Coaches: The New Mentors

©Laurie Weiss, Ph.D.


"Need a Life? Get a Coach. They're part therapist, part consultant..." headlines a Newsweek article (February 5, 1996). Coaching, or paid professional mentoring, is replacing some of the traditional mentoring relationships of the past. It is one solution to the problem of helping overwhelmed and overstressed business people cope with the complexities of their turbulent and unstable business and personal environments.

In a workplace where nearly 2.5 million people have lost jobs to corporate restructuring since 1991, a traditional mentoring relationship is increasingly unrealistic. Traditional mentors usually focus on helping a protégé achieve success in a specific company; a personal coach focuses on helping the client achieve success in general, in both business and personal arenas. Coaching focuses on the various, often conflicting needs of the individual, rather than on achieving any narrow goal.

Coaching To Achieve Success And Balance

For someone consumed by work, the goal might be quite literally to help them get a life.

A VP in a large corporation, on the edge of burnout, was encouraged to drastically cut her 70-hour work week by delegating more, insisting on shorter E- mail messages, and sometimes working from home. Once she accomplished this goal (only two weeks later), her coach asked her to complete self assessment instruments looking at other important areas of her life. She soon discovered that her colorless, lifeless environment was contributing to her depression. That problem was temporarily solved with fresh flowers, and now she enjoys using some of her newly recovered 20 hours a week to redecorate important areas of her home. She reports accomplishing more than ever at work, in less time and with less stress.

For someone in a workplace which doesn't promote creativity or spontaneity, the goal might be to help them redefine their work in a way that allows them to enjoy it and achieve a "flow" experience.

A manager who was bored and angry, cutting corners at work, felt that she was just hanging on until she could find something better. Her coach supported her in searching for something better, but meanwhile insisted that she treat her current job differently. By examining her job carefully, with the coach's help, she found a way to streamline the work of her department, and became so fully involved in the process that she attracted recognition and a promotion.

For someone who is procrastinating about doing something they really want to do, the coach may teach the client to identify and move past the obstacles to success.

An entrepreneur is helped to break an enormous task into manageable chunks. She identifies which specific tasks she will accomplish in the next week. How many people she will call, whom she will meet with, which documents she will file, are all a part of the conversation. In the next session she reports success and elation.

The Coaching Process

At Empowerment Systems, coaching often takes place in 30-minute weekly telephone conversations. During a typical call, the client reports on accomplishments since the last call, as well as on incompletions. The coach provides both congratulations and a thoughtful examination of the problems that led to the undone tasks. The coach may make specific requests that these tasks be completed, or that they be re-examined in the face of the current situation. The coach may also suggest that some tasks be dropped entirely, if it becomes clear that the client has no real intention of doing them; guilt wastes energy.

Clients report on current problems and opportunities and learn to ask the coach for specific help or direction in making choices and plans. Coaches provide encouragement, challenges, information and direction. They also provide referrals to others who can provide needed technical support for various projects, including physicians, accountants, software experts, networks, attorneys, marketers, graphic designers, and other coaches.

There Are Many Different Types of Coaches

Recent articles in the press focus on coaching as a new profession that is practiced by a variety of individuals, with no standardized training or regulation. Today's professional coach, like yesterday's mentor, does come from a variety of different backgrounds, and can assist a client to identify and reach different objectives.

A coach with a background of business consulting (with or without an MBA) may have realized that just providing expert advice about a business problem isn't enough. Although a client may know what to do about a problem, s/he may often have difficulty implementing the solution without ongoing support. The coach provides this support.

A coach skilled in career development may help an unemployed client through the job search process. This may involve helping them identify target companies, write a resume, and learn to present themselves well in an interview.

Sherrie Connelly, Ph.D., a Washington, D.C. based coach, focuses on helping her clients discover the unique work path that will help them feel truly alive and successful, instead of on just finding employment.

A financial coach may be a financial planner who provides ongoing support to help you implement the plan you have designed together.

A personal coach may come from a background in the helping professions and hold a professional degree, certification or license in psychology, social work, or counseling. S/he may also be a senior member of any field who has broad life experience and training and a commitment to the success of the client.

Choosing a Professional Coach

Choose your coach with as much care as you would choose any other member of your professional support team. First consider the specific support you need and ask your associates whether they know of anyone who can help. A surprising number of people already work with coaches. The expertise of the coach you are considering and your comfort with the person who offers this very personal relationship are both important factors.

You should expect your coach to be committed to helping you define and achieve your own goals. Your coach should help you examine possible courses of action, help you identify and solve potential problems, and support you enthusiastically every step of the way.


Laurie Weiss, Ph.D., is a partner in Empowerment Systems, offering personal coaching, consultation and psychotherapy for women in business. Readers are invited to submit comments or questions to her via fax, 303-794-5408 or call 303-794-5379.