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Columbia Business Monthly

Put Me In, Coach

May 06, 2019 09:24AM
By Leigh Savage

Elite athletes know their sport. They know their bodies. They know how to win. But they can’t do it on their own—to reach their maximum potential, they need a coach. 

The same is true beyond the world of sports, according to area coaches, who specialize in helping people understand what they want their life to look like and then take the steps necessary to get there. 

“It gives you that extra edge and makes all the difference,” says Ann Holland, owner of Strive Performance Coaching in Greenville. ”Olympic athletes wouldn’t think of training without that enthusiastic support and insight they get from coaches who see things objectively.” 

Coaching has grown exponentially since it got its start with top executives about three decades ago. In 2018, the International Coach Federation said there were approximately 53,300 coaches, up from 47,500 in 2011. About a third of those coaches operate in the U.S., where the market value for personal coaches topped $1 billion in 2016 and is continuing to grow. 

Laurie Hubbs, a life coach and consultant in Charleston who specializes in relationships, says her business is all word-of-mouth, with no advertising other than her website, and she has clients from around the world that she works with via Skype.

“I have phases when I have a waiting list,” she says. “I’ve been doing this for 16 years, and it’s hard to have great relationships, so there are always clients who need help in that area.”

Holland says two factors are contributing for additional interest in coaching: technology and snowplowing parents. “The next group in the business world is hungry for the next step in their careers, but they often haven’t been equipped with interpersonal skills,” she says. “There is the tendency to lean on technology and social media, so a lot of young and rising professionals need coaching to fill that gap.”

In addition, snowplowing parents—who have the best of intentions—have moved obstacles out of the way for their children “so they aren’t developing problem-solving skills. Many have not been able to develop skills to overcome challenges in life, so coaching is a great support as those individuals try to obtain their goals and ambitions.”

What is coaching?
Coaching, according to the International Coaching Federation, is “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Coaching can take many forms, from general to very specific, including coaches who specialize in executives, health and wellness, spirituality, parenting, caregiving, and many other categories. “There is almost a coach for everything,” says Hubbs. “Many people have full-time businesses coaching in very narrow channels.”

The roles of therapy and coaching are linked but distinct, and reaching a healthy place before coaching is important to success. 

“I like to partner with a therapist,” says Tim Pecoraro, founder of Uphill Strategies in Greenville. “A therapist gets someone to a certain spot, and then I’m the person who says, now let’s move to where you want to go. You are done being stuck.” 

Pecoraro says if therapy helps people answer why questions, he helps them move along to “what questions,” as in, what do you want to do next? “Then we’ll move to how.”

After years as a group analyst/psychotherapist, Debbie Cohn, who runs Cohn Life Coaching in Columbia, was drawn to the idea of coaching in part because it looks forward instead of back, as therapy often does. “As a therapist, you are the expert on issues of mental health,” she says. “But in life coaching, the client is the expert, because everyone is the expert in their own life. They may need affirmation or guidance or new tools, or a new perspective, or they may just need someone to repeat to them what they already know.”

Hubbs, who was also a therapist, loves working with clients from a “strength-based perspective.” She spent a year working as a marriage counselor from a therapy perspective in the morning and a coaching perspective in the afternoon, and by the end of the year, “the clients using the coaching perspective were making faster progress.” While therapy is important, she says it tends to focus on what is wrong, whereas coaching focuses more on what’s working. “If you make what’s right bigger, there is less room for what’s wrong,” she says. 

Proof in the productivity
The results of life coaching are measurable and show its impact, according to Holland. She cites a recent study showing that training employees increases productivity by 22 percent, but training along with coaching increases productivity by 88 percent. “The coach believes in the client, and so many times, that alone can be pivotal. The coaching process helps people discover what their personal best might be.”

Pecoraro works with groups including A Child’s Haven and United Way, and businesses such as Mavin Construction and QBS Inc., and says he also sees productivity—and satisfaction—shoot up. Coaching can help people feel happier at work thanks to more genuine connections. “People speak more freely, and communicate better. What could that do for production?” he says. 

“Too many people go to work and they are siloed away from a person who might be only 10 feet away,” he adds. “Technology is useful but it’s also a great separator, so we talk about using those tools in a healthy and productive way.”

A common thread among life coaches is realizing their own goals through working with another coach. Often, a life coaching business was their end goal, and they are able to use their personal experiences finding fulfillment to guide clients. 

Pecoraro was mentored by John Maxwell, “who helped me unlock the potential in me,” Pecoraro says. “He set me on this course, on this road of discovery, and now that’s all I do for people.”

For Cohn, personal experience also played a role as she transitioned from being a therapist in England to working as a coach in the U.S. “I’m a great believer in experiential learning, so I hired a life coach,” she says. She wanted to make sure the field was ethical, regulated, and professional. 

“I hired a life coach and realized that this was in fact what I wanted to do,” she says. “It fulfilled a need in me that was missing.” She had a masters degree in psychology and then went to the Institute for Life Coach Training to become a board-certified coach. 

One of Cohn’s teachers at the institute was Hubbs, who teaches relationship coaching and also works with groups and individuals to improve personal and professional relationships. Hubbs agrees that coaches typically practice what they preach and have their own coach. “I talk to my coach on a regular basis, and I have three specialty coaches,” she says. “As coaches, we hold ourselves to the same high standards we hope our clients will hold themselves to.”