Life coaching: Target practice

29 Aug 2013 by BusinessTraveller
Sally Brown reveals how life coaching can help you overcome problems, make difficult decisions and achieve your ambitions Having a therapist is so 20th century. Nowadays, the key to self-betterment is in personal coaching. Two decades ago, a coach was someone in charge of a sports team – now you can hire one to help you get promoted, change career, cope with redundancy, give better presentations, motivate your employees or simply work out what you want from life by helping you to analyse your needs and goals. It’s a US$2 billion industry worldwide, and there are more than 24,000 personal, business, life and performance coaches registered with one accreditation body alone, the ICF (International Coaching Federation). “Coaching responds to the human need for answers,” says Tracy Sinclair, president of the UK ICF. Technological advances are also making it more accessible – you can now be coached via Skype or email wherever you are in the world. “A coach can act as an anchor for a traveller, and a safe and consistent sounding board for people who may not have regular contact with colleagues,” Sinclair says. People often hire a coach during times of transition – during the economic downturn, for example, many people facing redundancy had to find a way to deal with a change in direction. “It’s a good way of focusing on what shifts need to be made, what you want to achieve next, and what defines success and fulfilment for yourself,” says Katherine Tulpa, chief executive of the Association for Coaching (associationforcoaching.com). At the top end, it appeals to those “tipped to take over as CEO in a year’s time”, says former banker and entrepreneur-turned-business mentor David Carter. “They need to work on key skills that will instil confidence in their shareholders, board of directors, key employees and the press.” Carter mentored Simon Calver before he became chief executive of Mothercare. “For me, a mentor is an independent ear that can help you on two fronts – personal and business,” Calver says. “I spent quite a bit of my time in discussion with David thinking and recalibrating how I want the team chemistry to work, so I can enable and empower them to do what I need them to do, rather than manage them all.” Some coaches are purists, and see their role as facilitating your thinking process. Others, such as Carter, take a more active approach, providing guidance and information, and bringing in specific experts depending on what each individual client requires. “Some need speech writers; others may need a speech coach, [or] a specialised PR company to handle a new initiative,” Carter says. “Most often, it’s small tweaks rather than wholesale changes that are needed. When you’re on a journey, just a five-degree adjustment to your course will take you to a very different place.” Carter’s process starts with a three-day, one-on-one retreat, in which a client’s personal, professional, physical, mental, spiritual and emotional lives are put in the spotlight, and then a two- to five-year plan is formulated. He is available for ongoing support both via Skype and in person “A client had to make a big presentation to 200 people in Berlin last week – before the event we went over the key points of his message via Skype, and followed up with a text message afterwards,” he says. Coach or mentor? There is a big overlap between coaching and mentoring, although often a mentor is a more experienced colleague. By contrast, a business coach won’t profess to be an expert in your line of work but should be able to offer relevant strategies and techniques. “At senior executive level, what is required is commercial acumen – they don’t need to be experts in your area but do need to know how your business runs,” Tulpa says. “A coach needs to know how to navigate the landscape, and be aware of what’s happening in both the client’s organisation and their wider stakeholder groups.” A personal coach, meanwhile, will not necessarily have a business focus but will help you to look at what is and isn’t working in your life in general. A good one will be experienced in using several models and can apply a bespoke approach to each client. “There is greater uncertainty in life now, and it is harder to plan, so formulaic coaching no longer works,” Tulpa says. “The feedback we get from executives is that it is a chance to sit down and have time to think strategically about how their actions affect other people. It’s a safe environment to talk. “The three top themes that senior executives want to explore are how they can ensure success for themselves, their business and their team; how they can feel fulfilled and content; and how they can make a greater impact beyond business performance and results.” And unlike friends, family or colleagues, a coach offers you objectivity, Sinclair points out. The right fit Entrepreneur and author Richard Newton is using a coach while he repositions his business. “I’ve dipped in and out of coaching throughout my career,” he says. “It’s important a coach has an understanding of my business, but an in-depth knowledge isn’t necessary. The relationship between you is crucial – I once hired an excellent coach who came highly recommended but the chemistry wasn’t there. To be effective, it needs to be challenging, so it’s not always an easy experience to go through – it creates lots of things to do and think about.” Research from Ashridge Business School backs up Newton’s experience – the relationship between coach and client has been found to be the most important factor in determining the success of coaching. “Trust is very important – ask yourself if you could be truly honest with this person,” Tulpa says. “But a good coach must also be able to constructively challenge as well as support.” Doing your research is essential if you want to get the right fit, as techniques vary widely. Performance coach Paul McGee, creator of the SUMO (Shut Up and Move On) technique, uses a humorous, down-to-earth approach that works well with a wide cross-section of clients, from Manchester City football team to Marks and Spencer staff. “It’s about developing self-awareness, recognising the thinking styles and beliefs that are holding you back, and finding strategies to overcome them,” he says. It’s fine to approach a coach even if you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, Tulpa says. “Part of the process is sorting out vagueness and uncertainty. A coach is there to provide clarity and steer you through.” But what you should have is openness to change  – approach it with a closed mind and you’ll be wasting your money. What any type of coach is not – and ethically should not attempt to be – is a therapist. Emotional problems are best dealt with by a counsellor or psychotherapist registered with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). New trends While most coaching is done one-to-one, team coaching – with groups of five to ten people – is becoming more popular. Many companies are bringing coaching in-house, often attached to HR. Corporate buyers, meanwhile, are becoming more rigorous and demanding of the coaching they are bringing in, which is raising the bar in the industry. “We’re also seeing coaching become more commonplace outside the corporate sector, in areas such as teaching, the NHS and community organisations,” Sinclair says. Coaches typically charge upwards of £200 an hour, and the process can mean regular contact for at least three months, so it can be a big investment. But the experience is also an effective way to acquire your own coaching knowledge and skills, something that will be increasingly required of managers as Generation-Y (those who are currently aged between 18 and 35) comes to dominate the workforce, Tulpa suggests. “By 2025, 75 per cent of the workforce will be Gen-Y,” she says. “One thing we do know is that this generation is very receptive to coaching and motivated by personal development.”  

