Jonathan Jay thinks it's going to be another good year for coaching
- and as a 34-year-old millionaire, it has all been pretty good
so far. In 1999, Jay spent his last £145 advertising a seminar
on how to be a coach. Now here he is, director of the Coaching Academy,
the UK's biggest coaching school, living in a panoramic Putney penthouse,
all leather, suede and views of the Thames (if you can see past
the plasma TV). Then there's his new book, Sack Your Boss!, and
his TV commitments - Now I'm the Boss! (for Living TV) and helping
families emigrate (for the BBC's Get a New Life). And let's not
forget the coaching for businesses, for a day rate of £10,000.
'I think we need to reconcile helping people with getting paid for
it,' he twinkles.
If the typical image of a life coach is a bit new age and touchy-feely,
Jay comes as a surprise. Slick and charming, he looks and sounds
every inch the entrepreneur - he printed his first business card
at 11, and says, 'Me personally?' when asked a question, before
delivering the smoothest reply. And he is at the forefront of UK
coaching. Until his seminars in 1999, wannabe life coaches had to
train in the US. Now it's impossible to count the number of courses
available in Britain, some offering seminars, some online learning,
some in FE colleges and others stamping certificates on their kitchen
'In 2006, we intend to take coaching into all the nooks and crannies
of British life,' says Jay. 'We're taking it to Edinburgh, Birmingham,
Bristol, Brighton. We want to take it into the NHS, local government
and local schools. I reckon we could have more impact on the state
of education through coaching than Tony Blair could ever have.'
For Jay, coaching is the all-powerful panacea. 'You meet someone
on the street who doesn't know what to do with his life and you
know that if you had one hour with that person, he'd walk away knowing
exactly what he wants and believing he can do it,' he purrs. 'There's
nothing weird about it, nothing voodoo - it's very simple psychology.
It doesn't take a genius to do it. Anyone can be a coach. And whatever
critics say, coaching works. If it didn't, it would be an American
fad that disappeared in six months.'
A lot of people agree with him. In 1999, life coaching was practically
unknown in the UK. Now, a Google of 'UK life coach' throws up 4.5m
sites. You'll find wardrobe coaches who'll do a mini-Trinny and
Susannah for £200 a day. There are parent coaches to tell
you how to get your two-year-old to eat peas. There are cancer coaches
to help you through treatment, crisis coaches, career coaches ...
the list goes on.
On top of this are the self-help books, one of publishing's fastest-growing
genres. Each week sees at least one new title knocked out by a life
coach elbow its place among the bestsellers. Then there's TV's saturation
by self-improvement programmes. You can watch people being coached
out of debt or obesity, a failed fashion sense, sloppy parenting
or a dating drought.
According to the UK's Association for Coaching, an estimated 100,000
British people used a coach last year and the industry has been
valued at £50m. This month, it enters the mainstream with
the finalisation of its National Occupational Standards as set by
ENTO, the national network of training organisations. For the first
time, there will be official standards of good practice and training
for British coaches.
Pam Richardson, leading life coach, author of The Life Coach and
principal of the UK College of Life Coaching, is just as excited
about the future as Jay: 'I can see coaching for newly qualified
teachers, doctors, lawyers - newly qualified anythings. Now that
the government are auditing stress, I can see a lot of coaching
on work-life balance. We're living longer and have a responsibility
to stay well, which means coaching on exercise and diet. Let's not
expect the doctors to fix us! Parent coaching? Absolutely. I can't
think of an area of the community that wouldn't benefit from it.'
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent
and author of (among others) Therapy Culture (Routledge) and Paranoid
Parenting (Allen Lane), is one man who disagrees. According to Furedi,
while we pour scorn on institutions and mock our politicians, the
monarchy and the church, we are developing a slavish, unthinking
devotion to a 'new priesthood of gurus' who have stepped in to fill
the void. Life coaching is, he believes, at best a waste of money
and at worst dangerous.
'There's a growing idea that ordinary human beings lack the competence
and resources to cope with everyday life,' he says. 'More and more
areas are being complicated and professionalised. Some of this is
trivial - I find it idiotic that thinking adults would pay someone
to go shopping with them - but some of it is intrusive.'
Take parent coaching. 'As parents, we learn through experience,
through listening to our children and making mistakes,' Furedi argues.
'You wake up in the night and think, "Why did I say that?"
You screw things up and change your behaviour. When a coach is telling
you what to do, the relationship between you and your child is short-circuited;
the coach is coming between you. You no longer trust your instincts
or what your child is showing you.'
Fiona Campbell, a journalist and photographer, found this to be
true. As a single mother of a one-year-old son, Campbell opted for
life coaching to ease the parenting load. Her coach supported her
through the 'sleep training/controlled crying' period. 'She didn't
judge me, but supported me, which gave me the confidence to follow
it through,' says Campbell. But other aspects weren't so successful.
