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Personal Coaches Bring Goals Into Focus

by Marian Green

Las Vegas Review-Journal, 3/18/96

Each week, Betty Mahalik makes a 30-minute phone call to her "reality checkpoint" - a professional coach who helps her balance competing interests to keep her life on track. A successful independent image consultant, Mahalik said she sought out her coach, Laura Hess, a year ago after feeling her life was growing out of control.

"It was just a general sense of there's got to be more than this," she said. She was constantly racing to get from appointment to appointment, always feeling like she was behind the curve and never caught up, Mahalik said. "What this has enabled me to do is enjoy the journey and reach for new heights and destinations I wanted to pursue," said Mahalik, who calls herself a "recovering workaholic perfectionist."

Thomas Leonard, one of the founders of the coaching movement and president of a virtual coach training school called Coach University, has predicted the number of coaches will double this year. By the year 2000, coaches will be as common as personal fitness trainers, he said in a press release.

Leonard, who now coaches via a personal computer from his recreational vehicle, is a former accountant and financial planner who said he fell into coaching because his financial clients came to him for help defining their life goals. Hess like other professional coaches, helps her clients in both the business and personal arenas of their lives.

Coaching is "the profession of the '9Os," Hess said born out of the frenzied pace of modern life and increased competitive economic pressures. "People are more willing to make change. People are facing decisions they've never faced before," said Hess, whose husband, Philip Cohen, also is a coach.

Hess and Cohen are both former certified public accountants who turned to coaching two years ago after attending a seminar. They both came away feeling this is who we are. "What we were doing was coaching already, and that was the part of our business we loved," Cohen said.

They now have about 40 clients between them whom they counsel over the telephone through weekly half-hour sessions. Some clients are in Las Vegas, but others live in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Utah, Texas, Colorado and Idaho. As coaches, the goal is not to "be someone's best friend, but to be honest," Cohen said.

Their job is to help clients define their goals, establish an action plan, and then aid them in achieving their objectives by providing constructive feedback and structure, Cohen said. "It's helping them see blind spots. It's illuminating behaviors that are holding them back," he added. "For many people, they've got a dream, but they've never written it down or defined it," Cohen said. "The goal might be "I want to be successful". A coach can help a client bring the goal into focus by asking questions such as: :What does being successful mean to you and how will you know when you've reached your objective?

Clients, who pay $250 a month for the weekly sessions, cut across all lines, from company executives to professionals to small-business owners, Hess said. They are generally successful, she said. "Out clients don't need us, they want us." While many people are open to coaching, Cohen said others suffer from "the- Lone Ranger mentality." "The 'I can do it myself, I don't need anybody else (mentality),' and yet all of us have blind spots," he said.

Cohen also notes top actors, musicians and sports figures have coaches who helped them get where they are today. Mahalik said explaining challenges and problems to Hess is different than telling a friend. "She is listening as someone with a different perspective of the big picture, when you can't see the forest for the trees," Mahalik said.

Working with Hess has brought tangible results, Mahalik said. Her business is growing and yet she says she has found more time for her husband and 4 year-old son, without feeling as if she is having to schedule them in. "I'm enjoying life more. I always was thinking about work, worrying about it, stressing over it." Now, Mahalik said, "I have gained a sense of balance and peace of mind that I just didn't have." Her office is much more organized, and she has hired a bookkeeper, she adds. "I've got a much better handle on my business and personal finances. Before, the money would come in, money could go out, and I didn't have any "real clear idea of how much I was generating on a monthly basis."'

Hess and Cohen ask their new clients to complete a questionnaire taking stock of their physical environment, well being, financial situation and relationships. The questionnaire provides a starting point for clients to make changes, and lists simple things, such as making the beds and flossing their teeth, as well as the major goals, such as reaching career objectives. "It's cleaning up the clutter," Cohen said, "cleaning up all the things in their lives that are getting in their way." "Every one of our clients talks about making the beds," Hess notes.

When financial planner Amy Ayoub first learned about professional coaches at a Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce event a year ago, something clicked. "I thought, 'That's what I need,'" Ayoub said. "I just felt like I really needed some time management and organizational skills."

Hess has provided positive feedback and motivation, Ayoub said. "You need someone who's removed from your business to see some of the things that can be improved. She just provided some order to my life, and there were immediate rewards." Ayoub said working with a coach has enabled her to place priorities on her business and community service demands.

"I discovered I was doing more for other people than I was willing to do for myself, and that it didn't have to-be an either-or," said Ayoub, who serves on the executive board of the National Conference, and is a member of Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and the Nevada Democratic Leadership Coalition.

Now, Ayoub said, she makes sure to take care of business in the morning in order to ensure time for her community service activities. As a result, she said, "There aren't things hanging over my Ayoub said anyone can benefit from working with a professional coach.

She said the coaches' questionnaire helped give her a jumping-off point. "You have to know where you are before you can figure out where you are going," Ayoub said. "These tools show you maybe you're doing a lot better than you thought you were - that gives you hope."

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