Life coaching: Climb aboard the life coach

One string that L&D professionals can add to their bows is life coaching. Apart from the costs, there’s one caveat: you must be interested in people.

Becoming a life coach is one of the most fashionable careers of the noughties. The concept has even spawned a recent West End play, Lifecoach, starring Phil Jupitus.

There are no accurate estimates of the number of life coaches, or as they are also becoming known in the UK, personal coaches, but there must be tens of thousands. For example, The Coaching Academy alone estimates that 16,000 delegates have attended its two-day course on a certificate in personal coaching.

Both private and state educational bodies offer certificates and qualifications in the area, and, as is typical of a self-regulating profession, this plethora of opportunities can be confusing for the would-be life coach.

Theory and skills practice

“A reputable provider will have its course accredited by a bona fide university and will be recognised by one of the professional bodies,” says Gladeana McMahon, spokeswoman for the Association for Coaching and co-director of the Centre for Coaching.

She also stresses that courses should offer both theory and skills practice and supervision. Any student should expect to be asked to log the hours of skills practice and provide references and names of supervisors. She says that a minimum of 186 hours of practice, sometimes 250 and even up to 750 hours, is to be expected and is beneficial.

“Becoming a personal coach is like being a learner driver,” she says. “You have to get out there.”

McMahon says there’s been a growth in the number and types of people who take up the modular-based diploma and certificate level courses which the Centre of Coaching offers for £1,500 to £3,500.

“Some people take a qualification in this area for their career, such as in youth work, and a lot of HR and learning and development people take it so that they can offer coaching at work,” she says.

McMahon sees people taking the qualification so that they can start a career as a life coach or personal coach. “Most people who take it up say that it gives them a sense of satisfaction and the freedom of being self-employed “she says.

Lessons for success

But potential life coaches cannot get carried away by their own emotions, says high-profile life coach Fiona Harrold, who designed a certificate in personal life coaching for Newcastle College and spells out what is needed to succeed.

“You need to be really interested in people,” she says. “You need to have a genuine desire to help people and to bring other qualities to the table either from a previous career or from life.”

And becoming a life coach is not an excuse to foist your own opinions on others, she says.

“You need to be a good listener and you must resist the temptation to say what someone should do or, God forbid, what you would do.”

Some people are turning to life coaching to give themselves a new direction, but again some self-criticism needs to come into play, says Harrold.

“It would concern me if someone said that they were stuck in a rut so they turned to life coaching,” she says.” Being disillusioned and looking for a new career for six months is understandable, but if someone says that they were in a rut for ten years then I start to worry,” she says.

Smooth transition

The transition from corporate work into life coaching can be smooth, according to Lynn Davidson, managing director of HiLife coaching.

“I was a corporate coach first,” she says, “and the transition is easy because the fundamental skills, such as rapport building and questioning skills, are the same.”

Davidson, who still does some corporate coaching, also supervises life coaches. She says that it is easier to track corporate coaching. “In life coaching there are so many organisations springing up but I always check that qualifications are affiliated to the well-known bodies such as the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), the Association for Coaching (AfC), and the Coaching Federation,” she says.

She enjoys the variety. “In life coaching, the possibilities are endless. You don’t know what you are walking into and you could be working with a newly appointed manager and then someone with self-esteem problems. It keeps you sharp.”

Case study

Wendy Reeves was an HR generalist who became a company director. She quit just over two years ago to become founder and managing director of LifeGoal.

“I was tired of the rat race and disillusioned with European employment laws,” she says.

Reeves embarked on the International Diploma in Professional Coaching, an 18-month course accredited by OCM. As she had already finished work she was able to complete it in eight months.

The greatest challenge is learning to market yourself and deal with tax and accounts she says. She embarked on promotional activity such as free taster sessions and the work flowed in.

“I saw the fruits of my labours after 12 months,” she says.

Reeves now offers both corporate – which “pays well” – and personal coaching and hopes that her business will evolve into a 30-70 split between the two.

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