How a career coach can take you that extra mile

NOBODY thinks twice about sportsmen having coaches. Why shouldn’t business people do the same? They’re expected to be high-performers too,” says Olympic silver medallist Roger Black, who set a national sprinting record in 1996.

Fellow Olympian and world record-breaker Steve Backley agrees: “A businessman has the same goals, they want a long sustainable career too.” This, they explain, is why they turned their hand to business mentoring and motivational speaking after they retired. Indeed, yesterday lunchtime the pair could be found on Jubilee Plaza in Canary Wharf, coaching the passers by.

“A sporting goal is far more tangible – the date, time and location of a race is not going to move. That is sort of why business coaching should be even more important,” says Black. A lot of the pair’s exercises are about defining goals and forcing their mentees to be very clear about what they want from their life and career.

There’s clearly demand for their services. A recent Institute of Leadership & Management survey found that 79 per cent of managers believed career coaching would improve their performance.

Black says coaching works because success is dependent on playing to your strengths and tackling your weaknesses: “I know I owe a great deal of my success to coaches who made me focus intensively on my sprinting.”

He adds that knowing your strengths can help you work through crises too: “To come back from setbacks you’ve got to know you’re doing the right thing with your life.” He explains how he relied on this attitude when he broke his foot at the age of 21. “If I hadn’t known that I had talent, I’m not sure I could have worked through the recovery process.”

Career coaching revolves around these concepts, says Phil Hayes, the managing director of careers coaching business Management Futures. “We work with all kinds of businessmen and women who need to manage a period of change or challenge.”

“It’s not just negative work though,” says Hayes, “sometimes it’s just preparatory or designed to optimise a worker’s performance.” Hayes says he often works with people in the City who are moving abroad to set up or manage an office, for instance. “I worked with someone recently who wanted to ensure he made the greatest impact possible in his first 100 days in the new job.”

“It’s about pushing high-performers to the limit,” Backley adds.


1. CREDIBILITY. Try to pick someone who is visible in the industry. Have they written any books or published articles? Are they interviewed or quoted anywhere?

2. REFERENCES. Can the coach provide you with references from past clients? Beware if they can’t.

3. METHODS. Make sure the coach offers a set up you’re comfortable with. One-on-one, in a private location, whatever works for you.

4. GOALS. A good coach should be offering you clarity and helping you define your goals. It is not therapy, so be sure that they are driving you forwards.

5. CHEMISTRY. Don’t be afraid to move. Try another counsellor if you don’t feel the chemistry is right between you and the first person you see. You have to feel comfortable enough to share the intimate details of your life with them.

6. FEES. Rates vary wildly. Many have different rates depending on whether or not the individual or the company is paying – try negotiating with them. What’s the worst that could happen?