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'What Is Coaching REALLY?'

By Mark Chiperfield, Australian Financial Review, October 4, 2000

Create a Life You Love Newsletter, July 2002

Inside every successful business person is an even more ambitious one trying to get out. He or she just needs a little help. That's the theory of professional coaching for corporate players, a trend in its infancy in Australia but one that is attracting a great deal of attention and creating a new service industry.

Despite its New Age overtones, users prefer to see it as being as inevitable as elite athlete assistance, with discipline, focus, structure (and support) to help them survive.

In the United States, coaching has been likened to a "grassroots movement" sweeping through corporate life and threatening the traditional role of human resources professionals.

"Coaching really is the wild west of HR," according to Fortune magazine. "There is still not much consensus about what kind of business experience or academic pedigree qualifies someone to be a corporate coach."

Such comments have not dented the spectacular growth of coaching in the US. Business giants IBM, AT&T and Kodak have eagerly embraced coaching. Ernst & Young recently made coaching available for all its partners.

A Seattle-based coaching guru, Thomas J. Leonard, says he has made a healthy living helping dot-com moguls to consolidate their newfound wealth, and to segue into fully developed business Back to topprofessionals.

"All of a sudden you had all these people starting their own businesses or consulting practices. They were people leaving the [established] business environment and they'd never taken a course in Entrepreneurialism 101," he says. "They had no emotional problems; they didn't need to see a therapist. They wanted to brainstorm."

In Australia the trend is less developed, but some senior executives have embraced the idea. An ANZ spokesperson, for example, says "six to 10" of the bank's senior executives have personal coaches and that this type of support has been around for a number of years – either through an external coach or under the auspices of the company's HR department.

A recent survey of 34 major Australian companies found that Hyatt International and Ray White Real Estate were among the firms using coaches. The survey, by RightD&A, a business research firm, found that more than half the companies surveyed provided external personal coaching to help with career development, problem solving and career issues such as promotion. The companies surveyed were from the banking and finance, professional services, resources, telecommunications, food, Back to toptransport and manufacturing sectors.

The president of the newly formed International Coach Federation Australasia (ICFA), Christine McDougall, says the coaching industry has boomed over the past two years. Incorporated in April, the organisation already has 120 members, with about 10 joining every month. Most coaches have business experience. Some are refugees from corporate life, others have a background in therapy.

McDougall used to own a resort in Fiji. Apart from running her own business, Christine McDougall International, she is a co-director of The Elite Pty Ltd, which offers live training and telephone coaching via conference calls. She says demand is being fed by people who are ambitious not simply for money and status, but for a more successful and rounded life. Coaching is much more than a quick-fix motivational tool.

"If it's only bottom line-driven, then any benefits are only very short-term," she says. "What really inspires me the most is seeing people evolve and develop and finding their own path. None of my clients is motivated by greed. They are looking for the complete package – the money and the extra free time."

The Sidney Myer professor of commerce and business administration at the Melbourne Business School, John Rose, says personal coaching is a natural extension of the mentoring system used by many large companies in Australia.

The growth of personal coaching, he says, reflects a shift away from "analytical, quantitative business skills" towards more personal, interpersonal and organisational skills. Many businessBack to top schools, including his own, now offer courses in this field.

"Perhaps we're just seeing a more formal approach than we've seen before," he says. "For instance, senior executives have often asked for tuition in areas such as public speaking, written communications or the way in which they present. All of those areas would fall into coaching."

Rose says personal coaching was a natural development from the constant evaluation – including 360-degree feedback – now used to chart the performance of senior executives.

What It Costs

The cost and frequency of coaching varies enormously. Most coaches recommend a schedule of telephone sessions over a period of several months. Each session lasts between 45 minutes and one hour. Costs range from $350 to $550 a month (four sessions). Contact is usually by phone and email, although some clients request an initial face-to-face meeting.

"What is that senior executive going to do with all that feedback?" he asks. "A coach can help that person sort out their career goals and also what they want to achieve not just in their job, but in their marriage, partnership or life.

"I suspect this issue has always been there. The difference is that there is now a swing back [from analytical skills] towards personal skills, ethical values and communication skills. And people are getting much more feedback about themselves than ever before."

One of McDougall's most enthusiastic clients is Mark McLeod, a director of Ray White Real Estate in Surfers Paradise. A former footballer and swimming coach, McLeod instinctively understood the importance of coaching input. "If the [Brisbane] Broncos have a coach and Susie O'Neill has a coach, then why would it be any different in this endeavour?" he asks.

According to McLeod, working with a coach for the past nine months has enabled him to improve his people management skills, a key factor in an agency employing 100 sales staff. "I started off as a real estate agent and an auctioneer, and then became a partner," he says. "All of a sudden you find yourself managing a very large business and you realise you don't have the skills in some areas. I Back to topthink many owner-operators are like that, particularly in our business.

"The basic things for me were to get a lot more enjoyment out of my day; to improve the sales figures and to improve my interaction with the sales staff – which I believe was a catalyst for improving our sales figures."

The International Coach Federation Australasia (ICFA) keeps a list of registered coaching practitioners. The association has 120 members and is growing rapidly. ICFA monitors the ethical and training standards of its members, and can be found on the web at, or phone 0500 555 752. To qualify for membership, coaches must undertake a certified training course. Since coaching is a highly personalised arrangement, many clients find a coach by recommendation. Some will try a couple of coaches before finding one suited to their needs.

