Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Coaching" - A Different Connotation and Application Today

By Allan J. Hirshey

Allan J. Hirshey (LLB, MS) is a former U.S.Government financial analyst, and business lecturer (adjunct faculty) at a Maryland community college. Training Medicare reimbursement specialists was a major part of his career.  After making aliyah, he earned a professional counseling diploma, and studied English teaching/tutoring theory.  He writes scholarly articles on the social sciences.  Additionally, he provides voluntary English tutoring to yeshiva students, adults (through AACI) and also to disadvantaged students at a local Jerusalem community center. “Express Tutoring” is the name of his business, specializing in business English, business math, resume preparation,  job interview coaching, personal financial problems, and life counseling using Reality Therapy techniques.   

Historically, coaching has always been associated with the sports world.  Today, however, coaching has taken on a new meaning.  No longer restricted to sports, coaches are privately being hired for a variety of personal reasons.  There are dating coaches, divorce coaches, writing coaches, voice coaches, lawyer coaches, executive coaches, and the list goes on.

How does private coaching differ from athletic coaching? In private coaching, the client sets the agenda & is considered “king.”  Furthermore, the client/coach relationship takes the form of an “alliance” or partnership to meet the client’s needs.  In this “alliance”, the partners interact on a “level playing field” - an authoritative relationship doesn’t exist. Ideally, the coach guides, supports, and empowers the client to recognize and then solve his/her problem(s) - poor motivation, low self-esteem, unsatisfactory job performance, etc.  In other words, the coach doesn’t provide answers or solve the client’s problem(s).  How does this work?  

Basically, the coach uses skillful powerful, creative, and opening questioning techniques, to stimulate the client’s thought processes and to break away from his/her problem “mindsets.”  If these questioning techniques are used effectively, the client recognizes the problem(s), and then sets up appropriate personal goals, satisfactorily achieving them within realistic set time frames.   

There are also other differences.  Whereas athletic coaching is done face-to-face, private coaching is also done over the phone, including long distance and by email.  Athletic coaches are normally paid straight salaries. However, private coaches often negotiate their own fees.  In that regard, top-class business and/or executive coaches often negotiate their own remunerations, based on fixed percentages of their clients’ future profit margins.  Consequently, compared to other private coaching areas, corporate coaching is the most lucrative, financially.

How does private coaching differ from psychotherapy, mentoring, counseling, consulting, & tutoring?  Unlike professional therapists, teachers, & counselors, private coaches are not government regulated - they don’t require licenses to practice their profession.  Moreover, private coaches don’t delve into clients’ past lives trying to uncover reasons for present problems.  Some other notable differences, broken down by related disciplines, are as follows:   

Psychotherapy - therapists normally work with poorly motivated and low self-esteem clients.  In contrast, private coaches, especially, at the corporate level, work with high driving, functioning clients, who strive for more excellence. 

Mentoring - mentors are normally older, wiser, with expertise in one area.  Basically, mentors bestow their knowledge to their clients.  Therefore, the client is not solving his/her problem(s).

Counseling - similar to a therapist/client relationship, there is no “alliance.”   Instead, the counseling relationship is more hierarchical.  The counselor is “boss”, and normally solves the client’s problem(s).

Consulting - consultants are hired for their fields of expertise to solve their clients’ specific problems.  So in this relationship there is no “level playing field”, and the consultant, not the client, solves the client’s problem(s).

Tutoring – again, there is no “level playing field” - the tutor is “boss.”  The client depends on the tutor to solve his/her problem(s).    

What are some of the key qualifications needed for successful private coaching?  A background in behavior modification psychology (including NLP) is one important tool.  To specialize in business and/or executive coaching, an aspiring coach also needs to know the following:  the fundamentals of business management; how corporate organizations develop and function; and the principles of risk and crisis/conflict management.  Moreover, having an MBA degree, supplemented by management experience in such areas as marketing, corporation finance, human resources, and/or telecommunications, provide a further “competitive edge.”  

Assuming an aspiring private coach’s CV lists the above qualifications, his/her glass is only half full.  Just as crucial is his/her mastery over certain key interpersonal skills. In that regard, recent studies have identified five critical interpersonal skills needed for successful private coaching. The first is the ability to develop client rapport.  Without client rapport, a partnership or “alliance” can’t be crafted.  Here, having a condescending nature is an important asset. Second, a coach needs to have deep listening abilities at multiple levels.  Hearing what the client is not saying is just as important as hearing what the client is saying.  Third, a coach needs powerful, creative, and opening questioning skills to effectively guide the client to solve his/her own problem(s).  Coming into play here is the coach’s ability to adroitly manage the conversation, and not the client.  Fourth, a coach needs to know how to implement open and objective feedback skills to maintain an effective coach/client “alliance.”  Praising the client as much as possible strengthens implementation of the feedback process.  And fifth, a keen sense of intuition is needed to ensure that the client is staying on track and exerting the maximum effort required to achieve his/her goal(s).  Here, a coach must be careful to trust his/her intuition, but not to overly rely on it.

What’s today’s job market picture look like for private coaches?  Unfortunately, it’s pretty bleak!  Although the supply side is growing at an exponential rate, the demand remains stagnant.  Some of the major factors causing this supply/demand imbalance are as follows: little, if any, governmental regulation (no coaching license requirements); a proliferation of  coaching courses and seminars, mostly short-term in length and without realistic enrollment requirements; high global unemployment rates; and the related scarcity of jobs for recent college graduates.  

In conclusion, an aspiring private coach needs three critical tools to be effective: (a) expertise in a specific field/occupation; (b) a working knowledge of the fundamentals of behavioral modification psychology; and (c) the innate personal skills to empower people to recognize and then to solve their own problems. If anyone of these skills is deficient or lacking, particularly, (b) or (c), pursuing a private coaching career isn’t realistic.  Perhaps a consulting, mentoring, or a counseling career would make a better choice.      


  1. I certainly hope more people will become aware of the power of coaching! Dr. Atul Gawande had a great article on this in the New Yorker magazine - very inspiring!
    Thanks for bringing up the topic!

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