particular problem, such as establishing a good footing with a new CEO or revamping your leadership style. Another common reason for wanting a coach is to learn how to think and act like an executive after a lifetime of hands-on IT roles. Maybe it\u2019s a suggestion, or a mandate, from your boss.\nLarry Bonfante, an executive coach and founder of CIO Bench Coach in West Nyack, N.Y., says many of his clients have \u201cgotten out of the boiler room and into the boardroom.\u201d He works with them on marketing the value of IT, developing stakeholder relationships, and engaging with board-level people and learning how to speak their language.\nIt\u2019s about \u201clooking at things through the lens of a business executive as opposed to a technologist,\u201d he says. \u201cThere\u2019s a very different set of muscles and skills required to be successful in the C-suite and the boardroom.\u201d\nJoe Topinka, an executive coach with CIO Mentor based in Charlotte, N.C., also works with newly appointed CIOs who need to learn the executive ropes. Other clients are existing IT leaders in whom their executives see promise but who have some issues to overcome before they can join the boardroom. \u201cThey just need to get back on track,\u201d he says. In those cases he meets with the IT leader as well as with the executive team to learn how things work, or should, in that particular environment.\nAnother scenario, Topinka says, is that some of his clients \u201cjust want to be better.\u201d And in those situations he helps people answer the question: \u201cWhat does \u2018great\u2019 look like for you?\u201d\nFinding your coach\nCoaching comes in different flavors, so make sure you\u2019re looking for the right type of helper. \u201cThe term \u2018coach\u2019 doesn\u2019t really mean very much,\u201d says Kathryn Saxer, an executive and career coach based in Seattle. \u201cDefinitions are fluid, and tend to involve marketing terms,\u201d she says. One simple way of looking at it: Executive coaches \u201chelp you flourish where you\u2019re at, in your current role,\u201d while career coaching is about helping you figure out your next job or company, Saxer says.\nMany of her clients ping back and forth \u2014 after they\u2019re in a new position, they opt for executive coaching to be the best they can and make the most out of the job. When they\u2019re ready to move along, they return to Saxer for career coaching.\nSome executive coaches have deep expertise in IT. Topinka and Bonfante, for instance, both worked in tech for at least 35 years before pivoting to coaching, many of those years as CIOs, and so can rightfully sell themselves to IT leaders as \u201cbeen there, done that, have the T-shirt.\u201d Saxer\u2019s background is more in marketing, but she points out that \u201cmakes it easier\u201d to coach her CIO clients, because the technical details of their work are not a distraction. \u201cIf I\u2019m talking to a marketing person, I have to be really careful because they\u2019re not hiring me for my marketing expertise,\u201d she says.\n Bank of the West\n\nSree Balasubramanian, head of digitization, enterpriese and corporate technology, Bank of the West\n\n\nBe prepared for a vetting process. It\u2019s almost like seeking out a counselor, according to people on both sides of the equation. Although Ajmera hit pay dirt with the first coach he met \u2014 he says he \u201cknew within 10 minutes that this is a person who speaks my language, whose frequency is my frequency\u201d \u2014 other IT execs need a longer search.\nSree Balasubramanian, who heads up enterprise, corporate, and digitization technology for Bank of the West in San Ramon, Calif., interviewed six to 12 coaches before selecting one. He suggests you talk to at least three to five.\nBe open to the possibilities\nSometimes \u201cthe best coaches come to you by accident,\u201d says Anne Hungate, head of technology for global technology solutions at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C. The person who ultimately became her coach started out as a fractional CISO at her organization. After he stabilized the CISO role, Hungate retained him as her advisor.\n\u201cI really respected his experience and perspective,\u201d and they developed a strong partnership. \u201cI had to let go of my positional authority\u201d and be open to learning from someone who had previously reported to her, she says. \u201cI had to be humble enough to understand that he has skills and capacity and vision that I don\u2019t.