Opinions vary widely on the subject of coaches. Do an online search for life coaching and dotted between the multiple sites of coaches promising you the world are a multitude of articles on how life coaches are frauds.

Mothepa Ndumo-Masina, owner of Higher Self Career and Executive Coaching, defines herself as a career and executive coach who integrates life coaching principles into her methodology, particularly in the initial stages of the coaching process. She acknowledges the challenges that come with the perception of life coaches and says, “I sometimes encounter people who seek to diminish what we do and that comes from a place of not knowing. It is a profession with professional codes of conduct and ethics, governing global and local bodies which set very high standards and credentialing processes. There are plans to regulate the industry in South Africa and we can only celebrate that. I am sorry that some have met fly-by-night charlatans posing as coaches.”

Becoming a coach

Ndumo-Masina sees a life coach as a certified professional helper whose purpose is to partner and co-create with a client to perform at peak levels in all the domains of life, whether it be their career, relationships, health, finances and personal branding, among many others. A life coach will empower them to shed whatever is holding them back mentally and emotionally from achieving the kind of life that they are capable of living.

Innovation and business coach Graeme Butchart adds, “When coaching arrived as a possibility for everyone it could begin to address all aspects of an individual’s development life. Our careers, family, partners, businesses and everything else, are inseparable. If you influence one part, it impacts on another. Because of the breadth of the coaching offering, life coaching became the terminology. Over time coaching has become more professionalised and as a consequence niched in its offerings.”

The key differentiator is in the structure and processes used as well as the return on investment. It is the fundamental difference between a coach and a mentor. As business coach Brent Spilkin explains, “mentoring is unstructured, unaccountable and subjective. Mentoring is often just someone you know and respect that has 'done it before', who is offering you advice and guidance without being paid for his/her time. There are no timelines and goals set when you're being mentored, while coaching is a structured approach, over a set period of time, with clearly defined goals being adhered to. The coach is paid for his time, must remain 100% objective to your needs and goals, and is non-advisory.”

You have to be curious about what’s going on within the world of those you engage with.

As a result, there is an added level of responsibility in coaching. This is most evident in how, for example, Ndumo-Masina arrived at the space. After a stint as an academic lawyer specialising in labour law, she went on to do a Masters in the human resource development field, followed by various certifications as a coach, with a focus on positive psychology, neuro-linguistic programming, transformation life coaching and appreciative inquiry.

Butchart’s path was different. “I spent thirty years in advertising, as a creative director. My daily task was solving business communication challenges, using a combination of words and pictures. Each challenge was uniquely different, requiring an innovative and creative solution, usually in very short and compacted durations – 30/60 seconds. On leaving advertising, I ventured into education and began giving back the knowledge and experiences I had gained.”

Purpose of a coach

Brent Spilkin Brent Spilkin

Business coach Brent Spilkin sits in the space between coaching and consulting and, like Butchart, brings a wealth of knowledge garnered from running his own businesses to his clients. This has put him in the perfect position to “offer advice where the client is needing solutions to improve the pace to achieving their own growth targets in their business. I focus primarily on the media, advertising, communications and technology sectors, giving me a great oversight of larger industry trends, opportunities and threats in the space that business owners may not see while working in their business.”

He sees his role as helping business owners define their business growth objectives and then assisting them in the strategic thinking and planning to achieve their desires. In his eyes, a good coach should become your theoretical silent partner who is always a call and mail away. They are the propellant to your business growth and should assist you in making the right decisions that will impact your business positively while inspiring and motivating you and your team.

I am sorry that some have met fly-by-night charlatans posing as coaches.

Tools of the trade

Both Butchart and Spilkin say the drive to constantly building your knowledge is of utmost importance. According to Spilkin, “If you are not constantly reading about the space in which you play and not improving your own skills you are dead in the water. It’s essential that you remain relevant to your client base by knowing more than they do, at every stage of their business. This relates to the operations of the business and not necessarily their product or service. Having experience in multiple industries and having seen many ways in which businesses have succeeded, failed and been mediocre gives a coach perspective that is invaluable to his/her clients. It's valuable to have a formal business education as well as exposure to psychology as business coaches will deal with the academics of running a business as well as the softer aspects like motivation, depression and anxiety.”

There are no timelines and goals set when being mentored while coaching is a structured approach, over a set period of time with clearly defined goals being adhered to.

To this Butchart adds that curiosity is the number one requirement. “You have to be curious about what’s going on within the world of those you engage with. To do that with meaning requires that you know how to ask provocative and open-ended questions. You must listen deeply and attentively to the client’s answers, without judgment or attachment. There has to be a certain ‘chemistry’ between a client and their coach. There has to be impeccable confidentiality in all that you do. There are many other attributes as well.”

So why see a coach?

All the coaches obviously feel that there are immense benefits. Ndumo-Masina says you should engage a life coach “if you want more for your life and don’t have the tools to unearth and live out your fullest potential; if you feel defeated by life and don’t quite know where to start with reclaiming your power; if you want to embark on a career transition; if you have health goals that you are not quite attaining; if you are tired of sleepwalking through life and want to raise your consciousness.”

In our faster and faster worlds, where uncertainty and ambiguity are the norm, that pace and constant focus can be overwhelming.

For Butchart, objectivity, honesty and clarity should be key drivers because a good coach holds a mirror up to you and, in so doing, presents you with views that you had been unable to see previously. “There is an awful lot of stuff going on in our heads all the time. In our faster and faster worlds, where uncertainty and ambiguity are the norm, that pace and constant focus can be overwhelming. It becomes increasingly harder to see the wood for the trees. We become so invested in our view of the world, we can inadvertently neglect to see the many other perspectives that surround us. And many of those perspectives could well provide the exact insight that is required to help you navigate through a particularly challenging point in life.”

In other words, as Spilkin says, “Being a business owner and entrepreneur is almost always hard. Having someone that can guide you, help with decision-making and call you out on your bullsh*t is invaluable to quickly navigating an uncertain growth trajectory. A great business coach can help you make more money, save money, define and grow your business to where you want and ultimately help the business serve your needs.”

The reality is that we do need people to assist us as we navigate this life and, for some, a coach of some sort, can be the difference between wallowing and thriving. You decide.

To contact the coaches, check out www.spillly.com, www.graemebutchart.com and www.higherselfcoaching.org.