The trouble with “life coaching”

The other day a “life coach” called me up to discuss the Center for Executive Coaching’s Executive Coach Training Program. After our call he noted that he wished he had found the Center for Executive Coaching program sooner, because he wanted to focus on executive coaching, not life coaching.

There are many life coaching programs out there, and even certifying bodies to regulate the life coaching industry. If you are a member of a local chamber of commerce, you probably meet life coaches all the time at networking events, where — along with real estate agents and insurance salespeople — they try hard to network and get clients.

I don’t have anything against life coaches, but I do find that, generally speaking, their methodology is quite incomplete and superficial when it comes to coaching executives. Like any good executive coach, they learn basic listening skills. They know how to help people set goals and hold them accountable for action. And they can ask questions to help people figure out the obstacles in their way and move forward to overcome them.

At the same time, life coaching seems extremely light on the kind of content that gets results for executives — whether in for-profit, non-profit, or governmental organizations. Most life coaching programs are missing content about critical thinking skills and organizational decision making, strategic leadership, governance, motivating employees, managing up, building a power base, informal influence in organizations, change management, financial analysis, career management and development, and specific obstacles that executives commonly face.

A good executive coach brings three domains to his or her clients: content (the substance of leading a successful organization); process (the way to coach executives); and context (the “inner game” of leadership). If you want to coach executives, you had better master all three of these three domains. Executives do not have patience for people who aren’t focused directly on helping them get results, and certainly not for the kind of fluff that many life coaching programs teach.

Also, executive coaches understand how to market their services in ways that are not tacky or awkward. You won’t see executive coaches going to low-level networking events at a chamber of commerce. Rather, you will see them acting as thought leaders in their target market, writing articles, speaking, doing research, and building a large network of executive-level clients who rave about them.

If you are considering becoming a coach, be sure that you know which types of clients you want to serve and find a program that helps you succeed with those types of clients.

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