Personal Coaching

The best athletes in the world all have coaches.  The most successful executives in the world have mentors and development consultants.  World-class singers and actors have personal trainers.  Who do you have?

 What are the most important goals in your life?  Maybe it’s to raise a family, establish a career, reach certain financial aspirations, or simply find more joy in everyday living.  Whatever your cherished goals might be, a trained, dedicated, caring coach could turn your New Year’s resolutions into committed initiatives that change the course of your life.  And soon, such coaches will be moving into The Neighborhood.

 What Is Personal Coaching?

Broadly defined, personal coaches help people set and achieve life goals.  These goals may be about education, health, career advancement, or personal development.  Personal coaches will be tutors, mentors, personal trainers, teacher’s assistants, interviewers, and piano teachers.  The good ones will be highly skilled in their area of expertise.  And they will be both plentiful and affordable.

 You will find personal coaching services offered in a wide variety of places: through schools, at work, at the gym, or on your favorite Internet portal.  Coaching sessions may take place on the telephone, over Internet sessions using chat software, or on custom devices such as modified electronic pianos or mini-kiosks at the gym. 

 The following three case studies are summaries of actual interviews with individuals who have used a “coach” of some sort in the past.  Here are their stories:

 1) “John”, a very successful executive, on his executive coach:

Well, first, I should tell you that I was very skeptical of the idea of using a performance coach.  I’m not much on classes and personal development exercises, and I wasn’t that keen on the idea of spending time with a coach.  To tell you the truth, I thought it would be a waste of time.  And it could have been, if I had gotten the wrong coach.  But I didn’t.

 The coach that was assigned to me was very smart and very insightful.  He always seemed to be a step ahead of me – I would try to dodge down an alleyway, and there he would be at the end of the alley, waiting for me.  When he asked a question, he would not just take my standard superficial brush-off answer, but kept digging until I actually answered the question.  When he didn’t buy my answer, he wasn’t afraid to call me on it.

 He opened my eyes to new perspectives that had literally never occurred to me before.  “What do you mean, people are motivated by fear?”  “How could she be intimidated by me – she’s older, more experienced, in a far more powerful position than me!”  “You really think they remembered that episode?  And that’s why they’re acting so strange now?”  Suddenly, things that had made no sense started to come into focus, and I could study them and act on them.

 He also forced me to write down a few goals and priorities, and then together we tracked my progress against them.  He spoke with my boss, my peers, and my subordinates and got their direct feedback to help me monitor my efforts.  He gave me advice regarding potential career moves and other choices I was making.  I have to admit that it was all terribly useful and he made a big difference in my effectiveness and in my career success. 

 Even after our formal sessions ended, I was able to call my coach from time to time to get his advice.  When I was offered a big promotion to a high-risk job, I really needed some objective input.  He helped me weigh the pros and cons and to make a very tough decision.  When I was passed over for a job I felt like I should have gotten, he helped me come to terms with it and gave me strong input to react in a way that was positive and assertive.

 You might ask, how is this different from what a good manager does?  But it is different, in several ways.  First, most managers are extremely busy, and don’t have the time for patient, in-depth sessions with individual employees.  Second, managers cannot be objective about your performance because they are so close to it and so affected by it, and because they have competing responsibilities with other people with whom you work.  Finally, few managers have the training to coach performance any more than they have the training to cut your hair or to examine your teeth.  There is something to be said for using trained professionals where they are needed.

 Now, who do I think might benefit from a personal coach?  Really, anyone.  Certainly anyone at a pivotal time of their life – students, newlyweds, new parents, employees with career ambitions, people contemplating a mid-life career shift, people about to retire.  The problem is that good coaches aren’t cheap – most people could not afford a personal coach.  They might opt instead for a class or a self-help book, but that falls far short of what you can get from a trained, insightful professional who takes the time to understand your personal situation.

 The challenge to a broad rollout of coaching services will be overcoming the distance and cultural barriers, and, of course, careful matching.  But with the proper training and attention, I think this could be a very popular service.  As I said at the beginning, the really critical component is the coach himself or herself.  A competent and compatible coach can be invaluable, no matter what it is you might be trying to accomplish.

 2)  “Nick”, a college student who used an SAT tutor to prepare for the exam

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I used a tutor to prepare for the SATs.  It’s like everyone else just takes the test, but I needed a tutor.  And I think it made a big difference on my score, which felt a little like cheating, especially since it cost my parents like $400 and most of my friends couldn’t even afford it. 