Despite his industry's reputation for macho behaviour, McLeod says he has never worried about the perception that he might have gone soft by employing a coach. In fact, the practice is endorsed by the company, which picks up the weekly coaching bills.

While coaching owes much of its growth to this type of skills-based work, many coaches take a far wider – or holistic – approach, addressing personal issues to do with career goals, discipline, communication and even isolation.

Sydney scriptwriter Robin Richardson believes coaching has dramatically influenced his career, his relationship and his general health. His first film script is with an agent in the US, with another in the pipeline. "My life has changed completely in the last 15 months," he says. "I'm now in control of my life. I can't control outside events, but I'm master of my own destiny."

Apart from introducing a great sense of discipline into his working life (deadlines are no longer the terror they once were), Richardson, formerly a finance company sales manager, says coaching has given him the strength to address deep-seated health and emotional issues. He says having a personal coach fills a requirement that even the closest male confidant could never hope to meet.

Making Decisions

At 30, Michelle Hudson is already interactive marketing manager (Australasia) at IBM and fast-tracking her way through the upper ranks of management. Still, she felt the need for a little extra help from a personal coach.

After six months she is convinced she made the right call. Today, her weekly telephone sessions with Margaret Krause (lasting between 30 and 40 minutes) have become an indispensable part of her schedule.

"What I've been able to do is really begin to identify what it really is that I want to get out of life and to make decisions that are based on those key needs," she says. "For instance, I'm now going to the gym three times a week because I know that this is a priority for me. I've made career decisions which have given me a whole lot Back to topmore passion about the work that I'm doing."

IBM does not formally endorse professional coaching, but has been happy for Hudson to augment its normal career development programs with outside coaching. The company says it is not aware of any other employees using coaching services.

In fact, he dismisses friendships as a substitute for professional instruction. "I think that was holding me back in the past," he says. "I was listening to people who were not professional in their approach. They were advising me out of their good intent, but they lacked the objectivity. They responded to my sensitivities, whereas a coach will give it to you straight between the eyes."

McDougall herself uses a coach – although in her case, the coach is part of a support group she calls her "personal board of directors". Ideally, she believes everyone should have a personal board of directors to oversee their lives. The board should comprise a coach, a financial adviser or accountant, a mentor and perhaps a close friend.

Of course, not everyone in the business world is as open to having a personal coach, let alone a panel of support staff. McDougall concedes that more conservative business people may find it difficult to embrace these ideas, but urges them to keep an open mind.

And while large corporations may not value the holistic aspects of coaching, they are starting to appreciate the importance of supporting – and retaining – their leading performers. The cost of coaching is insignificant compared with that of replacing burnt-out employees.

"I think there is a lot more awareness now about the need to support people in the workplace," says McDougall's partner in The Elite, Margaret Krause. "Certainly more awareness than there was, say, five years ago."

Like other professional coaches, Krause, a former human resources manager with Hyatt Hotels, believes coaching fills a need in the corporate world for human contact, professional advice and old-fashioned mentoring. "There are many companies that are being proactive in bringing in coaching and mentoring programs. One of the challenges for coaching is to ensure that this is a trend, not a fad," she says.

Krause says coaching by its very nature is a highly personalised service. Clients' expectations vary widely from those looking purely for a motivational tool to others who are wrestling with deeper life issues. She sees the relationship as a collaborative one: "It's really about providing the person with the skills, tools and the knowledge Back to topso that they become self-sufficient and ultimately don't need coaching any more.

"Coaching is not about being nice; it's about telling the truth and being willing to listen."

Audrey McGuinness, the founder and a managing partner of DIVA Coaching in Sydney, says most of her clients need help in personal areas rather than in improving work performance or decision-making skills. DIVA employs two full-time and seven contract coaches.

A mother of two and former merchant banker, McGuinness also practices what she preaches, employing her own coach and personal trainer. "The two business cards that I always carry in my wallet are my coach's card and my personal trainer's card," she says. "They are the two people I have regular contact with each week."

McGuinness believes coaching helps individuals to deal with the increasing pressures from new technology and tougher, global competition. Or, to use a wonderful Americanism, to "chunk down". "You can chunk up or chunk down," she says. "So you take the big global picture and help the client chunk the situation or life story down – to help the client not feel so overwhelmed.

"A lot of it is also about prosperity. That might not be just financial prosperity, but generally having more happiness. A lot of people just want more free time."

DIVA has a very highly structured coaching program in which clients fill out questionnaires before each session so that coaching is goal-driven rather than exploratory. Clients themselves identify their key objectives week to week.

"Some of our clients really want to be tasked. They really want the whip cracked each week around the exercise program, or perhaps the communications course they've signed up for.

"And yet there are other clients who hate that. They don't want to be tasked. They are very self-motivated and very driven and they use us more as a sounding board."

Reading List

Intentional Change
ed. John Stephenson Xlibris Corp, 1999

Complete Guide to Coaching at Work
Perry Zeus & Suzanne Skiffington McGraw-Hill, 2000

Take Yourself to the Top
Laura Berman Fortgang Thorsons, 2000

Take Time For Your Life
Cheryl Richardson Random House, 2000

The Portable Coach
Thomas J. Leonard Scribner, 1998

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