Business Impact of Executive and Leadership Coaching

Since coaching is still a relatively new profession, having been around only since the 1990s, there isn’t much in the way of data to back up coaching’s claim to effectiveness.  As a lawyer myself, particularly as a lawyer with some scientific training, that’s been troubling to me.  I know coaching works because I’ve worked with a coach and I know that impact that experience had on my life, my practice, and my career path.  But that’s pretty soft data.

So I was delighted to find two reports today: one that summarize the return on investment of leadership coaching at a professional service firm and one that summarizes the return on investment of executive coaching at a Fortune 500 firm.  The data from these summaries are impressive.

86% of leaders in the professional service firm rated leadership coaching as very effective; 95% are doing things differently as a result of coaching; and leaders noted significant impact in their leadership behavior, team-building, and staff development.  According to the study, the ROI from such coaching is 689%.

Among the executives coached, 60% noted a favorable impact on productivity and 53% cited increased employee satisfaction as a result of coaching.  The summary states that 60% of survey respondents identified specific financial benefits that resulted from their coaching, though details are not provided.  The study concludes that coaching provided a 529% ROI.

While these studies are open to question if only because the company that performed the studies also provides coaching services, the results strongly indicate that coaching is valuable in measurable and quantifiable ways.  That conclusion is backed up by a 2001 Fortune article that states, “Asked for a conservative estimate of the monetary payoff from the coaching they got, these managers described an average return of more than $100,000, or about six times what the coaching had cost their companies.” Executive Coaching — With Returns a CFO Could Love, Fortune, 2/19/01.

Because of my own experience, I’d believe in coaching even without data like this.  But it’s nice to see these reports that back up what I already know.

Studies show high rates of attorney depression, substance abuse, and suicide. What do practicing lawyers need to know?

I attended a seminar last week in Orlando entitled Practicing with Professionalism.  Michael Cohen, Executive Director of Florida Lawyers Assistance, presented the first session, entitled “Chemical Dependency/Stress.”  He opened with his own story of substance abuse and recovery — instant credibility, a spellbinding tale of breakdown and recovery.  I suspect that most of us who attend mandatory CLE presentations tend to zone out (especially at 8:30 AM on a beautiful Friday morning, as this program was), but the entire room stopped to listen to Mr. Cohen’s story and its lesson for us.

Mr. Cohen presented some startling statistics about attorney substance abuse, depression, and suicide rates.  I haven’t been able to track down links to the surveys he cited yet, but here are the figures he presented:

  • 15-18% of attorneys will have substance abuse problem vs. 10% of general population.
  • Over 1/3 of attorneys say they are dissatisfied and would choose another profession if they could.
  • Attorneys have the highest rates of depression and suicide of any profession.

He also cited a study of Canadian lawyers that showed suicide to be the third leading cause of death for attorneys, behind only cancer and heart disease.  Evan Schaeffer’s blog includes a fascinating March 2005 post on this subject, with a lively discussion in the comments.  And, last but not least, studies show that 51% of lawyers experience stress at higher levels than the “normal” population.

These studies — if valid — reveal a crisis point for practicing lawyers.  They indicate that the way many of us approach practice just isn’t working.  Perhaps the law attracts people who are intrinsically more susceptible to substance abuse or emotional issues because lawyers tend to be pessimists.  But I’m inclined to believe that lifestyle and the pressures of today’s practice has a lot to do with these findings.

I am certainly not suggesting that most lawyers are headed for depression, drug or alcohol addiction, or suicide.  But I do submit that many lawyers are stressed out.  And, more importantly, I suggest that there are enough pressures on lawyers, especially lawyers who are fairly new to the practice, that it’s critical to be aware of the danger signals for these disorders.

And what can a stressed lawyer do to relieve that stress?  I believe that there are certain “best practices” for life and for conducting a legal practice that can reduce stress.  They can increase productivity and efficiency.  These “best practices” can keep us attuned to our own values and the way we express those values in practice.  They provide guideposts that can help lawyers reach their goals — professional and personal.

Stay tuned.  The next entry will describe these “best practices” and why they’re so beneficial.

PLEASE NOTE: Depression, substance abuse, and any suicidal thoughts are best addressed with the help of counselors who are trained and certified. Coaching is not therapy, and those issues are not appropriate topics for a coaching relationship. If you need help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 Hours a day.  Please call them if you are in crisis.

What do I want for lawyers? And how does coaching help with that?

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday, and she asked why I’m coaching and what I want for lawyers.  Ok, actually, she asked if I want lawyers to leave the profession and seek happiness in some other field!  No, that isn’t what I want for lawers — unless, of course, that’s what some lawyer wants for him- or herself.  I also don’t want to turn lawyers into a group of navel-gazing serenity gurus who disengage from the struggle and basic needs of law.

What I want is for every lawyer to lead a life that works.  I want lawyers to win.  I believe that law is a wonderful field, full of possibilities and opportunities, and I believe that just about everyone who wants to practice can find a niche that’s suitable for them.  I believe everyone can win in their practice — and I don’t mean that in the litigation sense.  I mean to get the personal win, whatever that signifies for each person.

To win, we first have to define the game.  Do you want to make partner within the next 2 years?  Do you want to develop a $1M book of business?  Do you want to be home for dinner with your family every night, almost every night, three times a week?  Do you want to be the “go to” expert in your field?  If we want to win a game, the first key step is to know what game you’re playing and to know how we’ll be able to tell we’ve won.  That’s an exciting phase, because that’s where we get to dream big, to envision the practice and the life you want to lead, or to envision some smaller component that’s important to you and one that’s measurable.  Maybe you know right now what you want.  If not, if you’ve been working to keep moving forward on a path you didn’t consciously choose, then there’s a little extra work to do.  When you’re playing a game you decided to play, it feels right — even the hard times — and you know you’re heading in the right direction.