'I wasn't happy about sending him to a nursery and was angsting
over whether I should or not. I don't blame the coach, but she said
it could be life-enhancing for little ones. Maybe it was just wrong
for my son, who already had a very complicated life, with me, with
his father, at his granny's. His father's family were very much
against nursery at that age. Anyway, I sent him and it was the wrong
decision - it was far too soon for him and he was completely traumatised.'
For Furedi, this highlights the most worrying aspect of life coaching
- its disregard of friends, family and community, the people in
our lives. Advice is only heeded when it's paid for: 'We don't trust
each other as we used to. Life coaching stops us relying on traditional
Top life coaches do display a depressingly cynical view of the
people who love us. 'With friends and family,' says Pam Richardson,
'there's a trench mentality: "We may be wet and miserable,
but we're all in it together." So if someone sticks his head
up, everyone may grab on to his legs - because if he goes, they'd
all have to go.'
Curly Martin echoes this opinion. Martin joined the personal-development
path after being diagnosed with breast cancer, aged 39. She lived
in London and worked as a business trainer, flying all over Europe.
After her diagnosis, she gave up meat and sugar, moved to Bournemouth,
where she could run on the beach, and started Achievement Specialists,
which provides coaching and trains coaches. Last year, her book,
The Life Coaching Handbook, was a number-one bestseller in the UK
'Everybody has a hidden agenda,' she explains. 'If you become very
successful, a family member may not like that because you're not
going to be there on a Friday night for her. A friend may feel you're
going to meet other people. There'll be some kind of sabotage stuff
going on. A life coach is like a cheerleader on the sidelines of
your life, to cheer you on for the good times and support you during
An alternative view would be that a life coach will never judge
you. While friends may challenge and argue back, and see your life
with all its history and habits, promises and peculiarities, the
coach will just 'cheer you on'. 'In this respect,' says Furedi,
'it's no different to when a prostitute smiles at a client and tells
him how good-looking he is.'
What if you didn't like a client? Martin blinks blankly. 'With
telephone coaching you don't meet them, so there's no judgment.'
However, not all life coaches are quite so impartial. Fiona Harrold,
described by the press as 'a guru who has got inside our minds',
'the queen bee of British coaching' and 'the most positive person
alive', is known for challenging her clients and telling them what
she thinks (she calls this 'feedback'). Harrold, author of bestsellers
with titles like Be Your Own Life Coach: How to Take Control of
Your Life and Achieve Your Wildest Dreams, first learnt self-help
from her father, the most successful washing-machine salesman in
Northern Ireland, who read his daughter How to Win Friends and Influence
People at bedtime. She now has 25 coaches on her team and 20,000
subscribers to her website.
As an advert for coaching, Harrold's own life appears a model of
efficiency. She lives in Fulham with the teenage son she raised
alone, describes herself as 'fabulously, happily single', but has
scheduled marriage for the near future. Though she doesn't know
who to. ('I haven't got that person in mind right now, but definitely
over the next two years.') Her home is as you'd expect - pristine,
spacious, candles and cushions - her clothes look new age but expensive,
and her speech is Ab Fab luvviness ('Darling', 'Wow. I mean? Really?'
) mixed with a lurking Belfast twang. According to Harrold, her
life is devoid of drama and chaos. 'I don't have people in my life
I don't want,' she explains, simply. 'The people in my inner circle
are carefully chosen - I don't have a problem letting go of people.'
Including her clients, if they don't make the grade.
'People come to me because they want to get things moving, they
want me to give suggestions and point out what I see.' For example,
there was the management consultant who wanted to be a guitarist.
When that was sorted (he went freelance and took up guitar lessons),
he wanted help around women, so Harrold found him a fitness coach
('He was a bit scrawny, then he bulked up and looked great...')
and a style coach ('He dressed a bit nerdy so we handled that too!').
Sue Loveluck, who lives in Berkshire with her 14-year-old daughter,
is a recent client of Harrold and can only marvel at all she has
achieved as a result. 'I contacted her because I'd read one of her
books and sent an email complimenting her,' says Loveluck, a headhunter.
'At that stage, I wanted to get my business to the next level. I
was successful, but 90 per cent of my business came from one client
and I wasn't developing, I was in a comfort zone.'
Harrold made practical suggestions to simplify Loveluck's life
as a single, working mother. 'She helped eliminate the problems
that held me back. I was driving my daughter to her private school,
which took three hours a day, and when I told Harrold, she said,
"Honey, just stop it!" She told me to talk to the bursar,
which I did that week and they arranged transport.
'I also had a little dog that was always barking. I worked from
home and it was like having a baby in the house. Fiona told me to
solve that problem and in one week I found a dog minder. They are
little problems, that you accept as part of your life - Fiona freed
me up. She looked at what was holding me back and didn't let me
come up with excuses. She made me believe I could do it.'
In the past nine months, with Harrold cheering her on, Loveluck
has flown to America to meet venture capitalists, expanded her income
by 30 per cent and is now setting up another company. 'Fiona helped
me to start acting like a CEO. She advised me to stop reading those
trashy celebrity magazines and to cut them out of my life - which
I did.' She also turned her attention to Loveluck's appearance.
