May 19, 2020

What to look for when choosing an executive coach

Business leaders
executive coaching
Harvard MBA
business strategies
Bizclik Editor
1 min
What to look for when choosing an executive coach


These days, there’s a lot of money being spent on Executive Coaching. You might hear these statements when:

An executive underperforms – “Spend what it takes, get him a coach!”

Another executive leaves without having done a succession plan – “Maybe a coach can help her subordinate step up. We can’t sit idly by and watch performance fall!”

There’s a buy out – and the old ways of operating won’t work for the new shareholders.  “They want a professionally-run organization that will drive EBITDA – perhaps a coach can help with that.”

These are all logical and appropriate times to consider coaching.  But how do you find a coach that will be worth your investment?

There are certification programs for coaches – but nothing that’s generally agreed-upon as being the best credential.

I’d submit that the best people to coach executives are those who have been executives – not just psychologists or consultants. And you’ll want a coach who has a solid underpinning in all aspects of business – not a short track record of success in a limited role.

The best coaches are people who know the pressure of being responsible for a P&L, of hiring and firing, of engaging a team and getting them to do some of their best thinking and make their best effort, of communicating a vision and enrolling a team in pursuing it.

And the best coaches are people who have done all this successfully, and who can appreciate that other people may have a completely different leadership style, but also be able to create great results.

Above all, a good executive coach is a great listener who can help an executive see him- or herself more clearly. It’s someone who can point out the patterns of behavior that keep occurring, that seem to work against the executive growing, changing, and becoming more successful in creating the results sought.

Look for a coach who can listen without judging, and help the person coached by sharing the burden of their responsibilities, their frustration or their sense of overwhelm, and help them sort that out into something that feels easier to bear.

A great coach ought to have a point of view, and be able to keep up her or his end of the conversation. They ought to realize that some of the greatest value they can provide is simply getting an executive to admit what he or she wants – and then holding his or her feet to the fire to do the pieces of activity that lead up to the achievement of that desire.

But more than that, a coach ought to be a person who can like the person who’s being coached – who can appreciate what he or she has been through, and who can acknowledge his or her successes while encouraging movement and progress.

A great coach ought to work with the person coached to determine a set of goals, and the coach should have input to that process, identifying both short- and long-term goals that make sense, with benchmarks along the way so progress -- or lack of it -- is clear. 

And a great coach ought to be accountable – both to the person coached, and to the person who brought the coach into the organization.  Expect regular updates, and look for a coach who both cares deeply, and believes that the coach’s success depends heavily, if not completely, on the success of the person coached.


Lenann McGookey Gardner is a Harvard MBA and a seasoned executive in the consumer goods, telecommunications, banking and technology industries.  An international speaker, she is the author of Got Sales:  The Complete Guide to Today’s Proven Methods for Selling Services, which was nominated for the Axiom Business Book Award as the best sales book of the year. Profiled in Who’s Who in America every year since 2004, she serves as an executive coach to professionals around the world. Visit her websites: and

Share article

Jun 13, 2021

Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl

Kate Birch
5 min
Former CMO for IBM Americas Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl. Maria talks about her new role and her leadership style

Former Chief Marketing Officer for IBM Americas, and an IBM veteran of more than 25 years, Maria Bartolome Winans was recently named CMO for Kyndryl.

Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.

With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.

You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?

I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.

We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.

What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?

I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.

The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.

I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.

What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?

When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.

What does success look like to you?

I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.

What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?

I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.

Share article