How to choose a coach

A word-of-mouth recommendation is a good starting point. The International Coaching Federation (coachfederation.org.uk) then advises asking the following:
  1. Accreditation Does the coach belong to a professional body such as the ICF or Association for Coaching? If they are not accredited, then what qualifications does the coach have?
  2. Experience Do they have a proven track record of working in your environment, and the testimonials and references to back this up?
  3. Method How will they work with you? How flexible are they in adapting what they are offering to what you feel you need?
  4. Ethics What professional code of conduct do they adhere to? Could you see a copy?

DIY Coaching

Coaching for Performance, by Sir John Whitmore (Nicholas Brealey, £15) Widely regarded as the Bible of coaching, this is an essential read for any manager who uses coaching skills. Whitmore believes you get the best out of any employee by building their own belief in their ability to perform better, while also raising their self-awareness and sense of responsibility. Sample sessions help to put the theory into context. Typical quote: “Coaching is not merely a technique to be wheeled out and rigidly applied in certain prescribed circumstances. It is a way of managing, a way of treating people, a way of thinking, a way of being.” What’s Stopping You? Why Smart People Don’t Always Reach Their Potential and How You Can, by Robert Kelsey (Capstone, £11) Former City banker Kelsey believes fear of failure holds many people back in both work and personal relationships. In this well-researched book, he explores why some of us become what he calls “High FFs” (fear of failures) and how to stop it sabotaging your success. Kelsey has a fluid, readable writing style and includes honest accounts of his own battle to overcome what he describes as a “debilitating fear of failure”. Typical quote: “You may avoid challenging but achievable tasks due to a fear of public humiliation while having no problem attempting near-impossible tasks because failure will be kindly judged (and they may mask your avoidance of achievable tasks).” Dream it, Do it, Live it – Nine Easy Steps to Making Things Happen for You, by Richard Newton (Capstone, £10) Former project manager and management consultant Newton has devised a nine-step workbook for achieving goals. It aims to act as a mentor, asking the right questions to help you turn a daydream into a workable business or change of career. The book is realistic about what it takes to get a dream off the ground, and the fact that it will inevitably involve initial failures and setbacks. Typical quote: “It is not until something goes wrong, and you find a way to solve [it], that you are really moving.” The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey (Simon and Schuster, £9.60) This best-selling book makes a convincing case for a win-win approach to business – Covey believes that success can come as a result of acting in line with your values, rather than despite them. Ultimately, this is an uplifting read that will particularly appeal to anyone who feels they’ve mislaid their sense of purpose. Typical quote: “It’s phenomenal what openness and communication can produce. The possibilities of truly significant gain, of significant improvement, are so real that it’s worth the risk such openness entails.” SUMO (Shut Up, Move On): The Straight Talking Guide to Succeeding in Life, by Paul McGee (Capstone, £11) McGee’s refreshingly amusing book is about developing awareness of the beliefs and thinking patterns that hold us back. He uses techniques based on cognitive behavioural and solution-focused therapy, with his own no-nonsense spin. Case histories and frank insights into McGee’s own set-backs work well. It’s the perfect self-help book for people who hate self-help books. Typical quote: “Sometimes it’s not new ideas people crave, it’s the inspiration to implement the ideas they have.” Breakthrough: Learn the Secrets of the World’s Leading Mentor and Become the Best You Can Be, by David C M Carter (Piatkus, £15) Carter charges upwards of £10k for his one-on-one mentoring service, but you can experience the same 20 insights he uses with his clients for the price of this book. His insights are all designed to produce breakthroughs in self-awareness. It’s a good book to dip in and out of, and there are lots of practical exercises to fill in that can be very revealing. Typical quote: “Whatever happens in your life, you need to stop and ask yourself a very simple question: What am I willing to take responsibility for in this situation?”
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