Up Against The Ropes

In his book The Art of War, General Sun Tzu taught great leaders to, “Plan an advantage by listening. Adjust to situations. Get assistance from the outside (and) influence events.” Clearly this ancient wisdom is being applied today as evidenced by the growing number of professionals employing business and life coaches to optimize their performance at work and at home.

Coaching is relatively new in the field of human and business development and encompasses a broad spectrum of disciplines from executive training to building life skills. According to the Harvard Business Review, executive coaching is now a $1 billion industry. A recent survey, sponsored by the College of Executive Coaching, found 55% of human resources managers are now using coaching as an employee development method. Of the HR managers interviewed, 95% say that coaching has increased significantly in the past five years.

It has become an effective method for many professionals because coaching is a self-directed process that works on maximizing strengths versus fixing problems. John Gregory, president of TEACH Enterprise, a career development center in Columbus, Ohio, describes it best as, “a self-help book with a live voice.”

There are a number of variables to keep in mind when considering coaching. Coaches come from a variety of backgrounds: psychology, social work, health, human resources, and more. Therefore, their methodologies may vary based on areas of expertise. Formal certification, though available, isn’t required by law. Additionally, while most coaches use assessment, goal setting, and tracking tools, not all results are quantifiable.

However, clients like Donna Thompson Ray, faculty development director at the CUNY Center for Media, points to specific benefits. “I purchased my own home, established a small business, improved academic skills, and learned to be a professional educator.”

While it is not a legal mandate, the International Coach Federation (www.coachfederation.org), a widely recognized institution, offers certification to those who have completed extensive hours of training and hands-on experience.

Some professional coaches have advanced degrees and training in specialized disciplines (in addition to or in lieu of coaching certification), such as masters or doctorate degrees in psychology, social work, human resources, business administration, or theology. Experience is a key factor.


  • Establish your intentions prior to seeking a coach and then choose one based on his or her ability to address your goals.
  • Coaching generally begins with an evaluation that collects the client’s back- ground information and defines goals and expectations.
  • Coaches assign specific exercises (with time frames) related to goals and desired benchmarks.
  • Clients and coaches meet regularly (weekly, biweekly, or monthly) in person or via telephone to evaluate results and combat challenges.
  • Coaches are not there to act as advisers or counselors. The coach’s job is to be a source of motivation and accountability. The client is responsible for taking the necessary steps to reach set goals.

For more information, visit the Black Professional Coaches Alliance (www.black coaches.org).