"Life coaches use inspiration to help boost employee productivity"

Thursday, October 30, 2008
Central Valley Business Journal
By Patricia Reynolds
Business Journal Writer

Today’s news is rife with stories of foreclosures, bankruptcies and growing unemployment. As the stock market continues its erratic tumble, economists project that the nation’s financial condition will worsen before showing signs of improvement.

How have these doses of negative input impacted the workplace? According to Lynn Telford-Sahl, a health, wealth and happiness coach for women in business located in Modesto, the onslaught of negative news creates stress and anxiety, which in turn influences performance.

“I think the fear people are feeling right now is affecting their productivity,” she said. “They are in fear about their job. They’re in fear about the overall economy.”

Life coaches such as Telford-Sahl, however, offer an antidote to all the pessimism. They show clients how to filter external input through a positive sieve and leave the negative behind.

“It’s all about how we take the information and deal with it and what we chose to focus on,” she said. “There’s a reality to the fear and we don’t want to feed in to it because then it can become debilitating.”

A growing profession with roots in an executive business context, life coaching is aimed at helping individuals identify and achieve personal and professional goals. The optimistic, can-do coaching process encourages individuals to ignore outside influences that lead to a defeatist attitude and, instead, to recognize their strengths and take charge of their own lives.

The International Coach Federation, a non-profit membership and coaching certification organization, claims 15,000 members worldwide, up from 4,000 in 2001. Because many coaches obtain certification through other organizations or practice based on related education or experience, the numbers are likely much higher.

While the majority of people utilizing life coaches are women in mid-life, coaches feel the process benefits anyone seeking a better understanding of their goals and aspirations. In troubling times, they say, life coaching can be particularly advantageous, especially in a professional setting.

“When we’re in an economic downturn, it brings up our fears around change and fear of the unknown,” said Telford-Sahl. “And it’s also a very rich time full of possibility because it bumps us up into asking different questions. What is it I really want? What is really important?”

Such self-analysis in a career context helps individual employees learn how they can positively impact their work environment, says Carol McKay, also a Modesto-based life coach. While business or executive coaching traditionally targets the top tier managers of an organization, life coaches work with the individual employee at all levels.

“The expectation of executive coaching is that the benefit will trickle down into the organization,” she said. “Life coaching in a business setting is different in that we come in at the employee level and expect the benefits to trickle up.”

McKay says that through the life coaching process, employees learn how obtaining personal wellness, developing good personal relationships with co-workers and having a positive attitude can help the overall business organization.

“In a challenging economy, it is important for the team to think outside the box, be motivated to find new ways of accomplishing objectives,” she said. “When people are down and miserable, they are unable to think in this context.”

Chris Currie, Chief Executive Officer of Currie Computers, Inc. in Modesto hired McKay to help inspire his staff through the Passion Test, a method that aids people in prioritizing their goals.

“I encourage my employees to always find ways to do better,” he said. “This was a very inexpensive way of helping my employees to do better with their lives.”

While he noticed a change in attitude in all 13 of his participating staff, he said the outcome for one specific staff member demonstrated the benefit to any business wishing to improve productivity.

“One particular individual employee had a real negative attitude prior to going into the meeting. She was constantly thinking that the world was against her, that she was never going to amount to much and I think she thought that everyone was out to rip her off,” Currie said. “After the Passion Test with Carol, she had a complete turnaround. She had positive goals that she set for herself and her attitude changed completely.”

Despite the profession’s rapid growth, life coaches continue to face barriers to acceptance. While stressing that they are not therapists, consultants, or trainers, life coaches do tend to migrate to coaching from careers in those very fields. Consequently their services are often viewed as a non-essential expense from a business perspective.

Lynn Telford-Sahl says that the intangible nature of the life coaching service makes it difficult for some potential clients to justify the investment. Unlike massage therapists, air conditioning repair people or hair stylists, the end product of life coaching isn’t visible or immediately felt. Even so, Teford-Sahl says the idea of life coaching is more acceptable today that it was even four years ago.

Carol McKay says that while people start out being cynical about the process, once they’ve actually sampled a life coach’s services, the feeling that it is an unnecessary luxury usually dissolves.

“They discover that it’s not about fixing you or telling you what to do,” she said. “It’s about finding out about where you are now, discovering where you want to be and building a bridge between the two.”

While trying life coaching on for size is a great way to experience the benefits, both Telford-Sahl and McKay warn businesses and individuals to conduct research first. Because there is no regulatory board governing the profession, anyone can call themselves a coach.

“Consumers should certainly do their homework before consulting with a coach,” she said. “Potential clients should make sure that the coach has training.”

Economic times are hard and in order to survive, businesses must find ways to motivate their staff. Chris Currie believes life coaching is a worth-while investment in achieving that goal.

“Whenever you give coaching to your staff, whether it be personal coaching or business coaching I have found it to be beneficial,” he said. “My staff comes away from the coaching inspired. It enhances their morale and it boosts their energy to do better within themselves.”

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