Get a life coach

Life coaching is making inroads into the business arena. Even the peroxide-enhanced twosome Nik and Eva Speakman, stars of TV show A Life Coach Less Ordinary, stress that their wisdom is as meaningful to work situations as the emotional upheavals that are the staple fare of daytime TV.

“We enjoy helping people to enjoy their jobs,” says Nik. “We like to work on people getting the work-life balance right and enjoying their careers.”

Does this mean that executive coaching and life coaching are compatible?

There are times when the two sit together, according to the high-profile executive life coach, Fiona Harrold. She is the author of best-selling motivational book Be Your Own Life Coach, and says that clients often seek advice on personal matters and work issues simultaneously.

“It would be unusual to look at work situations without taking into account other aspects,” she says.

Harrold has written a flexible learning course on being a life coach for Newcastle College, and says there is a case for HR and training professionals to undertake some life coach training to enhance their existing careers or open other avenues.

“To be a successful life coach, you have to have an innate interest in people. If someone is involved with people development, then this should come easily to them,” she says.

But, she adds, life coaching is more of a vocation than a career. “You must have the correct motivation that you genuinely want to improve lives and that you have optimism that people can achieve this.”

With at least 700 life coaches practising in the UK, there is a sense that the market is saturated. “This is not a bad thing, because the people who are good at it will survive. The others will go and do something else,” says Harrold.

There can be an overlap between life and executive coaching, says Gladeana McMahon, vice-president of the Association for Coaching. She is well-known for her expertise in business coaching as head of coaching for Fairplace consultancy in the City, and also offers some life coaching.

She says it is crucial to manage client expectations. “We have to be clear that any life coach must set behavioural contracts and overall objectives, just as an executive coach would.”

McMahon’s caution is backed up by Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development coaching adviser Eileen Arney. She advises HR and learning specialists to develop executive coaching rather than life coaching skills.

“There are distinctions,” she says. “I’d expect a life coach to focus on the whole person and an executive to focus on coaching in the workplace. A competent coach needs to understand the individual and the context in which they work.”

At the School of Coaching, run under the auspices of the Work Foundation, director of studies, Myles Downey, is even more wary of life coaching. “Often executive coaching is not just about the individual but the people around them. A life coach can help a person to change or move on, but what about their team? There are additional skillsets that an executive coach is likely to have, such as being able to effectively consult or to understand organisational issues.”

The key problem for any potential buyer of life coaching courses is that which formerly bedevilled the executive coaching market: there is a lack of quality assurance. Of course, with the arrival of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council’s Quality Award for Coach and Mentor Training, the executive market is now putting its house in order .

Marina Dieck, head of the Quality Award programme, says she has not yet received enquiries from the life coaching sector about qualifying for the kite mark.

by Stephanie Sparrow

Five top tips: How to pick training in life coaching

“Finding qualifications in life coaching is a complete minefield,” says Gladeana McMahon, vice-president of the Association for Coaching.

Here are her five top tips for finding success and not wasting your money:

  1. Avoid high-profile marketing

  2. Don’t touch anything unless it carries a university accreditation

  3. Make sure you look at all the relevant university prospectuses

  4. Find a course closest to your values

  5. Look for a modular course that fits with your life and budget.

Case study

Anna De Vere is national training manager at cosmetics firm Elizabeth Arden, where she has effectively implemented telephone coaching for account managers.

She took a life coaching qualification four years ago with Results International. The course lasted four months and comprised a weekend course once a month, which was reinforced with homework and one-to-one coaching. She also had regular conference calls with the rest of her group.

De Vere took the course to find a fresh approach to motivating her staff.

This has been successful, she says, because she is able to employ a fresh approach to goal setting and has led to a creative approach to HR issues.

“Using life coaching helps to get the results you need from other people without putting the disciplinaries into place,” she says.

Life coaching also helped De Vere in her dealings with colleagues and senior people. “I am more confident and able to discuss things on a different level,” she says.

The course was so successful that De Vere not only builds the techniques into her daily work, but she also runs a life coaching company called ADV Results.

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