Cardinal Richelieu, a 17th-century French statesman, heavily relied on advice from Father Francois Leclerc du Tremblay for his monk’s behavior.

Like this famous cardinal, most business leaders have their life coaches today. However, these coaches are not monks; they are executive coaches who can get up to $3,500 per hour.

A survey was conducted to understand what life coaches do to deserve all that money. It included 140 excellent coaches, and five experts reviewed the findings. The experts had conflicting views about the future of this sector and focused on the contradictions that emerged among the coaches.

However, both the coaches and commentators agreed on the various needs that need to be addressed for the industry to grow, but there was no general agreement on how to do that. They agreed on the fact that the reasons organizations engaged life coaches have transformed. A decade ago, most agencies engaged coaches to assist in fixing detrimental behaviors within the top management.

Currently, companies are engaging coaches to enhance the competencies of workers with high potential. Because of this extensive mission, there is a lot of ambiguity about issues; like how life coaches establish the degree of engagements, how they evaluate and account on improvement, and the requirements a company should seek for when selecting a coach.

When coaches were asked whether executives and organizations get value from the coaches, they said that customers always come back for their services because life coaching works.

Again, the results of the survey also show that the industry is filled with conflicting interests, unclear lines between what is the role of life coaches and what professionals of mental health should do.

The ultimate outcome: Life Coaching is an industry that continues to grow in popularity, but the basics of the industry are still changing rapidly. In this field, like in most others, the old saying is still applicable – Buyer, be careful!


What Do Coaches Say?

Is the management strongly inspired to change? The answer to this question for some coaches is yes, while for others, it is no. Those who say yes argue that executives who benefit most out of life coaching have a great need to learn and expand. Those who say no argue that executives who engage coaches to fix behavioral issues like blamers don’t change.

Do executives have excellent relationships with their coaches?

Yes – A suitable match is crucial to the triumph of life coaching. Without that, the needed trust for maximum executive performance cannot be created.
No – Don’t engage a coach based on experience or reputation without ensuring that they are the right fit.Is there a shift in the focus of coaching engagements?

132 of the 140 coaches said that their focus changes from what they were initially engaged to do over time. Those who did not agree argued that an assignment that is set-up properly outlines the issues very clearly before initiating the process.


The Life Coaching Industry: A Growing Field

There’s no doubt that future leaders will require persistent coaching. As the business world changes, they will gradually become coaches for helping in understanding how to operate. They will do more than influence behavioral change; they will play a crucial role in the learning processes of the leaders, providing judgment, opinions, and knowledge in critical cases.

However, what we see as coaching is a service to the managers offered by entrepreneurs in the fields of human resource, psychology, and consultation that is being provided to businesses with a shortage of talent. Companies hire coaches because they want to show their commitment to enhancing their high-potential workers. Organizations also hire coaches because they need to improve their people-oriented skills and quantitative capabilities.

But the coaching industry will remain divided until some partnerships create a brand, join elite coaches, eliminate the underperforming individuals, and establish a reputation for excellent work. Various coaching groups are moving towards this direction, but there is still a need for a leader who can define the industry and form a serious consultancy firm.

The biggest issue that future life coaching firms must address is the challenge of measuring performance as it is pointed out by the coaches in the survey. However, the positive accounts outdo the negative ones – but as the industry grows, coaches will require to be able to illustrate how they cause change, and also provide a precise method for measuring outcomes.

Sure, I agree with most coaches from the survey that the need for coaching will not reduce in the future. Countries with big economies like Russia and China will increasingly have a strong need for it as the management there mainly consists of youths.


Is Hiring A Coach Worth The Investment?

A few decades ago, executive coaching was not accessible. Presently, coaching is a crucial and effective requirement for making sure that the top talents of an organization are performing to the best of their abilities. Most coaches in the study said that they get hired primarily to work on enhancing high-potential skills. Others reported that they are mostly employed to act as active advisors on strategic issues and company dynamics. Only a few coaches said that organizations mainly engage them to address behavioral issues.

The study also showed a critical understanding of what companies hire coaches to do and what they really do. Think of work-life balance, it is scarce to get a company hiring caches to handle issues that are not work-related – only 3% of respondents reported to have been primarily employed to address such issues – yet more than 75% reported to have gone into personal matters at some point.

That emphasizes the fact that most managers cannot entirely separate their personal and work-related issues. Most of them feel the burden of their own lives. Thus, the more a coach can help motivate a leader to improve his/her personal life, the better and more lasting the effect of coaching will likely become. The issue comes in when a company requests a coach to do a specific thing, and they end up getting another. Usually, businesses don’t understand what the coach is really doing.

The reason for that is because coaches fail to evaluate their work and communicate the outcomes to the stakeholders. More than 70% of respondents reported that they give qualitative progress assessment. However, less than a third of the coaches provide feedback in the form of quantitative data on behavior change, and less than a quarter offer any quantitative data on the company outcomes.

