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Dec 30, 2003 3:24 am Background on Small Business Coaching
Eric Sohn
Here's an article I wrote on coaching:

What’s in a Name?

A couple of years ago, when I first started out in the business coaching profession, I attended a panel discussion on executive coaching at the Landmark Club. The first panelist got up and said words that made me cringe:

We unemployed executives used to call ourselves consultants. Now we call ourselves coaches.

On the flip side, there’s Dr. Stephen Berglas (author of Reclaiming the Fire) who has insisted over and over again in the media that people should only choose executive or business coaches that have been trained as psychologists. To do otherwise, he says, could leave deep-seated emotional problems untreated or papered-over.

So, what’s a coach? And, what should that term imply?

Part of the problem is that the word “coach” is not like “doctor” or “lawyer”; anyone can just hang out a shingle. There are no legal consequences of impersonating a coach. It was probably a major reason why Thomas Leonard, founder of CoachVille (a coaching community and professional organization) was toying with introducing the role of “personal developer” as an alternative to “coach.”

Of course, I’m not going to fix this problem in this column. In fact, I’m not even to say that one kind of professional is better than another. What I can do is try to give you a survey of who’s playing coach these days and what professional organizations can give you guidance in your choice.

Here’s a basic, lowest common denominator definition of what a coach is:

Coaches are professionals who help their clients address challenges and opportunities that they can’t deal with by themselves.

How that is accomplished, however, varies significantly.

As the gentleman at the Landmark Club said, a lot of coaches are really consultants. What that means is that they provide solutions to your problems. Depending on what those issues are, that may be best for you. I’d suggest that these “content coaches” work best for tactical things like working on presentation skills or setting up customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

The rest of the coaching community provides very different services than content coaches. “Assistive” or “facilitative” coaches may suggest ideas for a client to consider, but they do so only in order to get the person thinking. These coaches believe that, since the client owns the problem, they need to own the solution. After all, doesn’t the businessperson know their particular situation better than any outsider ever could?

What this all means is that clients need to play active parts in coming up with and implementing strategies and solution. The coach’s role is to provide a process for thinking about and addressing problems and opportunities. Assistive coaches believe that the client’s natural creativity and resourcefulness will help him or her come up the best solutions for that client.

Finally, as for Dr. Berglas’ assertions, let me have the International Coach Federation (ICF – www.coachfederation.org) answer for me:

Coaching can be used concurrently with psychotherapeutic work. It is not used as a substitute for psychotherapeutic work.

I prefer to think that the number of businesspeople with significant emotional or psychological problems is pretty small. Does needing help running or growing your business mean that the rest of your life needs a pick-me-up, too?

So, know you know what the word “coach” might or might not mean. If you’re considering finding out more about assistive coaching, the best places to start are the ICF (and the coach training programs they accredit), CoachVille (www.coachville.com) and the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC - www.wabccoaches.com). I’d suggest that, while membership in one of these professional organizations might not be a deal-breaker when choosing a coach (although they do provide some useful standards of conduct and practice), evidence of formal training should be. With training in a coaching methodology, you can be assured of some basic level of coaching knowledge.

Finally, working with a coach is about, at least in part, a personal relationship between the two of you. Find out if there’s a personal fit - many coaches will offer a free introductory session, or a money-back guarantee – or both.

So, you heard it first: caveat emptor when choosing a coach. Until next week, I wish you the best of luck in building, running and growing your business.

Private Reply to Eric Sohn (new win)

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