Still Wondering About Coaching?

by : Susan Dunn

A friend called me the other day from Lower Alabama. He has followed my career as a coach with enthusiasm, and continually refers clients to me, and I’m sure has done his part for making coaching known in his neck of the woods. “Coaching has arrived," he said. “I just heard an ad for a coach on my local radio station."

I still speak to audiences on cruises, however, where no one has heard of coaching. What is coaching, who partakes of it, and how does it work? Here are some words from the media.


“Who exactly seeks out a coach?" asked an article in the Chicago Tribune, and their answer was: “Winners who want even more out of life."

And in coaching everyone’s a winner, if not when they come for coaching, when they leave. For instance, there are coaches who help individuals with ADHD, breast cancer survivors, debt, post-traumatic growth syndrome, parents who have lost children, smokers who want to quit, empty-nest mothers, addicts in recovery, and downsized executives. Emotional Intelligence coaches teach Resilience, being able to bounce back after adversity, loss, rejection and setbacks; that is to say, learning how to be a winner though you’ve lost a round in the battle.


Quite, and getting moreso all the time. “Once reserved for executives and professional athletes," said an article in the Christian Science Monitor, “personal coaches … are going mainstream."

Individuals use coaching for many purposes – life balance, career issues and goals, nutrition, emotional intelligence, writing, making their voices more professional, time management, how to potty train their kid, relationships, getting organized, retirement. Personal life coaches work in many different areas. There are generalists, and those with specialties and niches. Those who call themselves “Business Coaches" and those who call themselves “Personal Life Coaches," though many will be quick to tell you the interface is smooth between work and home in any person’s life.


It’s a big issue for more and more individuals, some of whom leave the work force for good, and some of whom just change gears. Nevertheless, retirement is a big transition and coaches are ready to help navigate the turns. “Got a nagging feeling that your life could be more fulfilling?" asked an article in “Modern Maturity." “Want to change direction but aren’t sure how to do it? Here’s how to jump start your new life today … Hire a personal coach."


There are descriptions all over the Internet, and one is also encouraged to give it a try and find out. Most coaches offer a free initial sample session to give you an idea. In the meantime, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star-Tribune had this to say: “Part therapist, part consultant, part motivational expert, part professional organizer, part friend, part nag – the personal coach seeks to do for your life what a personal trainer does for your body."

Do I do that in my practice? Definitely, except for the “part-therapist" part. One clear distinction needing to be made about coaching is that it isn’t therapy, whatever coaching is, and whatever therapy is. There are certain things only a licensed therapist can do (such as diagnose mental illness, and do “therapy"), but most coaches are quick to say they aren’t interested in the first place … or they would’ve become therapists, not coaches. And therapists are converting to coaching in large numbers, or adding it to their mix, as they follow the coveted “personal growth" market.

How similar are they? I have clients who are seeing a therapist in addition to coaching, some who have come to coaching after therapy, some who decide during coaching to also pursue therapy, and some who have never considered therapy at all but recognized the potential of coaching as soon as they heard about it. The consumer seems far less “confused" than those asking the question.


Many good things. People reach goals. Gain or regain confidence. Get momentum. Discover their strengths. Make a plan. Brainstorm. Find an ally. Learn to think outside the box. Hone leadership skills. Work on their Emotional Intelligence. Get immediate results and also long-term gains.

“Executives and HR managers," said an article in “Ivy Business Journal," “know coaching is the most potent tool for inducing lasting personal change."

Coaches work with clients, processing events in real time, sometimes even going on-site to “shadow" with the person. One job of the coach is to ask hard questions. I recall having a few put to me in the course of my own coaching.

“Executive coaches are not for the meek," said FAST COMPANY magazine. “They’re for people who value unambiguous feedback. All coaches have one thing in common; it’s that they are ruthlessly results-oriented."

At least twice I’ve had a client say to me, “No one’s ever told me that before. No counselor, or therapist … nobody." Well, it’s my job to give unambiguous feedback.


“I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that were previously hidden within an individual," said John Russell, Managing Director of Harley-Davidson Europe, Ltd., “and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously though unsolvable."

Results depend upon the coach and upon the person. After all, the coach is the coach, while it’s the client’s game to play. Choosing the right coach for you means makes the difference, and that depends upon finding the right “fit". Someone you trust, work well with, and are willing to listen to, who has the necessary skills and expertise, of course.


According to, it’s becoming quite the thing. “Once used to bolster troubled staffers, coaching now is part of the standard leadership development training for elite executives and talented up-and-comers at IBM, Motorola, J.P.Morgan, Chase, and Hewlett Packard. These companies are discreetly giving their best prospects what star athletes have long had: a trusted adviser to help reach their goals."

As companies come to realize that people are their most important asset, that people make money, not businesses, the idea of coaching has taken hold. “The goal of coaching is the goal of good management: to make the most of an organization’s valuable resources." ~Harvard Business Review.


“What’s really driving the boom in coaching," said John Kotter, Professor of leadership, Harvard Business School, “is this: as we move from 30 miles an hour to 70 to 120 to 180 … as we go from driving straight down the road to making right turns and left turns to abandoning cars and getting motorcycles … the whole game changes, and a lot of people are trying to keep up, learn how not to fall."

This is as true today at home as it is at work. Life is more fast-paced, and change comes faster and more often. We are also becoming more willing to accept help with out wellness as the nature of physical and mental medicine change, and the interface of mind, body and spirit becomes more evident.


Well, there’s one way to find out. Call a coach for one of those free sample sessions and find out. You have nothing to lose but ... some bad habits, some missed goals, some relationships in need of tweaking, some obstacles you could throw out of your own path, some pounds, some inches, some self-sabotaging attitudes ... you get the picture.