Also, that might represent an unclear picture as the information comes from the coaches themselves. While it is challenging to get a clear connection between the coaching engagement and the managers’ performance, it is not hard to get information about the improvement in their managerial behaviors.

Coaching consumes time and money, and companies should insist on being provided with progress reviews, according to this study, organizations usually don’t get them unless upon request.


Risks of Depending on Coaching

All business coaches understand that they should make you a more self-reliant and competent executive. It is not always wrong to depend on someone. For example, friends depending on each other is an excellent thing. However, some people cannot decide on themselves without consulting. Some executives depend on coaches even on issues they can solve with their team or with other executives.

This study shows that the clients of more than half of the coaches do not overly depend on them, which seems unrealistic to me. Coaches have a financial motivation that makes them ignore the issue of dependency. It is normal for them to want to enhance their business, but the best coaches put the interests of their clients first. That means you should ask your coach how he/she handles the issue of dependency before hiring.

Also, about 90% of respondents said they set a time frame before getting engaged. There is no information about how the engagements shift. An excellent coach gets engaged with you to develop a strategy and stay to assist you in implementing it. That will mostly take more time, and extending the contract is not wrong.

However, there are some types of shifts in focus that you should avoid. One is when a coach entices you into a form of behavioral change without making it clear. For instance, your coach might tell you that you are ready to discover the issues that prevent you from realizing your potential. This way, the person acts as a speaking partner rather than a coach. His or her ideas are likely to bounce off.

The other shift is when a coach transforms into a business adviser. That is dangerous because it is rare to find a coach who has profound knowledge about your organization.


How Do You Choose a Coach?

There are some essential rules when hiring coaches. First, ensure that the executive is willing and ready to get coached. Second, authorize them to select the coach they want to work with, regardless of whether you initiated the engagement or not.

Data from this study strongly support that: Excellent chemistry and willingness were frequently mentioned for a healthy relationship. The respondents from the survey gave strong and divergent opinions about the most crucial factors to look for when hiring a coach.

The respondents agreed that organizations should look for a coach who has experience in a similar situation as theirs. Also, companies should consider if the coach has a distinct strategy. According to the study, various coaches use different approaches. For instance, some coaches value in-depth interviews, while others rely on 360-degree and psychological feedback. From a company’s viewpoint, the methodology is an excellent way to sift the load. So, ensure that your coach tells you the exact method they use and the expected outcomes. The best coaches are clear about what they will deliver.

For instance, an excellent coach will tell you whether they want to serve as board members on strategic organizational issues. A coach who don’t know their methodology and the expected outcomes is not worth hiring.

Also, the respondents were divided on the significance of certification. Although some coaches said that the industry is full of fraud, most of them did not agree on the reliability of certification. Part of the issue was the massive number of certifying bodies. In the United Kingdom only, there are more than 50 bodies that give certification; clients get confused about which ones are reliable.

Today, people are shifting from self-certification towards accreditation. Accreditation involves a rigorous audit by credible international bodies; only individuals who meet challenging standards get accredited.

One of the needed standards is that coaches have a strong background as psychologists. Most respondents from the survey did not place great value on psychological knowledge – it was ranked as the second last on the list of feasible credentials.

That surprised me because most of the companies I have worked with only engage psychologists as coaches. In my experience, formal training as a psychologist is crucial in successful coaching. Even though clear methodologies and expertise are vital, the highest credential is a satisfied client. About half of the respondents in the study reported that companies choose them based on personal referrals. So before you hire a coach, ensure that you speak to some of his/her previous clients.


Coach or Therapy?

Coaching is considerably different from therapy. According to most coaches in the study, coaching concentrates on the future while therapy concentrates on the past. Most coaching customers are mentally healthy, while most therapy clients have psychological issues.

Sure, coaching does not focus on curing mental health issues. However, the conception that coaching candidates are often mentally sound is a thing of academic studies. For instance, a study conducted at the University of Sydney reports that between 25% and 50% of individuals who hire coaches have considerable levels of depression, stress, or anxiety. I’m not saying that most managers who hire coaches have mental health problems, but some might. So, coaching individuals with unrecognized mental health issues can be detrimental and ineffective.

Most clients will not request for treatment and might not even know they have issues that require it. Recognizing anxiety and depression is not simple without the right training because executives will likely complain about issues related to workplace disengagement, poor interpersonal communication, or poor time management.

That raises questions for organizations engaging coaches – for example, whether coaches without backgrounds as psychologists can virtuously work with individuals with anxiety disorders.

Companies should hire coaches with some training on mental health problems. A good coach is one who understands if their clients should get referred to a professional therapist for help. In fact, organizations that don’t demand such expertise in the coaches they engage don’t meet the ethical responsibilities to care for their managers.

Chris Lawrence

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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