\u201d\n RTI International\n\nAnne Hungate, head of technology for global technology solutions, RTI International\n\n\nHer message: If you have an open mind, you can learn from a wide range of people. One of her other coaches is a 26-year-old woman who advises her on \u201cperspective and language and helps me understand how the younger people on my team want to engage.\u201d This guidance is helpful in both Hungate\u2019s day job and for her role in Launch2Lead, an organization Hungate is creating that helps companies build gender-diverse pipelines for technology roles.\nAnother adviser, also engaged since she first met her primary coach, is a Black woman who helps Hungate understand \u201cher experiences and perspective.\u201d Hungate\u2019s employer, RTI International, conducts racial-justice research and does related work on behalf of governments, businesses, and other clients.\nMake sure you can connect with and trust your coach\nThe role of a coach is to listen, ask you insightful questions, provide you with relevant resources, and help you figure out your next move \u2014 all without judgment and with the perspective of an outsider who is primarily invested in you instead of your company. \u201cMy agenda is helping my clients accomplish their agenda,\u201d Bonfante says. To get there, you need to be completely honest with your coach and feel like you can trust them with pretty much anything.\nThis deep and trusting relationship will help when the message may hurt. Hungate\u2019s coach \u201cdoesn\u2019t always tell me what I want to hear,\u201d she says. \u201cBut this gives me a chance to make course corrections before I make mistakes on the job. Sometimes when you\u2019re an executive you need to keep your feelings to yourself, but now I never feel like I\u2019m alone.\u201d\nTips for making the most of an executive coach\nSome other tips from IT executives and coaches for a successful experience:\n\nDocument and track. \u201cRun this like a project,\u201d Bank of the West\u2019s Balasubramanian says. \u201cHave a clearly defined outcome, prepare before\u00a0you meet, and\u00a0end every meeting with\u00a0action items\u00a0for\u00a0the next meeting. Track your progress.\u201d\nDo your homework. Read the books, invest time in the exercises your coach gives you, and do whatever else they suggest. Remember you\u2019re a student in this situation, no matter how many years you have on the job or how senior your title.\nUnderstand your coach\u2019s philosophy. Some require you to engage in detailed prep work or a rigorous framework; others just want to talk with you to understand what you\u2019re dealing with and how they can help.\nKnow what you\u2019re paying for. Cost structures vary for executive coaching. Some coaches, including Bonfante, charge a flat fee of $5,000 to $6,000 per year for 12 monthly sessions; that can go up depending on whether the coach needs to meet with others in your firm to accomplish the work or if they conduct leadership seminars, for instance. Others such as Saxer charge an hourly rate \u2014 $450 in her case.\nConsider paying your own way. It may be worthwhile to pay the coach directly, even if your company ultimately reimburses you for the costs. This way the coach won\u2019t have any conflicts of interest, including \u201cside conversations with HR; is the company or the individual the client? It can get murky\u201d if the company pays, Saxer says.\nInform your colleagues. Let your peers, managers, and direct reports know that you\u2019re being coached, RTI\u2019s Hungate suggests, and that you\u2019ll be trying new things. \u201cPeople need to know that you\u2019re doing the work and that you\u2019d like their help,\u201d which can dramatically improve your relationships all around, she says.\n\nPerhaps most important to know going in: \u201cIt is the hardest work, because it\u2019s work on your perspective, your confidence, your approach, and your humility,\u201d Hungate says. \u201cUnderstand you\u2019re going to have to change, and change doesn\u2019t always feel good.\u201d\n\nMore on the CIO role today:\n\n Wanted: CIOs to master digital strategy at the vanguard of change \n How CIOs can last longer than 4.3 years \n The case against the 'business-minded CIO \n CIO resumes: 6 best practices and 4 strong examples \n New CIO? Your transition playbook in 10 (not-so-easy) steps \n How successful IT leaders take charge from day one \n CIO succession planning in the digital age \n CIO playbook: 10 tips for leading IT in the digital era \n How CIOs transform IT for the digital era \n From CIO to CEO: 8 tips for taking your career to the top \n State of the CIO, 2019: CIOs get strategic\n 7 reasons CIOs quit (or lose their jobs) \n 8 CIO archetypes: What kind of IT leader are you?