Opinion: Grumpy old coach?

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IMAGENAMEOlivia Stefanino is feeling decidedly grumpy – and outspoken - about the number of coaches who are still 'wet behind the ears'. A bit of life lived is essential to being a good coach, she says.

I don't often hang out with ladies who lunch and rarely do I have time to attend charity luncheons - but recently I did. As we sat down to our first course, our host decided to introduce all the guests to each other and I was horrified to find that every single woman sitting at the table (and we were 12) was introduced as a life coach.

Now, I'm all for equal opportunities but what soon became clear in the conversation was that these 'life coaches' were anything but. Doubtless I'll be shot down in flames by the PC police but I began to have my suspicions that being a life coach seemed to be preferable to describing oneself as a housewife (or indeed, as a lady who lunches).

Photo of Olivia Stefanino"I'm aware that I'm beginning to sound waspish but with some of us taking the art of coaching seriously, it's annoying to have it devalued by people who've attended a weekend course and who've taken it upon themselves to call themselves a coach."

I'm aware that I'm beginning to sound waspish but with some of us taking the art of coaching seriously, it's annoying to have it devalued by people who've attended a weekend course and who've taken it upon themselves to call themselves a coach.

For me, the biggest problem with the current plethora of new 'life coaches' is that the public at large has little idea what distinguishes 'real' coaches with some life experience under their belt from the 'wanna-be' coaches who just like wearing the designer label.

And the worst of it is that while most people don't really understand what good coaching is – and the real, tangible benefits that it can bring clients – they do feel that the sheer number of coaches (and their numbers seem to swell every week) means that there's probably rather less to coaching than meets the eye.

Generally, I work in the business arena and yet I'm still referred to as a life coach by those employees who (perhaps understandably) don't get the distinction between business coaching and general lifestyle coaching. Of course, there's a place for both – but business coaching tends to focus on business goals and generally brings with it some form of measurement, including key performance indicators.

To be taken seriously as a coach within the business arena, people generally want to know what experience you've had and how you've coped personally in situations similar to the ones they're currently facing. If an employee fails to take you seriously as a coach – and they will if you can't speak their language or connect at some level with their situation – then the coaching relationship is doomed before it's started.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not against life coaching, I'm just against people calling themselves coaches when they're pretty much still wet behind the ears."

Of course, to be a great coach, you don't need to have had experience in exactly the same field as your client, but it helps if you've at least got a smattering of an idea about what your client is up against and what they're trying to achieve.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against life coaching, I'm just against people calling themselves coaches when they're pretty much still wet behind the ears.

Of course, it would be completely against the law but wouldn't it be good if we could introduce some kind of regulation that stipulates that you can only become a life coach if you have X number of years' life experience under your belt. And that to be a business coach, you similarly have to have X number of years' business experience.

Or perhaps it's just a case that some of us – and I'm definitely leading the way here – are simply becoming grumpy old coaches!

Olivia Stefanino is the author of 'Be Your Own Guru' and has run leadership and coaching programmes within both blue chip organisations and SME's over the last 10 years. Download her free tips booklet '127 ways to harness your personal power'

To read Olivia's last opinion: How do coaches set their fees
click here

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