FEATURE – LIFE COACHING – For those in search of guidance

Diana Robinson from US-based company Choice Coach ( explains: “Coaching is far more broad than just dealing with career issues. Sometimes the client may start working with a coach about career issues but quickly finds that the true issues are more personal. They may relate to relationships, to communication, to self-presentation, to personal growth, or just getting more organised.”

The growing popularity of life coaching is partly, Robinson believes, due to the speed with which lifestyles are changing. “People are more likely to break through barriers and to be going in directions that older generations cannot begin to comprehend,” she says. People are beginning to understand that they are able to take control of their lives and exercise choices that were not available to previous generations. “They are more ready to believe that they have a right to a good quality of life, rather than just survival. How to survive the path is often quite clear. Seeking a rich quality of life may involve far more choices and more balancing between selfishness and service.”

Executive coaching

Life coaching is not just a mentoring service enjoyed by private individuals. It is also starting to find its way into the offices of large organisations. Trevor Waldock (, a professional coach as well as an accredited psychotherapist and counsellor, has provided executive coaching for companies such as Hewlett Packard, Conoco, Logica, Switch and Deutsche Bank.

According to Waldock the drive for staff retention has been a major motivator in the introduction of executive coaches to the workplace. “The war for talent is the subject in all corporate corridors” he says. But there are many other factors involved. “The huge amount of upheaval caused by mergers and acquisitions means that help is needed for senior people to make rapid changes and lead others through rapid changes,” he adds.

Much of his work has involved the coaching of senior executives. “You often find individuals at a very senior level who have fast tracked their way to the top are not very well developed in their interpersonal skills – especially in IT. I train managers to be effective coaches of their own staff.” Although executive coaching is seen in the context of the performance of the individual in the workplace, sometimes this performance can lead directly back to personal issues. “Leadership can be viewed on four levels; personal, inter-personal, managerial, and organisational,” explains Waldock. “And if you can’t lead your own life then how can you lead others?”

He sums up executive coaching as “leadership development in action”. The process is a very practical one and has real tangible results, he says. “Executive coaching is focused on action and results on real business issues, so there is a big pay off.” This is a major reason for the sudden growth of the coaching industry, he says. “Coaching directly relates to performance at work, and it directly relates to staff retention.”

Time to set a standard

The major coaching body is the International Coach Federation ( which has extremely high standards for accreditation. These standards include formal training, mentoring by an advanced and well qualified coach and at least 750 hours of coaching experience. These hours take a long time to achieve and because coaching is relatively new in the UK there are few coaches who are ICF accredited.

“Despite a doctorate and two Masters degrees in psychology, I am not yet accredited – the hours take a long time to accumulate,” says Robinson.

She acknowledges, however, that as coaching develops and grows, we will have a greater and greater need for credentials and training organisations. “The ICF endeavours to be sure that any training organisation approved by them has high standards but there is currently no way of knowing for certain how competent a coach might be outside of the training and accrediting requirements. This is why the ICF standards are extremely important.”

The main bodies for professional training in the UK are Coach University ( and the Coach Training Institute (

A happier workforce affects the bottom line

Happier, more personally fulfilled staff produce better results – that’s the assumption on which corporations work when they introduce coaching into the workplace. US-based coach Robinson points out: “I think that many corporations are realising that there is more to having a competent employee than being sure the job skills are there. An employee may have terrific job skills but alienate everyone around him/her, and so not be conducive to good job production.”

Carole Gaskell, founder of the Life Coaching company (, has been a professional coach for three years working for companies such as Nestle and Arcadia, as well as various media organisations and consultancies. In her view the reason that coaching is so effective is because of the continuity involved in the coaching process – unlike more traditional forms of training which tend to take place outside of the office for very short periods of time. “Life coaching is now seen as more effective than sending people on training programmes. Coaching is about implementing things on a regular basis. A coaching relationship generally lasts for about six months and I’m getting people to implement what they’re learning all the time.”

According to Gaskell, coaching is all about helping people to work to their full potential and often this means talking not just about careers but also about their personal lives. In this respect executive coaching and life coaching overlap. “I have a lot of male clients who come to coaching for a business reason but more often than not we also talk about personal issues. A lot of my clients are paid for by their companies and therefore feel that they should be talking about work issues, but it’s often personal stuff which is holding people back,” she says.

Gaskell’s approach is very practical. Each session results in a list of actions which must be implemented before the next session and slowly it becomes clearer how the client is being held back or made to feel unhappy in their career. “We create a safe space for people to say whatever they want to say, but we challenge them and spark them. Sometimes coaching can be quite confrontational if it is appropriate for a particular client,” she says.

