'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
"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, transport
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 Group.com 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.
schools, including his own, now offer courses in
"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
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
"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?"
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 think
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 www.coachfederation.org/icfa.htm,
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
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.
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 more
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
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 Group.com, 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 so
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
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
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
"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."
ed. John Stephenson Xlibris Corp, 1999
Complete Guide to Coaching at Work
Perry Zeus & Suzanne Skiffington McGraw-Hill,
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