Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Concept of Life Coaching

Life coaching is a relatively new field. At times I think that it's a practice in search of a concept. Many people are not exactly clear what coaching is, what is does, and what they can expect from it.

But life coaching does not merely lack a concept. It also lacks a face. Sports coaching has many faces... from Vince Lombardi to Bear Bryant to Pat Riley. Psychoanalysis has Freud, Jung, and Adler among others. Philosophy, literature, nuclear physics... they all have faces... from Aristotle to Shakespeare to Robert Oppenheimer.

Thanks to Meridith Levinson and Bruce Rosenstein we can now attempt to provide a concept and a face for life coaching.

The concept is self-management in different worlds. The face is that of noted management theory guru Peter Drucker.

When Levinson interviewed Rosenstein for she entitled her article: "Peter Drucker as Life Coach." Link here.

It should not really be that difficult to find a concept for life coaching. As the term coaching is normally used, a coach works with an athlete or a performer. His task to to help the performer achieve an optimal level of performance.

If you have a coach you are either training for a game or participating in it. With some games you do most of the work before the game starts. With others you also consult your coach during the game. Coaching aims at participation, not ruminating.

A life coach would be happier if you mastered the lessons of Miss Manners than if you slogged your way through Freud's "The Interpretation of Dreams."

Psychotherapy has a different concept. Having arisen from medicine therapy takes your problems as symptoms of an underlying illness and tries to cure or to treat the disease.

For this reason it has always assumed that once your mental illness is resolved you will return to normal social functioning, though perhaps needing some exercise to help you with the transition.

A physician does not help you to manage your life. He removes the obstacle that is preventing you from functioning normally, and assumes that your life will then proceed normally.

Perhaps this explains why psychotherapy has so little to say about coaching, leadership, or management.

Life coaching assumes that your life is something you can learn to manage more effectively. As Drucker suggests, your life involves you in several different worlds, thus, it requires different skills depending on the world you are inhabiting at a particular moment.

In life coaching there is no one-size-fits-all notion that once you remove what is preventing you from succeeding you will just naturally get better.

Where psychologists see people as living in various dramas or fictional worlds, life coaching sees them as participating in different games-- whether family life, romance, business, charities, religious affairs, sports teams, clubs, and so on.

These games often have different rules, different playing fields, and different players.

Some people are very good at one or two of these games but fail at others. Drucker's view of a full life involves being adept at a number of these games.

Self-management does not say that you must be good at everything. It does say that you should develop certain basic competencies in the most important worlds, and that you should learn to organize your time and to husband your talents judiciously.

As happens in business, self-management teaches you when to lead, when to follow, and when to get out of the way. It shows you how to make a plan, how to set a policy, and how best to implement and execute that plan.

Where therapy talks endless of how much people are out of control, life coaching shows people how to exercise control and when not to try to do so.

Life coaching shows you when to step back to analyze a situation, and how to judge the value of your actions as a function of the results produced.

Since life coaching sees you as a social being, it works to apply ethical principles to each of the different worlds you inhabit, to encourage you to be generous and respectful, courteous and polite, to be a team player and to accept responsibility for your failures as well as your successes.

1 comment:

Meridith Levinson said...

For a field that's in search of a concept, you've done a remarkable job of explaining the role of a life coach! I'm glad to see my Q&A inspired a post. Thanks for pointing it out to your readers!