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Put me in (life) coach! Tips for seeking counsel

You may be satisfied with the life you have but, deep down, do you think you could do more? Be more? The growing trend of life coaches may be just the thing you need to give you a jump-start on a more fulfilling — and happier — life. Laura Berman Fortgang, veteran life coach, explains how you can create a more successful family and professional life in her new book, “Take Yourself to the Top: The Secrets of America's #1 Career Coach.” Here's an excerpt.

In my work as a life coach, my goal is to help my clients take their personal and professional lives to the next level. Coaching takes an inside-out approach to your success. As someone once said, “It’s not the way things are, it’s the way we are.” A good life coach shows you how to change so that you can get the outside circumstances of your life and career to change. They will help you unlock your potential by showing you ways that you can grow and invest in your ability to achieve.

Michael Gerber, who wrote The E Myth, says that entrepreneurs must work on their business instead of just in it. He observed that most people, entrepreneurs or not, spend more time doing what they do than planning and designing it. When people take the time to plan, the doing becomes much easier. That idea has been adopted in client coaching. Whether you are growing a business, designing your corporate career track, or just working to achieve a balance in your life, working weekly with a coach allows you the structure and the time to work on your life instead of just being in it.

I often compare getting results from coaching to getting results at the gym. You can join and keep paying your money, but if you don’t go and do the work, you don’t get the bod. It’s the same with coaching: You use the coach to get you where you want to go. If you don’t show up and you don’t do the work, then you’ll be doing what you’ve always done and getting the usual results. To get the most out of coaching, you have to work it!

If you’re considering hiring a life coach, you’re probably facing a specific concern or frustration, or you are ready for the next step and not quite sure how to get there. When clients first find me, they often consider their coach their “secret weapon” or are embarrassed that they need this kind of partnership at all. So if that has crossed your mind, get over it fast. What is the shame of having a partner who is 100 percent devoted to your success? Can you do it alone? Absolutely. Can you do it better with someone to hold you accountable, cheer you on, point out pitfalls, build on your strengths, and help you chart out your path? Yes. So why should you be embarrassed?

Are You Ready, Willing, and Able to Be Coached?

Ready
1.  I have time to invest in myself.                                          Yes____ No____

2.  I can make and keep appointments with myself to work on this material.Yes____ No____

3.  There is a gap between where I am and where I want to be.Yes____ No____

Willing
4.  I am fully willing to do the work required to get me where I want to go.Yes____ No____

5.  I am willing to stop or change the self-defeating behaviors that limit my success.Yes____ No____

6.  I am willing to try new things even if I am not 100 percent convinced they will work.Yes____ No____

Able
7.  Coaching is the appropriate discipline for the changes I want to make (rather than therapy or a twelve-step program).Yes____ No____

8.  I have the patience to take consistent action toward my goals, regardless of how immediate the results are.Yes____ No____

9.  I have the support I need to make significant changes with ease (i.e., family or company buy-in).Yes____ No____

If you answered no to two or more of these questions, you will need to make adjustments before the coaching can be effective.

“Why can’t a friend or a spouse do this for me?” I’ve been asked many times. They can, but only to a certain degree. Family and friends lack the objectivity that a coach can provide and, more importantly, they have a different agenda than your coach does. Your success or growth in a new direction can be threatening to someone whose relationship to you depends on your staying basically the way you are. Of course, your loved ones want you to be happy and fulfilled, but even positive change can be an unforeseen threat to the status quo. Your coach is not threatened by your success; that is your coach’s only agenda. It’s a different kind of relationship and a different kind of support.

Since it is a new profession that is both similar to and yet so different from some others, it might help to spell out where the similarities and differences are. Coaching is hot right now, and many consultants are calling themselves coaches. Here are the three most common comparisons:

Career Coach vs. Career Counselor — A coach’s main job is to help you to take action to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be. A career counselor may be the perfect person to help you figure out where you want to be. Counselors can administer personality and capability assessments and help you determine what is an appropriate career for you. A coach might help you determine your next step, but is more likely to help you do so by exploring your needs and what you truly value in life. The client usually has a pretty good idea of what might be next and uses the coach to design a strategy to get there and to include the new direction in a complete life plan/design.

Coach vs. Business Consultant — A consultant is likely to be an expert in your specific business and be more hands-on than a coach might be. You hire consultants to fix or enhance your business, and you pay them for their advice and work. They will tell you what to do, but a coach is more likely to ask you a lot of questions to get you to come up with your own answers. Of course, coaches have hundreds of tools to help you make your business grow, create better systems, and develop your people, but they are more likely to design it with you than for you. Many coaches are consultants, but not all consultants are coaches. Many consultants I have coached have said, “You get down to a much more personal level with people to help them overcome the obstacles in their business; I could never get that close to my clients.”

Coach vs. Psychotherapist — I would never dream of performing therapy on my clients. I don’t have a license to do so. Therapists address major emotional issues and try to help clients find context and understanding, based on the past. If a client is in emotional pain, therapy is a better choice than coaching. Coaches will take business and personal issues and explore them in a framework that is action oriented. We want to help our clients create great futures. We work to get them over hurdles by finding out what needs to be added or taken away and by doing so as quickly as possible. We look for the source of obstacles as a therapist might, but do not deal in introspection. Often, coaching will cause clients to realize they need therapy if it becomes clear that the coach has uncovered an issue that does not lend itself to a coaching solution.

As your coach, I’ll become your partner and help you get to the next level, but I’ll never allow the goal to become more important than your well-being as a person. Coaching is holistic. When we work on easing your frustrations or achieving specific goals, our work is held in the context of how these issues reflect who you are as a person and fit into what will work for your whole life.

Are you ready to get to work?

Excerpted from “Take Yourself to the Top: The Secrets of America's #1 Career Coach” by Laura Berman Fortgang. Copyright © 2006 by Laura Berman Fortgang. Excerpted by permission of . All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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