The Doerr Institute: Expanding the Market for Coaches

By Marshall Goldsmith

Ruth Reitmeier is the Assistant Director for Coaching at the Doerr Institute for New Leaders, which was recognized in 2019 as the top university leader development program by the Association of Leadership Educators.

Ruth oversees the hiring, training and managing of professional coaches who work directly with Rice students to increase their leadership capacity.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ruth to discuss her experience with leadership coaching at the collegiate level. “99 percent of the students that have been coached… say that coaching was valuable, that they feel more confident and equipped to lead, and a lot of students actually come back and ask, ‘Can I have some more of that?’”

Ruth is an ICF-certified coach and received her coach training at Rice University through the Doerr Institute. She has 20+ years of experience in developing leaders and she is passionate about helping people grow and flourish by maximizing their potential.

I hope you enjoy our interview!

Marshall: Ruth, you are a leader of what I consider to be the best coaching project I’ve ever seen at a university at the Doerr Institute. You’re working to develop new leaders, fantastic young people. You’re responsible for the training, hiring, and supervising, and you’re also a graduate of Rice. It’s my honor to talk to you. I’ve got a couple of questions for you. First, you offer coaching to every undergraduate student. Are there any other universities doing this?

Ruth: Actually, we offer coaching to every undergraduate and graduate student at Rice University now, and I’m not aware of any other institution in the country that does this.

Marshall: I think it’s fantastic because while other universities are doing a great job of education, you’re really developing people to be great leaders. My second question is, how did you decide to use coaches and how do you find these people?

Ruth: John Doerr, who is our benefactor, is a big believer in the power and the effectiveness of coaching. There’s a lot of industry research about the ROI of coaching, specifically leadership and executive coaching. We wanted to give Rice students the very highest quality of leader development. So, we hire executive quality professional coaches to work with them.

Marshall: Now I can tell you what my answer is going to be, but I’ll ask you first. Do you think college students at their young age can really benefit from getting coached this early in their lives?

Ruth: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that the earlier we introduce the idea of leadership in a young person’s career, the more opportunity they’re going to have to develop. There are some things that are just harder to learn later in life and we think that if leadership is a learned ability, then why would we wait until somebody is in their thirties or forties, mid-career, before we give them a leadership coach?

Marshall: Number one. I totally agree with you. And what are the biggest complaints that corporations have? I work with a lot of corporate CEOs with college degrees. It’s not that they’re stupid. They’re not technically competent. It’s that they really need to work on those leadership skills and interpersonal skills. So, I think you’re doing is great on so many dimensions.

How do your coaches feel about coaching students?

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Ruth: They love this work. I think that they arrive with a healthy degree of skepticism, wondering can if we really make a difference in a young person’s life when they’re not really working, and their careers haven’t launched yet. And they will report that they see more growth and development in one semester working with a college student than they’d see in two years with a corporate client. And it is because of that plasticity and that openness to learning and experimenting during the college years.

Marshall: Well, I got to spend some time with you today and meet several of the coaches. The stories that they told me were so touching. Not only are they doing something good for the students, it was very clear the students are doing something good for them.

Ruth: I think it’s very gratifying to work with college students. You see a lot of growth. You see a lot of change and a lot of gratitude. The students are genuinely grateful for the investment that these coaches are making in their lives and it’s common for coaches to get flowers and gifts and thank you notes. In fact, one student who graduated a year ago came back because she wanted to say the Doerr Institute was the most powerful influence during her college years.

Marshall: We’ve talked about the impact on the coaches. You all do a lot of measurement. What are the students saying about having a coach?

Ruth: They have a lot of wonderful things to say about being coached. Ninety-nine percent of the students who have been coached (and we have coached almost 2000 students to date) say that the coaching was valuable, they feel more confident and equipped to lead, and a lot of students ask for more. They ask for tune-up coaching. They ask if they can enroll in other programs that help them develop those coaching skills. It’s been very positive feedback all around.

Marshall: That’s wonderful. You know, I’m so honored to be here. I first want to say thank you for the great work you’re doing. I think you’re making a big, big positive difference in a lot of people’s lives. The difference that you can measure now, I think you can make an even bigger difference in the future. So, thank you so much!

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The Doerr Institute: Expanding the Market for Coaches