Who Needs a Coach?
by Ben Benjamin, PhD

After coaching clients for many years, I have identified twelve problem areas that cause people to have difficulty achieving success in both their personal and professional lives. Dealing effectively with these twelve areas often involves learning new skills and having an emotional willingness to change. I have noticed that as individuals learn each of these skills and take steps to change, they become more and more successful. Interestingly, the same issues apply equally to succeeding at business, in a relationship or at taking care of your health. As you take a look at these skills and abilities, note the areas where you are strong and where you could use some improvement - try not to judge yourself.

The Common Reasons People Seek and Need A Coach

1. Goals
Problem: Goals are not specifically defined.

Without a set of goals that are reasonable, sequential and attainable it is very difficult, if not impossible, for an individual to move forward and succeed. We must clearly think out and state our professional, personal and/or educational goals. Then we need to write them down and hang them up where we can see them.

Some people come to coaching with their goals fully thought out, but most spend the first month or more clarifying and defining their goals. Goal development only works if you know what you want personally, financially, spiritually, educationally and professionally. The majority of individuals drift through a life that just happens to them because they do not design it. Sometimes this works out well, but often it does not. The coaching process helps people think about and articulate their hopes and dreams.

Most people never seriously ask themselves what they really want out of life, what would be the profession or job of their dreams. Often a coach will ask questions that reach deep into the soul of your desires. Then those desires and how they fit the reality of your talents and abilities are explored and steps are crafted to help you move toward, and achieve them.

2. Plans
Problem: Planning is not a habit.

We need to have short-term, intermediate and long-term strategies in place to accomplish our goals and to keep our ideas moving forward. Short-term plans refer to this week or this month's tasks, intermediate plans refer to the strategies for the next three to six months, and long-term plans refer to larger tasks to accomplish over the next one to five years.

If we don't have concrete plans, strategies and tasks laid out, we may only wander toward our goals, procrastinating and being sidetracked, losing time and possibly inspiration along the way. Planning does not come naturally for most of us. It is a learned skill that is not usually included in our formal schooling. A coach trains you how to plan if you don鴠have the skill and makes sure that plans and strategies are designed to keep you on target towards your stated goals.

3. Work
Problem: Work is often stressful and not enjoyable.

It is often the case that a person is in the wrong job or profession. This creates work dissonance based on an inner conflict and can make a person physically ill in addition to unhappy.

Part of a coach's job is to test the resonance of a client with his/her job if the individual appears to be stressed or miserable at work. Job stress or job frustration also results when a person who manages or owns a business, feels he or she has to do everything in order for it to be done correctly. This type of individual often has difficulty hiring and training people so that effective delegation can occur.

We do our best when our work is in synchrony with who we are and is done in an environment that allows our creativity to flourish. Coaches help individuals learn to delegate the jobs they dislike and concentrate on the ones they love and at which they will be most productive. Or, the coach helps you explore your interests and discover a type of work that might better suit your particular interests, talents and skills.

4. Follow-through
Problem: Follow-through of important tasks is random at best.

Individuals often have few methods or strategies in place to help them follow-through on the tasks and actions needed to attain their goals. Their primary modes of operation are dealing with emergencies and procrastination of tasks. They constantly need to put out fires because there has been inadequate planning and follow-through, and putting off important tasks has also become a chronic pattern.

Establishing ways to make our follow-through more consistent is probably the most important area in which people need help. The coach provides a personal system of accountability. Working together, the coachee and the coach, come up with a reasonable weekly task list which is reviewed at each subsequent meeting. Whether or not the tasks are completed that week is not the real issue. If the task gets done you move on to the next one. If the task is consistently not completed you have something important to work on together. This is the meat of good coaching.

When we move out of our comfort zone, we resist. The client's resistance to a task is explored to find out several things. Is this task too far out of the person's comfort zone; is it the wrong task for this person; does the person need outside help to accomplish the task; is the task overwhelming and in need of being broken down into smaller pieces; or does there need to be a consequence if the task is not accomplished? When the resistance is understood and resolved, the block is overcome and the person moves forward again. Avoiding or ignoring the resistance can keep people stuck in the same place for years.

