Boom in coaching as many rethink careers


Sheetal Shah, an executive coach. PHOTO | POOL

Having a coach was once only for sports people requiring remedial assistance or for executives to polish up their people skills. Now it has become an invaluable tool for honing career skills, growing individual potential, or boosting team effectiveness in the workplace.

Around the world, coaching has grown exponentially. Research by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) estimates approximately 47, 500 coaches globally, representing a 13,200 percent growth over just 10 years. A similar trend is noted in Kenya and the ICF Kenya chapter now has a registration of over 120 active, certified coaches.

The coaching boom is attributed to several factors including the establishment of institutions locally that train and certify coaches. The perception of coaching has also changed with a growing recognition by organisations that coaching is effective in providing individualised support to employees.

“Coaching is not just for the C-suite level or senior managers anymore,” says Sheetal Shah, a leadership coach and international workshop facilitator whose workload has doubled in the last two years.

“Coaching is quite versatile and the process can be applied to any situation that a person is finding it hard to manage,” she adds.

ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a way that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. In layman’s language, “If the client is a ship sailing at sea in the night then the coach acts as a lighthouse,” says Ms Shah.

“I work to help a client see more possibilities and choose the best route to get to their destination.”

The coaching areas attracting the most interest in Kenya are careers, executive skills, leadership, and coaching for team success. On an individual level, more people now acknowledge the value of a ‘certified sounding board’ and are seeking help for new vocations, job losses, retirement planning, and life coaching to navigate through challenging situations including divorce and grief.

Coaching can be conducted one-on-one or with groups. During coaching sessions, Ms Shah says she acts as a brainstorming partner, a challenging mirror and at times a devil’s advocate.

“The intention is to support a client in moving forward with their aspirations and overcome their dilemma,” she says.

Today’s workplace is changing rapidly, moving at faster speeds thanks to technology, with work environments made up of multi-generational teams that do not share the same values or loyalty to an organisation. Employees leave their jobs because of poor work culture or management style. To succeed, it requires that leaders and employees shift their mindsets and working styles both individually and as a team. This is where the intervention of coaching is useful, to encourage staff retention.

Safe space

Stress and worry have also pushed the uptake of coaching services as people seek to chart new ways forward or cushion themselves better in the future. Some people are seeking coaching to help them connect their passions with their vocations or professional lives. A coach’s role is to reveal the potential that individuals did not think they had, which leads to renewed self-confidence and a drive to achieve more.

In recent years, the trend in coaching has also been driven by the growing culture of self-development. More recently, the coronavirus pandemic restrictions and remote working have given people more time to engage in self-improvement activities.

When the pandemic set in last year, there was a slow-down in coaching in Kenya as people adopted a wait-and-see approach or became conservative in their spending due to the economic uncertainties.

However, more than a year into the pandemic, coaching uptake is increasing again.

Executive leadership coach, Kimunya Mugo says “professionals have had to re-engineer their careers and rediscover old passions, and the best person to assist with this is a career coach. People need to invest their resources in what matters most.”

Coaching, therefore, becomes more relevant in tough economic times as a tool for directing individuals into deep, authentic conversations on issues that need to be resolved and actions to be undertaken.

In today’s environment, Mr Mugo approaches coaching as a co-creative and thought-provoking engagement that helps people maximise their potential. “My clients find a safe space to explore their current reality.”

Nevertheless, some people remain sceptical about spending time and money on what is perceived as an intangible benefit. Ms Shah has an allegorical response.

“I would ask a client whether they think going for an annual medical check-up or exercising daily is worth the time and money. In the long run, the cost of chronic lifestyle diseases is much more than the initial investment,” she says.

According to the Peter Principle of upward mobility in an organisation, many leaders will rise to their level of incompetence in the workplace. In other words, irrespective of acquired skills and knowledge, if a person is promoted purely on the past success, they will eventually reach a level where they are no longer competent for the job. Or they discover that the command-and-control style of leadership is no longer effective.