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 coachA word-of-mouth recommendation is a good starting point. The International Coaching Federation (coachfederation.org.uk) then advises asking the following:
- 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?
- Experience Do they have a proven track record of working in your environment, and the testimonials and references to back this up?
- Method How will they work with you? How flexible are they in adapting what they are offering to what you feel you need?
- Ethics What professional code of conduct do they adhere to? Could you see a copy?