5. Emotional Containment
Problem: The person becomes overwhelmed.

Individuals often have difficulty containing the stress of multiple inputs and tasks. They have few or no coping strategies in place when a situation becomes overwhelming. At these times a person may become frozen or withdrawn, their behavior may be impulsive or they may become angry at those around them. When we have mechanisms in place to handle multiple inputs, we are better equipped to help ourselves avoid becoming overwhelmed. By learning how to create, step by step, well-thought-out plans for our business and our life, we can avoid becoming confused and overwhelmed. The coach offers a support system to help you when that feeling arises. Physical disorder can contribute to the experience of feeling overwhelmed. A coach can suggest an active solution which may be as simple as a book or CD on how to organize yourself, or it could mean hiring a professional organizer to help you create order in your space. In some cases the inability to contain multiple inputs has an emotional root and needs the attention of a therapist or counselor.

6. Communication Skills
Problem: Positive communication does not come easily.

Many people need to learn and master essential relationship and communication skills. Creating good relationships is one of the most important assets in everyday living and in creating and maintaining a successful business. A coach helps a person work toward mastery of skills that support constructive communication:

  • Saying "No" and setting boundaries
  • Giving constructive positive and constructive negative feedback
  • Accepting constructive positive and constructive negative feedback
  • Asking for help whenever it is needed
  • Expressing and accepting irritation and anger
  • Listening without the need to give advice
  • Handling conflict effectively
  • Building productive teams

    All this may seem like a tall order, and it's one of the reasons we need coaches in one form or another throughout our lives. Poor communication skills account for most failed relationships, and good relationships are the foundation of any successful business or life. Each of these skills is invaluable for our growth and success. Interpersonal Communication 101 is not a regular course we take in school, although it should be.

    The first skill listed above, saying "No" and setting boundaries, is often one of the most difficult and undeveloped skills for people. We have so many good choices it is sometimes hard to choose. But we must choose or we get flooded and drown from too much input and too much to do. Learning to say "no" and set appropriate boundaries often takes several years of hard work.

    Giving and receiving constructive feedback is the second most important skill that is frequently lacking. We cannot understand what is not working unless we make an effort to find out. We all seek out a kind of coaching or advice from parents, mentors, friends, therapists, teachers and so forth about how to communicate effectively. Asking for honest feedback gives us vital information; it鳠one way we learn what's not working so we can change our behavior and improve our lives. Fear of criticism usually prevents people from asking for and giving feedback. Part of the coach's job is to teach you how to ask for feedback from those you trust and how to give helpful feedback to people in your life. Useful feedback is always given kindly and in a constructive way.

    7. Education
    Problem: If we don't keep learning, we lose our edge.

    We need to recognize that once we think we know everything, we are in trouble. Continuous learning keeps our thinking fresh, prevents burnout and actually helps our brain cells develop further.

    To educate literally means "to draw out". A skilled coach doesn't give you advice unless you specifically ask for it. Any good teacher, supervisor or coach helps you to learn by encouraging you to explore your options and ask the right kinds of questions. It may take longer to learn what to do that way, but it fosters independence and new ways of thinking and learning.

    Continued learning helps us become more creative and innovative, but it also serves to keep us humble. There are always things we could learn to improve the quality of our work and life. A coach is both a teacher and a supporter who encourages us to keep learning from others. Education need not take place in a formal classroom. Learning takes place in many ways be it from an advisor, a mentor, or through an experience or project in which we participate. The learning must fit the needs and learning style of the individual. Many learners do best in an internship setting rather than a classroom; others just need to set aside the time and they will happily research and study by themselves. Some people learn best with a one-on-one teacher who moves at their pace. A good coach keeps new learning an active and integrated part of the coaching relationship.

    8. Money
    Problem: Money has a negative connotation.

    Individuals often have trouble handling money and need to develop skills in such areas as: creating and sticking to a realistic budget, avoiding impulsive spending, saving regularly, and investing money intelligently for the future. There may be underlying family issues about money, such as guilt about accumulating money, or just a lack of knowledge and information about how to create wealth.

    The coach encourages the concept of building wealth as a means of gaining personal and professional freedom. Money can be a very emotionally charged topic and often takes many months to talk about with any depth and honesty. Guilt about money is a common problem which can hold a person back from business success. Finding the key to financial blocks is an important task for the client and the coach. Without this piece of the puzzle, efforts to move toward financial freedom usually fail. For those individuals who lack relevant information and skills regarding money, achieving business success may occur more quickly and with fewer obstacles.

