Many of us associate a coach with ear-splitting whistles, rope burns and the occasional awkward moment in the locker room. But a coach in in the corporate world means advancement and development.  The importance of having a business strategy coach is expanding.  In most large companies and many smaller companies, executives are expected to have a trusted advisor for strategy, relationships, and communication.  It’s a way to reinvent or polish your leadership style and further your value within the company.  Top executives from across the country have attributed their success to having an advisor who observes their actions and provides honest feedback on their performance.

According to a July 2011 American Management Association survey, almost half of companies surveyed use coaching to prepare their employees for a promotion or new role. While half of those companies exclude their work to upper management, four of 10 make them available to anyone in the company.

Coaching’s three most common uses, according to the survey, include leadership development, remedial performance improvement, and optimizing strong contributors. Most coaches meet with executives in person or by phone, either every other week or once a month for about a year, though they increasingly are available for emergency consults.

In a Fortune article about coaching earlier this month, Indianapolis-based WellPoint makes coaches available to about one-fourth of senior leadership. A company liaison typically recommends a few coaches, and then the individual chooses the best match. The company views hiring a coach as an investment in people identified as very solid performers.

With a $200 per hour fee common among coaches, is it worth the money? According to the article, companies are still struggling with how to measure its effectiveness. Some use 360-degree-feedback before and after sessions to look for changes in behavior or relationships. Others rely on evaluations from both the subject and his superior.

The clash of high achieving personalities, and yes even egos, sometimes get in the way. It is not uncommon to work with one and then depart for another.

What do you think? How could a coach help you? Would you hire one to play devil’s advocate or help you develop in another way?