After you know what game you’re playing, it’s time to refine your skills and develop strategies for that game.  After all, if you’re the greatest 3-point shooter in history but your game is football, you need to be working on kicking that extra point, not on your 3-point skills.  You need to identify and develop the skills that will allow you to win your game.  You need a game plan and a practice routine.  And then, it’s time to play the game!

So what is it that I do?  I help people identify the game they want to play (not the game their spouse or a parent expects or the game everybody else was playing in law school), I help them develop the skills and strategies they’ll need to win the game, and then I encourage, push, and support them as they play their hearts out.  We’ll evaluate, we’ll see whether we need to adjust the strategy or get additional skills, and at the end of the game (a point we’ll define) we’ll celebrate their wins and learn from your losses.  And then it’s time to define the next game and go through the cycle again.

Emotion in practice

There’s an interesting article by Steven Keeva in the ABA Journal, entitled “What Tears May Tell: Sometimes It’s Beneficial to Show Emotions When Working With Clients,” the article’s thesis is that showing genuine emotion permits deep interpersonal connection and communication.  The article focuses on two stories: one of a lawyer who cried when recounting the case in which he made an enormous different in a client’s life, and another of a lawyer who cried when his client began talking about her child who had recently died in an accident.

We tend not to think of lawyers showing emotions.  Certainly it’s not appropriate to cry when we’re in a formal professional setting and representing clients.  (Or is it?  Is it ever appropriate to get choked up in court?  Does it play well, and does any concern about how it plays undermine the authenticity of the tears?  I would love to hear feedback on this — suffice it to say that my experience with patent litigation generally didn’t ever move me to tears even in private, so this is an area outside my realm of experience.)

But we do hear of stories — or perhaps see examples — of lawyers expressing anger or loathing.  I’ve been in depositions in which a lawyer I know and like has swiftly morphed from Ms. Affable into an inferno of rage based on a witness’s response to a question… Is that appropriate?  Since it’s sometimes difficult to tell from a cold transcript what emotion lay behind an exchange, is it risky?  I sometimes wonder whether fury is better accepted in the law because it’s a less vulnerable and more powerful emotion than sadness.  Whether it’s a “useful” emotion in practice may be another question altogether, however.

And, in the final analysis, does any of this matter?  Is it possible to be authentic and yet not to express emotions (or particular emotions) while playing the role of a professional?  I think the answer is twofold: first, that authenticity requires awareness of emotion and healthy release at an appropriate time, and second, that determination of an appropriate time may vary dramatically based on the lawyer, the client, and the circumstance.  I think trouble comes when we lose the perception of emotion and bury it deep within ourselves — or when a dam bursts and emotion comes flooding out without reserve.

When did you last feel emotion in practice?  When did you last feel an emotion other than anger (or frustration, annoyance, etc.) in practice?  If you can’t remember…. Perhaps it’s time to do some exploration.  Perhaps the pace of professional life has removed your awareness of emotion, perhaps you’re not deeply connected to what you’re doing, or perhaps your practice simply doesn’t give rise to deep emotion.   But query: since our clients are individuals or are business entities made up of individuals, won’t emotions come into play at some point in every representation?

More questions than answers in this one.  But, as usual, I think Keeva’s article makes excellent points that call for inquiry and self-assessment.

Perspective and options

It doesn’t hurt to take a hard look at yourself from time to time, and this should help get you started.

During a visit to the mental asylum, a visitor asked the Director what criterion defines whether or not a patient should be institutionalized.

“Well,” said the Director, “we fill up a bathtub, then we offer a
teaspoon, a teacup and a bucket to the patient and ask him or her to empty the bathtub.”

“Oh, I understand,” said the visitor. “A normal person would use the
bucket because it’s bigger than the spoon or the teacup.

“No.” said the Director, “A normal person would pull the plug. Do you want a bed near the window?”

So why, you might ask, is this joke featured on a legal (ish) blog?  Because as lawyers, we so often develop tunnel vision.  We may be creative when it comes to case work — ready to dream up new and inventive legal theories to help our clients achieve their goals.  But when it comes to our own lives, we often fall into a rut.  Of course I have to be at the office from early til late; that’s how it’s always been.  Of course I have to continue practicing a particular kind of law; that’s my specialty.  Of course I went to work at the biggest and best law firm in town; that’s the goal everybody worked for in law school.

And the truth is, there’s nothing wrong with any of those “ruts” unless they don’t fit.  If I hate practicing criminal defense work but I’ve been doing it for 10 years, the point of decision comes when I realize that I could switch to a different specialty that might be more within my area of interest, or one that better complements the personal life I want to lead.  Not to say that there are no costs involved in making a change, because there may well be enormous costs.  But the highest cost of all lies in failing to see the options.

If we feel stuck, without options, in an uncomfortable practice (or in a firm that isn’t a good fit, or in a relationship that doesn’t meet our needs, or anything along those lines), chances are good that we’ll fight for a little while but eventually give up the struggle, succumb to the familiar even if it’s uncomfortable.  But if we see options, the struggle may be more intense because we’re struggling with the situation as well as the options we’ve identified, but eventually we’ll have the ability to make a choice.  The choice may demand a huge investment from us, but we avoid the impotent sense of surrender.  Choice provides power.

Sometimes the answer is both as clear and as obscure as pulling the bathtub plug when presented with the options of a bucket, teacup, or a spoon to use to empty the tub.   Alternatives that may be obvious to someone standing outside the situation may be invisible to the person facing it.

What challenges are you facing?  What options do you have?  Can you identify all of the options (including those hidden in plain view) and the results of each?  That’s the moment of decision and the moment of power.