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Shape up Career with 'Coach'

Job insecurity feeds demand for New Age Mentors

by Ann Rovin, Denver Post

Career hit a snag? Downsizing cast you out? Don't worry: You can rent a mentor. They call themselves "coaches," and they're a new breed of career counselors multiplying nationwide, promising to help unblock barriers to success, and make you a happier, better person to boot. They'll shower you with lots of be-all-you-can-be encouragement and a liberal sprinkling of New Age MBA-speak. You may learn, for instance, that your rise to that vice president slot is blocked because you haven't "completed the past," learned how to be "in integrity" or "get your needs fully met."

What you need, coaches will likely say, Is more "focus" and some "homework" assignment. With job Insecurity rampant, there are plenty of clients willing to pay an average fee of $250 per month for four, 30-minute sessions. Face-to-face meetings are the exception, with "telecoaching" more usual. Some coaches even "cybercoach"-hand holding by e-mail.

To date, coaches are not licensed nor is their training accredited. But they do have a "university"-Coach U., a virtual institute of higher education where students sign up via the World Wide Web and take lessons by conference call. This looks like a backdoor approach to psychotherapy to some medical professionals.

Carol Goldberg, a New York clinical psychologist, who has served on ethics and standards boards for her profession, warns: "This is not a profession. Professionals are licensed and regulated. Without that a consumer could be harmed and have no recourse."

Goldberg is even more appalled that anyone would provide personal Information over the phone or email to an unlicensed person they have never met. "Would you walk up to a stranger on the street and tell them about your finances and personal issues?" she asked.

But Coach-U-trained practitioners say they regularly refer clients to therapists. In coach-talk, "a therapist helps a person get from dysfunctional to functional, a coach helps a person get from functional to exceptional."

Partners Mark Stormberg, 40, and Mark Potadle, 42, think four years of coaching by Denver's Lynn Mcintyre Coffey has set them on the path to the exceptional. Potadle says he learned that "a partnership is a lot like a marriage. You can get emotionally involved, and need to learn communication skills to make it work."

Coffey, 43, believes so strongly in the similarities that she likes to send business partners down to a form supply shop to pick up a prenuptial agreement. While Stormberg and Potadle balked at that request, Coffey keeps them busy with plenty of other homework. Completed assignment included taking employees to "destiny lunches" to discuss aspirations and testing the limits of their "comfort zones." "If they don't complete some assignments, no matter, at least it gets them thinking," Coffey said.

Since 1989, Potadle and Stormberg, have been building Tectonic Management Group, Inc., a architectural and construction management company in Denver specializing in airports. Besides shepherding them through major restructuring, both men credit Coffey with helping them understand how their "basic life assumptions" can impact business. "A lot of cut-and-dried business problems are affected by your underlying psychology," Stormberg said. "That can make or break your company." Like most coaches , Coffey believes what is happening outside of the workplace can affect your success.

"I have had clients come in wanting to sell their business, but what they really want to do is get a divorce, or the reverse," she said. "Hopefully, I am teaching them new skills, attitudes and habits, while coaching then to focus on what is important to then. "

Ron Murphy of Orlando, Fla., recently heard about coaching, surfed the Internet for a coach and selected Judy Sabah. a Denver-based author who's niche is to help clients gain public speaking skills and opportunities. Murphy, 49, manages a 10-person computer department. His problem: "We have so much technical jargon that technologists often have problems communicating with top management." Already articulate, Murphy is confident Sabah can coach him to communicate even better with non technologists. Moreover he is sure that he too can coach, having enrolled a month ago in Coach University. Back to top

With a taste of Coach U training and three sessions with Sabah, Murphy has already been following the Coach U edict to coach others as part of his own coach training. Murphy signed up two paying clients last week and has scheduled meetings to pitch his services to three more folks in the coming week. Coach U. is physically located in Salt Lake, at least, that's where its automated answering and fax systems plug in. At $2495 apiece, 350 students are enrolled in the core, two-year, 36 telecourses, which usually consist of four one-hour conference calls.

The Coaches Training Institute in Mill Valley, California, is the second-largest, coach training organization after Coach U. Like Coach U, CTI promotes telecoaching, but conducts training in old-fashioned seminars. Sabah, 54, expresses the frustration that is driving many business consultants to become coaches. "People would be with me for one or two visits, and many times nothing would change in their lives," Sabah recalled. "Coaching is longer term. In addition to conveying information, I learn what might be blocking them and work with that." Ellen Schulz, 42, of Littleton, another MBA-graced business consultant cum coach, practices her trade at Fortune 500 companies in the throes of downsizing. "There's so much workplace competition. People don't dare share their vulnerability." Schulz said. "Your manager may be the same person putting you on the cut list."

For example, one Schulz client, a sales person, is going through a tough quota year. "Her homework this week is to make 10 cold calls and call me as soon as she has completed them," Schulz said. "I told her, "I'll be jumping up and down when I get your call."

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