Measuring the results of coaching in terms of a tangible financial gain is problematic. There is little doubt that the coaching process improves communication, team work and motivation levels within the workforce but the question is: does it have a direct effect on the bottom line? According to Gaskell, a really visible financial result is more likely to be achieved where there are several people being coached at once. About 18 months ago she started coaching five senior people in an organisation – each one individually. As the coaching progressed they became more positive and more responsive and the good feeling was passed down through the ranks of the company. Company growth speeded up and soon the next tier of management was ready for coaching. According to Gaskell, coaching had a huge effect on the company’s success. “A company can benefit from one person being coached but when it’s several people at once they spark each other off,” she says.

Who looks out for you?

There are many reasons for a company to enlist the help of an executive coach and in traditional industries like banking certain cultural changes over the past two decades have made things much more difficult for staff development.

Tim Green, CEO of Switch, enlisted the services of executive coach Waldock during a review of his management team. “I was conscious that the team spirit was not too good and I wanted him to examine how different members of the team were relating to each other and what their frustrations were.” As a result of the project Green has implemented a number of changes designed to improve communication. “We have more team briefings now and in many ways relationships have improved, but I am considering introducing one to one coaching in the future.”

According to Green, radical changes in banking culture over the past 20 years have had a negative effect on the working environment. During the ’80s he worked for the NatWest Bank in the personnel department. At that time the department was able to act almost like an outside agent.

“People who were unhappy in their departments could go to personnel for an interview and they would try to resolve the problem or transfer them to another department. I used to do those interviews, and I know that staff retention was a very high priority at that time,” Green explains.

He says the whole banking philosophy has changed since then. Personnel no longer provides this kind of service and over the years, the banking profession, like many other professions has lost its protective paternal ethos. “Now managers have very short term targets. They look ahead for this year and next year, and all they’re interested in is achieving their objectives and getting their bonus. There’s no personnel department looking out for you – you have to look after yourself, and that does nothing for internal staff relations,” he says.

The future

The sudden popularity of coaching can be accounted for in many ways, but the major factor appears to be the inability of the modern world to look after the individual. People are now less inclined to live within a supportive community, more inclined to have many jobs and many relationships in their life time. In this context people-management within corporations and personal career planning are both becoming more complex and increasingly beyond the capabilities of the average HR department.

Says Gaskell: “There’s a general acknowledgement that successful companies do well because they are experts in their chosen field, but that field is not people management. Now companies are seeing the results that coaching can yield – I think it’s here to stay.”

Openness is essential

Melvin Simpson, MD of new company Internet (developer of the Smartflash card), has been coached for two years by The Life Coaching Company and continues with regular coaching sessions. “At first I thought life coaching would help me business-wise, teaching me to focus better on strategy and personnel issues and get more organised,” he says. “But it turned out to be something much, much bigger than that.” Simpson believes that the process has made him into a much more rounded person. “Now I am able to take a step back from things and look at individual events or problems from the context of a whole balanced life.”

Simpson is keen to emphasise, however, that life coaching is very demanding and not everyone, in his view is capable of benefiting from the process.

“You have to have a huge amount of openness and be prepared to feel a little humiliated at times. You really have to look deeply within yourself and be open to your own weaknesses.” He says not everyone has the desire to find out what is really meaningful in their lives.

He is not surprised by the sudden popularity of life coaching. “I think that culturally we are moving into a time where we are trying to think of things that are broader and wider than the pressure of jobs and money. People thought that the technological age would give us more freedom, but it has done exactly the opposite,” he says.

Clearing the clutter

Howard Adams, an independent management consultant with seven years’ experience at Ernst & Young, enlisted the help of life coach Carole Gaskell. “I picked up some information at a lifestyle show at Olympia and knew straight away that I could benefit from life coaching,” says Adams.

The coaching process took place over a period of six months and involved a mixture of phone calls, one to one sessions and practical exercises guided by the Life Coaching Company’s course material. “The written material is the major part of it,” says Adams. “There are lots of exercises and tick lists to work through every day. It is predominantly a practical process in which you have to work hard on yourself.”

Slowly Adams began to gain some clarity about his personal values and his future direction. “Coaching helps you to clear the clutter and slowly you begin to formalise the values that drive you,” he says.

Coaching helped Adams make a major career decision but it also helped him to think differently about his priorities in life. “I have more balance in my life now and more methods of measuring my own success other than just money. I have raised the priority of other things in my life and realise that I can’t do everything.” He believes coaching is becoming increasingly popular as individual lives get more complex. “Coaching has probably always been around in some form,” he says, “but now we spend less and less time with the people we’d usually get this kind of conversation from.”

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