Some people seek coaching out of choice while others have coaching thrust upon them. But it appears that the results are still the same and there are generally few regrets. Gillian Bullock reports.
Coaching and/or mentoring in some ways has been around for centuries. But it’s only within the past 10 years in Australia that it has really been identified as an industry in its own right. Today its growth is rapid, both here and overseas.
In fact, according to Carole Sandberg, a certified coach with Results Coaching Systems, coaching is the second fastest growth industry after IT in the US.
But what is coaching? Michael Cavanagh, Deputy Director of the Coaching Psychology Unit at the University of Sydney puts forward this definition: “It is a collaborative, solution-focused, results-orientated, systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work/life performance, self-directed learning and personal growth of other individuals.”
Cavanagh goes on to say: “It is not a friendly chat and it is not a motivational pitch, but it is a dialogue between two people where the coach helps the other person discover where they want to go, and find effective ways to get there.”
Just like any new industry enjoying strong growth, many people have jumped on the bandwagon. Some are trained psychologists; others are people with business experience or may be former elite sportspeople. But some may have perilously little experience and just see the industry as a way to make a dollar.
Clearly you need to do your homework well when seeking a coach. You should check their credentials. For instance, they may be certified with the International Coaching Federation of Australasia (ICFA) which means they will have coached clients for a minimum of 250 hours and will subscribe to a set code of ethics and standard of conduct. However, there are a number of good coaches who do not have an affiliation with the ICFA but have been trained by another accredited body. Word of mouth is often one of the best recommendations.
While coaches may come from various backgrounds, there are basically three types: a business coach, a corporate/executive coach and a life coach. Sometimes coaches see themselves as mentors, too.
So what is the difference? A business coach collaborates with the managers and/or owners of small companies to ensure people work on their business rather than just in it.
In contrast, executive and life coaches work to develop individuals rather than businesses. Coaches may work one-on-one or with groups.
A life coach works in a more holistic fashion to help develop people’s personal and interpersonal skills and set in place strategies to achieve both career and life goals. In many ways the work of both executive coaches and life coaches can overlap.
Ross McLelland, Managing Director of management consultants Pacific Consulting, observes: “The difference between life and corporate coaching is blurred given you deal with work/life balance when you are coaching.”
So why do companies employ executive coaches and what are the benefits? According to Colin Pitson, who is a Director of executive coaching group Veritas Alliance, the benefits are many.
“Coaching provides a very significant return on investment through improved productivity and clearer communication,” says Pitson, who works chiefly with senior executives in government and the corporate sector. “Most clients also get increased benefits from other aspects of their life.”
St.George Bank has used some executive coaching but is planning to test and manage a more co-ordinated coaching process that complements their overall strategy on leadership development. External coaches will form a small part of the development push for a few individuals in addition to internal coaches. Colin Pitt, General Manager Corporate Performance Centre says the bank is ensuring that external coaches work within and are educated to the St.George culture and strategic objectives. Despite the use of coaches, he remains cautious.
“Organisations have found that there is a lot of hype, the results are arguable and it is one of the dearest development strategies that can go awfully wrong very quickly,” says Pitt. “That’s why we plan to control it very well.”
According to University of Sydney’s Cavanagh, an executive coach can cost anything from $200 to $600 or more an hour, depending on the level and type of coaching undertaken.
However, in a damning report in the Harvard Business Review (June 2002), Steve Berglas warns of the dangers of executive coaches. “I believe that in an alarming number of situations, executive coaches who lack rigorous psychological training do more harm than good,” says the doctor who spent 25 years in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
Cavanagh believes that Berglas overstates the position, but says that people should heed some of his warnings.
But despite this negativity, good executive and life coaching can pay dividends. One of the key basics of success is the willingness of the person being coached to accept change.
Pacific Consulting’s McLelland says that if you don’t want to change then you may prove uncoachable and the general consensus is that you need to see a coach for a minimum of three months, if not six or more.
“It is not a quick fix,” says Pitson, who has formal training in psychotherapy as well as psychology and brings to his coaching the experience of having been a CEO and professional engineer in an earlier career. This previous experience means he can act as a mentor as well as a coach.
“I think being a mentor and a coach is a powerful combination. Mentoring is about being able to draw on personal experience of executive life to help the person being coached, while coaching is a personal growth process of partnering with that person to maximise their full potential,” he says.
Diana Ryall, former CEO of Apple and now heading up Xplore – “the career resiliency program for professional women” – sees herself as a mentor.
“A mentor implies experience and information is brought to the table,” says Ryall. “Coaching to me is asking leading questions with a view to the solution being within the mentee. A coach may not have business experience.”
Ryall conducts group sessions with Xplore of career women as well as one-on-one mentoring sessions (see breakout above for some of Ryall’s clients). Her clients are a mixture of those who pay their own way and those whose company meets the costs.
Many life coaches work completely outside the corporate environment. These coaches endeavour to give direction to those who see their lives at a crossroad and want to take it to the next level.
Carole Sandberg says life coaches “look at the current reality and then work on the ‘what might be possible if . . . ‘ scenarios”.
She goes on to say that the reason coaching is so successful is that it is self-directed learning. “You are learning who you are.”
Gillian Bullock is a freelance financial journalist and a graduate of the London School of Economics.
- Does your coach have specific training in coaching? Where from? And what did it entail?
- Who are their previous clients and how satisfied were they with the coach’s work?
- Check their testimonials.
- At what level in organisations have they coached?
- Does the coach display an understanding and commitment to ethical practice?
- Does the coach articulate theories and models or do they simply have a proprietary process they implement?
- Does the coach’s skills match your specific needs?
- Are you ready to accept change?
- Are you prepared to take responsibility to undertake any agreed strategies and actions?
Learning to set new goals and objectives
Learning to pull back on her aggression when she was under stress led Rosemary Jackson, Manager of Member Implementation with Mastercard, to corporate coach Ross McLelland.
Three months coaching with McLelland of Pacific Consulting has taught Jackson different techniques to deal with confrontation. “I learned to distance myself, to stop and think and then constructively react,” says Jackson. “I have no regrets about being coached, it teaches you to be a lot more relaxed. But you have to be very honest with yourself and with your coach. If you don’t communicate openly enough, then you won’t benefit.”
Jane Huxley, Business Group Director, Information Worker and Client Group, Microsoft Australia, underwent one-on-one mentoring with Diana Ryall. Huxley’s boss Steve Vamos had recommended Ryall to Huxley at a time when she was given responsibility for two-thirds of Microsoft’s Australian revenue. “The fact that Steve suggested this gave me a sense that the organisation believes in me enough to invest in me,” says Huxley. “I would relate a story to Di and we would discuss how I reacted and then she’d relate an anecdote from her experience.” And from a monetary perspective, Ryall taught Huxley how to negotiate a salary package based on what she was worth. “This ability to negotiate meant I got immediate benefits!” quips Huxley.
Kylie Dwyer, Company Director of Cloud Nine Hair and Beauty, which employs 35 staff in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire, joined an Xplore group of 13 women because she was looking for a networking group of like-minded people. “I came from a sporting background, so I was self-motivated; I didn’t need one-on-one coaching. From Xplore I learned how to set goals and continually reassess them to make sure I am achieving them,” says Dwyer. She says another plus is the ideas she has gleaned from other members of the group, including developing her own product lines.