'She'd say, "You're too suburban, honey!" and "Go
to Liberty, darling, the sale's starting!" As I came to see
her, I started changing my image from black suits to Ted Baker and
Joseph. Although she was critical, it never felt negative because
I knew she was on my side.'
However, not all of Harrold's clients are so obedient. Those who
consistently fail to carry out the agreed weekly tasks, she 'lets
go'. 'They're mostly people who've done a lot of therapy and acquired
the habit of talking without doing anything,' sighs Harrold. 'It's
a disastrous habit and people don't need to use me for that when
they could get a counsellor for a fraction of the price. And I find
it boring. I don't need that nonsense. I've got plenty of fabulous
people who want to crack on with their lives and don't want to look
at their navel endlessly.'
All coaches are very particular about this counselling/coaching
distinction - and with good reason, since coaches can charge a lot
more. The idea is that counselling will go over your past, your
feelings, your unconscious mind, while coaching will find out what
you want for the future and help you take the steps to get there.
But while the cost of counselling varies and is often free, coaching
usually starts at £50 for 45 minutes - and that's cheap. One
session with Curly Martin costs £250. Four sessions with Harrold
- plus email and emergency calls - costs between £700 and
Professor Stephen Palmer has thought about the high price of coaching,
and one of his concerns is that it reflects neither training nor
experience. Coaches who set up last week after a few months of online
learning - or not even that - start high. One of the most distinguished
faces of British coaching, Palmer is president of the Coaching Association,
and also a professor of psychology and founder director of the Centre
for Coaching and Centre for Stress Management. He also coaches online,
by phone, even by text.
'I think the whole culture of counselling is that it's a voluntary
activity - you see it a lot in the voluntary sector,' he says. 'Coaching
has never been voluntary so people expect to pay for it.' Research
by Palmer and his students has shown that British people also tend
to view coaching in a more positive light than counselling. 'It's
the stiff upper lip,' he says. 'People are far less prepared to
say, "I'm going to see my counsellor" because it may suggest
there's something wrong, they're not coping. There's embarrassment
around it. But life coaching is seen almost like a sports-coaching
model. It's a positive thing to make your performance better, to
help you achieve your life goals.'
Not surprisingly, UK counsellors don't agree. Philip Hodson, fellow
of the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)
believes TV lies at the root of the coaching explosion. 'There are
so many coaching programmes because it's much easier to accommodate
on television than counselling,' he says. 'It's a quick fix. It's
skimming the surface, shunning one of the most important developments
of the 20th century - the unconscious mind. Counselling is tough
on the attention span.'
It's unarguable that watching coaches turn toddlers into little
angels and knock 10 years off frumpy, menopausal women is enough
to send thousands of viewers in search of a similar service. But
Palmer believes this isn't the primary reason we want coaching.
'It's been a gradual change, but we've become less and less stoical
as a nation,' he says. 'There have been huge changes in the way
we've raised our children, and now, from a very early age, we've
learnt that whingeing and throwing a tantrum will get us what we
want. We're impatient. We believe we can have what we want. That's
why we have road rage, air rage, trolley rage. We have higher expectations
and get stressed very easily. So when we're thwarted by life, the
universe and everything, we don't accept it. We're more likely to
go to a coach.'
But while Palmer thinks his duty is to bring his clients back down
to earth and help them develop 'realistic goals', most coaches seem
to see their jobs as cheering on their clients whatever they're
after. For example, says Palmer, 'If a client told me he wanted
to go to the moon, I'd ask him if he had a million pounds, then
try to come up with something more realistic.' This is the opposite
of Pam Richardson's approach. 'If someone says, "I want to
fly to the moon," I won't say, "Get real!",' she
says. 'I'll say, "Have you booked your place? Are you fit enough?
How are you going to make it happen?"'
Life coaching is starting out, it's in its infancy, but there's
no doubt it's here to stay. At present, there are so many training
schools and accreditation systems, and so little regulation, that
each coach has a different definition of what they do and the proper
way to do it. Some believe they are there to direct you, others
just to cheer you on. Some wish to make your wildest dreams come
true, others want to wake you up to reality. But in all cases, a
coach is someone you pay so that, for 45 minutes a week, they are
as interested in your life, your kids, your career, your clothes,
your cancer as you are. 'Once this would have been seen as the height
of alienation,' says Furedi. 'Now, we celebrate it.'
Fiona Campbell came to the end of her life-coaching course with
many of the same problems she had at the beginning - but considerably
less money. 'It is shockingly expensive,' she says. 'My coach was
a lovely person, but at the end of three months I still had a career
that was a bit of a mess and I was still a single mother. Life is
tough. Nothing's going to change that and you have to deal with
your own life. Life coaching is lovely and life-enhancing and it
focuses solely on you. But it's probably best for people who don't
published in the Observer, 22 January 2006