Mary-Ann Owens loves to listen to people, to draw out their inner thoughts, motivations and attitudes.
It’s her job. She’s a coach.
Last week, Owens was asked not to listen, but to talk, and clear up some misconceptions about the fledgling profession.
In a downtown Calgary speech and later an interview, Owens discussed the nuances of coaching, explained why coaches shouldn’t be confused with consultants or therapists, and shared her concerns that unqualified people are hanging out their shingles as professional coaches.
|Dave Olecko, Business Edge|
|The clients determine their own needs, says Mary-Ann Owens, and the coach helps them deal with any roadblocks encountered.|
“There is some confusion about what a coach is,” says Owens, founding president of the three-year-old Calgary chapter of the International Coach Federation.
“Coaching is a little fuzzy to get your head around . . . A consultant will come in and tell you the right thing to do. A therapist will most often look into your past to find the source of problems.”
But coaching, she says, is action oriented, focused on today and the future. It’s about giving the clients the choice of how to achieve their goals.
According to statistics Owens has seen, about 30,000 coaches are working in North America. She’s aware of several hundred operating in Calgary, most joining the profession the last couple of years.
What do coaches do?
They help their clients to implement ideas and develop themselves further, says Owens.
And no, coaches don’t carry clipboards and wear whistles around their necks.
Their greatest tool is the ability to listen, and then ask questions that help the client better understand and articulate what they want out of life and work situations. Everything is done in confidence.
For example, many corporate leaders today lead terribly unbalanced lives, says Owens.
They are working too hard, putting in nightmarish hours.
“They are showing up to work exhausted, their minds not working the way they should, and not being (nearly) as productive as they should be.”
Through an assessment process, it is the client who determines his or her needs, says Owens. A coach will then, through listening, begin to understand the roadblocks in front of the client, offer support, resources, and brainstorm possible solutions.
The client chooses the path to follow. It may mean deciding to say no to more additional office duties, beginning to take banked holiday time, taking a fitness class over the lunch hour, learning to delegate, or leaving work on time to be with family. “I can’t impose my agenda on them,” says Owens. “It’s an internal process. It’s what they want to achieve and how they want to do it.”
Owens began coaching three years ago after a successful eight-year career at Garth Toombs and Associates Inc., a national outplacement agency. She founded Mary-Ann Owens and Associates Inc. and has a growing clientele of leaders and managers in both the private and public sector.
“Some people think it’s a trendy thing, until they experience it. Then they like it because they are getting things accomplished. They are being listened to and heard. People love to be heard.”
She says clients who are successfully coached can expect to reach their goals quicker, advance faster professionally, make better decisions, find balance and become a better leader.
Coaching is also convenient. Owens will normally work with a client two to four times a month. A lot of work is done over the phone, at the client’s request, to avoid distractions. Coaches are also being hired on retainer and called upon when a client has an issue that needs to be addressed.
In large companies, local corporate leaders may even have coaches in Toronto, or New York, she says.
As in any new profession, Owens concedes that there will be people entering the field who aren’t qualified. These people may have strengths in the human relations field, and be well-intentioned, she says. They may believe they are ready to coach after taking a one-week course.
“Learning to coach is a step-by-step process, experience is so important to develop the proper skills,” says Owens, who has spent the last 18 months completing a certified business coach program.
She suggests that people seeking a qualified coach should visit the International Coach Federation Web site which offers a referral service, as does Coach University, or The Coaches Training Institute (see web sites below).
Although she had years of one-on-one experience, coaching takes the process to a new high, she says. While there are people who are uncoachable, too uncomfortable to share their inner workings, a lot of people do want help.
“When you are coaching well you just lose time,” says Owens. “Everything flows.
“The person is going through the process, sharing, setting goals. You are listening. And the person feels their agenda is front and centre and they just keep moving it forward. That’s fun.”