How to use a life coach

Practical advice on work issues

Life coaching is becoming more popular but many people don’t really understand what it is or how it can help develop careers. Heather Wolsey-Ottaway, a social worker at Cornwall Council who also provides life coaching, says it can be very useful.
“Everyone would benefit from having a coach,” she says. “Someone in their life who is truly independent, really believes in them and their abilities, and who can help set specific actions and priorities to achieve the life they want.”

1 What does a life coach do?
Life coaching is easily lumped in with therapy and counselling and many people are put off by that. While life coaching can just focus upon your personal life, a lot of people use life coaches to move their career forward or help with particular problems. Wolsey-Ottaway thinks there is a lot of overlap between people’s personal and professional ambitions and that the two are not mutually exclusive. She says life coaching is all about helping people to get where they want to go. “A life coach works with people to identify specific goals in their life which they wish to achieve – personal and professional – and assists them to reach these goals faster and more easily,” she says.

2 How often do I meet a life coach?
While it is good for at least the first one or two meetings to take place face to face, there is no reason why other sessions cannot happen over the telephone. In fact, Wolsey-Ottaway says most do take place over the phone and typically last between 30 minutes to one hour. These can be weekly, fortnightly, monthly or even further apart. The important thing is to go with what you need, although if there is too long a gap between sessions it is hard to keep up the momentum. Some coaches also offer e-mail support.

3 How do I find a life coach?
It is a relatively new profession and not very regulated, which means people can set themselves up as life coaches with little or no training. So it is important to shop around and do your homework on any potential candidates. Word of mouth is a good way of finding someone. A lot of life coaches offer a complimentary session. Wolsey-Ottaway says this should form part of the selection process. “Make use of this, speaking to two or three coaches before you make your choice,” she says.
 “Coaches have different styles, and it is important to choose a person you feel you can work with positively.” She advises asking questions such as “What is your coaching style?”, “How will you help me achieve my goals?” and “How often will I be coached?”

4 Social care knowledge?
Although it’s always handy to have an adviser who specialises in or has worked in your sector, Wolsey-Ottaway doesn’t think this is essential. The important things are a good relationship with your coach, and feeling they can help you realise your goals and challenge your thinking. These skills are not industry specific.

5 Monitoring success
Entering the relationship with a clear idea of what you want to get out of it – with your coach also fully aware of your expectations –  makes it easier to assess how well it is going. Is it helping you to achieve your goals? Do you feel more able to handle difficult work situations or challenges now? The best measure of success is whether or not there are any tangible results that you can put down to the coaching.
“Clients monitor the success of coaching by the effect it has on their life and the progress they are making towards achieving their goals,” says Wolsey-Ottaway.

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