What can a ca­reer coach do for you?


Fred Horowitz re­mem­bers the typ­i­cal re­sponse he used to get back in the mid1990s when he told peo­ple he was a coach. “They’d ask me what sports team I was coach­ing,” he re­called.

Ac­tu­ally, Horowitz was and still is a busi­ness coach. But at that time, work­place coach­ing was hardly com­mon. In the decade since, how­ever, em­ploy­ers and in­di­vid­u­als have dis­cov­ered how valu­able coach­ing can be for their or­ga­ni­za­tions and for ca­reer de­vel­op­ment.

“The coach’s job is to see things about you that you may be blind to your­self,” Horowitz said.

In the 12 years since Horowitz be­came a cer­ti­fied busi­ness coach through the U.S.-based Coach Univer­sity, coach­ing for busi­ness de­vel­op­ment has be­come com­mon­place. But there is still con­fu­sion about what it is and how it works.

“Coach­ing is an on­go­ing feed­back process,” ex­plained Michel Daigle, a busi­ness coach and work­place con­sul­tant with Com­mu­nic.aide. “It’s be­tween two peo­ple. One gives feed­back to the other. Coach­ing has three aims: to im­prove a per­son’s per­for­mance, to im­prove re­la­tion­ships and to im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tions.”

What dis­tin­guishes busi­ness coaches from life coaches, he says, is the fact that they’re work-fo­cused.

“A life coach will help you de­velop your self-es­teem and con­fi­dence, and busi­ness coaches will do that to a de­gree,” he said.

“For in­stance, you may have a vice-pres­i­dent of a com­pany who is un­com­fort­able about the changes that are com­ing to his or­ga­ni­za­tion. He might not be buy­ing in. I would work with him on the per­sonal side by ask­ing hard ques­tions: ‘What do you want to do, and do you think you’re up to the chal­lenge?’ But ul­ti­mately, we’re fo­cus­ing on busi­ness is­sues.”

Of­ten, it can be dif­fi­cult for in­di­vid­u­als to sep­a­rate the per­sonal from the pro­fes­sional, Horowitz said. He re­calls coach­ing one man who hired him to im­prove the ef­fec­tive­ness of his team at work and to de­velop his own lead­er­ship qual­i­ties.

“He was a CEO and ma­jor share­holder of a com­pany and he wanted to com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter with his peo­ple. But I was sur­prised that for the first few ses­sions, he talked about the fact that he wanted to have chil­dren, while his part­ner didn’t. Per­sonal stuff does have an im­pact on our work lives. It’s the back­ground noise, like the hum of an air con­di­tioner.”

How­ever, coach­ing is not syn­ony­mous with psy­chother­apy, which Horowitz de­scribes as “past-ori­ented.”

“Psy­chother­apy is about un­block­ing emo­tional ar­eas where peo­ple are stuck,” he said. “Coach­ing is more fu­ture-ori­ented. I as­sist my clients to change their fu­ture.”

So does Daigle. He says suc­cess­ful coach­ing takes be­tween three and six months and is done at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals, once or twice a week. Some coaches meet their clients in per­son; oth­ers coach by phone. He says coaches are hired in one of two ways. “An or­ga­ni­za­tion may iden­tify an in­di­vid­ual for de­vel­op­ment and the coach is brought in to as­sist in that. Or, a per­son may de­cide for him­self that he needs a coach,” he said.

The process en­ables an in­di­vid­ual to look in­wardly in search of an­swers.

“Coach­ing is not di­rec­to­rial,” Daigle said. “A coach will ask the per­son ques­tions that will make him ponder. Th­ese are called dis­cov­ery ques­tions.” Coaches can also guide their clients. “Some­times a coach will sug­gest some­thing, but that comes af­ter there’s been a lot of coach­ing. It would not hap­pen at the out­set,” Daigle said. “A coach helps you make the tran­si­tion to un­der­stand­ing your po­ten­tial to per­form.”

The pop­u­lar­ity of coach­ing has grown apace with rad­i­cal changes that have swept the work­place in the past two decades. As or­ga­ni­za­tions have be­come com­pressed with fewer lay­ers of man­age­ment, in­di­vid­u­als’ work­loads have in­creased.

“Peo­ple aren’t do­ing just one thing at work any more,” Daigle said. “They have to do many things and the work­load can be­come very heavy. So much re­spon­si­bil­ity has been down­loaded on peo­ple that they don’t have all he skills they need and the time to find so­lu­tions. Coach­ing is a process that slows you down. Dur­ing the hourand-a-half you’re work­ing with your coach, you’re slow­ing down enough to be able to find so­lu­tions.”

Some coaches spe­cial­ize in a par­tic­u­lar sec­tor of the mar­ket. Nathalie Lafor­est, a busi­ness coach with JPL Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in Can­diac, works with new en­trepreneur­s and self-em­ployed peo­ple.

“Th­ese are peo­ple who tend to be good at what they do but of­ten don’t know how to ex­pand their busi­nesses or to or­ga­nize man­age­ment,” she said.

“This is why many busi­nesses fail within the first five years. As a coach, I help my clients de­cide what their pri­or­i­ties are and I help them get or­ga­nized.”

Lafor­est says she and her clients work to­gether once a month at a three­hour meet­ing. “Within four to six ses­sions, you can see im­prove­ment,” she said. “We cre­ate con­crete ac­tion plans for peo­ple’s busi­nesses and I fol­low up to see where they’ve gone with their plans.”

One en­tre­pre­neur who hired Lafor­est wanted a mar­ket­ing plan.

“She needed a script for the cold calls she was mak­ing to po­ten­tial cus­tomers,” she said. “We cre­ated the script to­gether. She’ll try it for awhile, get feed­back from cus­tomers and we can re­vise it to­gether if she wants.”

Be­cause peo­ple have ques­tions for their coaches be­tween meet­ings, Daigle said, he stays in touch with his clients by phone.

How do peo­ple de­ter­mine that they no longer need coach­ing?

“They know when they’re be­hav­ing dif­fer­ently, they’re get­ting re­sults and they’re tak­ing charge,” Daigle said. “And the coach­ing usu­ally fin­ishes when the per­son ac­knowl­edges this.”

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