    9. Marketing Skills
    Problem: The person does not have natural marketing skills

    For many people marketing does not come easily. They lack the basic skills needed to effectively market themselves or their businesses. They frequently feel embarrassed about "selling" or have difficulty articulating what they have to offer. Just the idea of selling often creates a bad feeling in the person. These individuals need to learn that selling is nothing more than presenting the person in front of them with positive options to choose from, which can be accomplished without pressure or being pushy. Marketing skills can be easily learned if the individual possesses most of the other skills listed here. If you can plan intelligently, communicate well, follow through on what you plan and enjoy your work, marketing skills can easily be learned from your coach. But if you are disorganized, not clear about your goals, easily overwhelmed, say "yes" when you want to say "no", have difficulty delegating, and have a weak support system, learning to market yourself is tough. Until you master the other important skills, the benefits derived from successful marketing will elude you.

    10. Organization
    Problem: The person is unorganized.

    Some individuals lack the skills needed to organize tasks and clear out the clutter in a logical and orderly manner. When tasks and paperwork pile up, the individual can quickly become overwhelmed. We need to develop ways to organize our materials, tasks and activities.

    A coach assists you in organizing your plans, tasks and actions to move toward your goals. But physical disorganization contributes to mental disorder and it is difficult to work effectively if your desk, your office and your home are in constant disarray. So the first task is often to bring physical order to your life. To be organized doesn鴠mean you have to become a neatnik; it does mean you must be comfortable in your surroundings and be able to locate whatever you need quickly and easily. "Organized" looks different for every individual. A coach helps you discover what 'organized' looks like for you and helps you find the resources necessary to create an organized environment to work in.

    11. Environment
    Problem: The physical environment is not conducive to productive work.

    When there is clutter, poor ambience, inadequate lighting, an uncomfortable workstation and/or a pressured emotional environment in the workplace, the individual feels constantly stressed. Our work atmosphere ought to be exciting, relaxing and orderly.

    Establishing a positive physical and emotional environment is essential to satisfying work. A coach might visit your workplace environment to help you make it more conducive to productive work. Beyond the papers and files in your office, ambience and emotional atmosphere are often neglected. People do their best work when they are surrounded by things they love, like photos of loved ones, paintings, or objects of beauty that have special meaning to them. The environment must have physical comfort as well, e.g. a comfortable chair, good lighting, real air, natural light, the right height computer and desk, etc. It should also include a good headset if your work keeps you on the telephone. Many workplaces thrive on continual pressure and stress almost as if it were an addictive drug. This is unhealthy for everyone even if they claim they like it. If you plan well and leave a little leeway for the unexpected, which always happens, you are rarely caught in a crunch. If your work environment craves stress, you purposely and unconsciously plan things unrealistically so that you are always under extreme emotional pressure. If you work in an environment that is based on stress and it is hurting you, a coach may explore the possibility of finding a new work environment that is healthier for you.

    12. Support Systems
    Problem: There is no effective professional or personal support system.

    Individuals often feel isolated and alone without a peer support group or trusted individuals to check-in with regularly. They make poor decisions when they don鴠have regular input from others to help create a balanced perspective. To be truly successful, we must cultivate and make use of an effective support system. A coach works with you to build a team that can act as your support system to help you problem solve, reflect about issues of concern, generate ideas, and share in your progress and successes. Anyone who is alone or feels continually unappreciated and isolated has difficulty functioning effectively and actually dies younger. We all need contact with people we care about, at work as well as in our personal life. Healthy, strong relationships are usually the basis of success in both work and life.

    A hundred years ago we all lived and worked in close proximity to our families and the people we grew up with. In today's world of cars, air travel, phones, emails, faxes, and an accelerated economy, there may be a greater tendency toward isolation. Creating a support network can be challenging for a number of reasons. As of the year 2000, one-third of the work population worked at home. Many of us however, live a distance from our family and close friends and for others work takes them to cities away from home. The coach's task may include helping the individual learn how to network, become connected to others, and then stay connected. Success in business in today鳠world is based on satisfactory relationships that are long lasting.

    Fire Your Coach
    Once you set your goals, plan how to get there, enjoy your work, follow-through on your tasks and activities, communicate reasonably well, are not hung up about money, get organized, create a good work environment, learn how to market yourself, and have a network of trusted individuals in your support system, you will have achieved what you set out to do. Your life and work will be successful and you can fire your coach with his or her blessing.

    Ben Benjamin, Ph.D., founder and President of the Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge, has been a business and personal coach for the last twenty-five years. His coaching goal is to help people earn more efficiently while doing work they love in order to have the time to live their lives fully without inordinate stress.


    © 2000 WorkLife Coaching