 The tutor showed me how the test is organized, what the rules are, and all that.  Then I took some practice tests, and she checked the answers and then went over them with me.  We spent most of our time on the verbal part, since my math scores were already pretty good.  Some of those questions (“leaf:bush as street: a) highway  b) neighborhood  c) stop sign  d) sidewalk” – what is that?) are impossible when you first see them.  But once she explained what they were looking for and a few tricks, it was pretty easy.  The answer, by the way, is b).

 She also had some tips on the rest of the college application process – when to do it, how to write the essay, where to look for financial aid, stuff like that.  It was definitely very helpful, and I got accepted at both the colleges I applied to.  Not that it was Stanford or anything, but I’m not sure I would have gotten in without good SATs.  Kind of makes me feel sorry for the poor slobs that didn’t have four hundred bucks, you know?  But only for a minute.

 I know from what you told me that people are going to do this kind of tutoring over the Internet or something for a lot less money.  I think it would work just as well that way, if I could keep my sister off the phone long enough, and it would save a lot of money.  As long as the tutor knows what they’re talking about, it’s a real good idea.  Too late for me, though, I already got in!

 2)  Claire, a 38-year-old woman who hired a personal trainer

Since I was about 25, I have worked very hard to have a strong marriage and raise two children, while I was building a small business.  And I feel like I did a reasonably good job of each one of those things.  But in the process, I let a few other priorities slip, most of all my own physical fitness.  After ten years of New Year’s resolutions that lasted about two weeks, and daily guilt over my inability to stick to any kind of consistent program, I decided I needed help.  So I hired a personal trainer.

 Michelle is an experienced “health promotion specialist”, who sat down with me and helped me map out my personal priorities, my workout preferences, and my specific metrics and goals.  Then she poured on the facts and statistics – not to add to my guilt, but to motivate me and to show me what was really possible if I would do my part.  Finally, she was relentless at the follow-up:  reminding me what I had committed to, encouraging me to follow through with it, and then reinforcing my accomplishments as we started in on the program.

 The program we put together really made sense to me.  I had expected that we would come up with a plan for aerobic conditioning and weight training, but Michelle insisted that it be much more than just a workout schedule.  We actually started with a “whole life satisfaction” survey, and created a specific vision of how my answers would change as we moved forward.  We defined exercise schedules as I expected, but also added specific plans for diet, for breathing, and for posture.  We even found ways to incorporate my spiritual rituals of prayer, meditation and fasting into the plan.

 The bottom line is that it is working.  I like the plan; I believe in it.  Michelle is wonderfully supportive and appropriately firm.  My husband and my kids have actually developed fitness plans of their own, based on mine.  And the results I have achieved are my best motivation to stay with it.  Now, when I miss a workout, I don’t feel guilty.  I feel cheated out of something vital to my life.  I like myself better because of what I’m doing, and I feel like I have a better perspective across the board – as a spouse, as a mother, and in my work.

 Executive coaching, SAT tutoring, and health promotion are all good candidates for Service Export.  In fact, many personal coaching products are available online.  Today, you can go on-line to:

  • get help with your homework
  • chat with a dietician
  • prepare for a variety of standardized tests
  • learn to play piano

What’s Next?

Companies with a strong “content” or local-service position in these areas could move quickly into providing low-cost remote personal coaching services:

  • The education market is full of players who have already developed rich content and could extend their reach by delivering it through individualized instruction sessions.  Organizations such as The Learning Company, Kaplan, The College Board, AOL@school, Pearson, or elearningsoftware are all good examples.
  • The personal health market is also a natural candidate to produce very successful coaching services.  Coaching services would be an obvious addition to, for example, the excellent content on webmd.com; the smart marketing, relevant articles, and personalized approach of ediet.com; the proven programs and supporting products from Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, the local facilities of gyms like 24 hour fitness, or the low-cost, full-care health care model of Kaiser-Permanente.
  • Employee training programs are also likely beneficiaries.  From small businesses up to large corporations, firms could improve employee productivity and satisfaction – while cutting costs – by developing training programs around Service Export delivery.
  • Other broad opportunities in personal development will appear as well: Yamaha Music has already made significant investments in music education that could be leveraged directly.  Sony, Berlitz, and others have invested in tools to help people learn foreign languages quickly and easily – these could be made much more effective with the addition of a qualified, native speaker as a personal instructor.

 Albert Pujols has a coach, and so does Serena Williams.  What are you waiting for?

(see a list of Personal Coaching services)