Working life: Time for a new game plan

The Americans have bought into the idea of `career coaches' - and we're next. Sarah Litvinoff meets one of the best

What Delia Smith is to ingredients and cookware, Oprah is to gurus and authors. If Delia tells you coriander is the must-have ingredient, shops sell out; when Oprah features a career coach (as she did earlier this month), the United States responds. Laura Berman Fortgang has seen her book Take Yourself to the Top shoot up the US best-seller list in the days since she appeared on Oprah, with 25,000 extra copies printed. Coaching, which already had a limited chic, is now going mainstream.

If you don't know already, a coach is someone you hire to help you tone your professional, personal and spiritual life, just as you might hire a personal trainer to help you attain your physical best. What good fortune that Berman Fortgang had already committed to come to the UK today to promote her book and hold a workshop, before the Oprah effect made her unattainable.

Berman Fortgang's book is for people who are gearing up for the Career Revolution, which she defines as "being ready to redesign work to fit your life instead of trying to squeeze your life into the space left over".

In these uneasy times of threatened recession, many people are wary of any revolution that could rock the boat, and are resigned to trading a life for a job. The less timid are starting to hire coaches to help them to work the system. Berman Fortgang is used to approaches that start, "I want to have a coach as my secret weapon; I want to learn how to play the employer's game". That attitude, she says, "gives me heartache and stomach ache - it's underhand. I say, `I'm the wrong coach for that game, but if you want to play another game, here's the one I have in mind'".

The Career Revolutionary's game involves taking charge rather than merely fitting in. You are encouraged to look at everything at work that is dragging you down and sapping your energy, and plan to eliminate every single one. Communication is key, and that includes the concept of "managing up": not being afraid to tell your boss how to get the best out of you, without whining or complaining. "What do you need? Most people know what they don't like, but are not so clear on what they need to ask for without creating bad feeling. I help them work out how to express it. You might say: `If you tell me two things I've done right before you criticise me I'll work really hard'."

The other thing you are expected to do is become an intrapreneur - the employee who brings entrepreneurial thinking and skills to building a career path within the structure of an existing organisation. Shooting stars who seem to leapfrog effortlessly to the top have always done this instinctively; coaching passes on the necessary techniques to anyone willing to learn. It involves being a self-starter, resourceful, able to work without supervision, and - crucially - a team leader. The most successful intrapreneurs don't use the heads of colleagues as trampolines, but facilitate their rise by building strong and competent people below them.

If this makes it sound as if coaching is simply a euphemism for career consultancy, Berman Fortgang is keen to make the distinction. "A consultant will have you do whatever it takes to get you the result you say you want, and won't take heed to what effect that has on the rest of your life." Instead, coaching is a holistic process. "Coaching never allows your goals to compromise the rest of your life," says Berman Fortgang. "You come to me to change something about your work but we will do that in the context of your whole life. What's going on with your money, environment, relationships is just as important to your success as who you need to know in your company or what suit you should wear."

This can involve radical 180-degree shifts in thinking: "It's not the way things are; it's the way we are. People will say, `This is causing me frustration.' What I want to know is - what are you doing that is allowing this situation? Coaching is not only about changing the way things are, but aboutgrowing yourself until you can meet that situation."

Indeed, coaches won't necessarily play to your stated agenda if they suspect that you are treading a path pre-ordained by others: doing what you "should" rather than what is right for you. "One of my jobs is finding out what makes you happy, based on your core values. What are you naturally attracted to doing? Those are your organic success buttons - press them and you will be successful in terms of meaning and satisfaction, if not a millionaire. But you will make money."

Discovering your core values could show you that you're in the wrong job. It happened to Berman Fortgang herself. She was an actress when she hired her own coach and found out that what powered her acting ambitions was a desire to have an impact on people. With that came the realisation that acting was an inefficient vehicle for it: becoming a coach herself made much more sense. This doesn't mean that she expects people unhappy in their work to jump ship at once. "I work with people to improve their comfort level within their current employment and take them as far as they want to go there. Maybe we eventually discover that they're better suited to something or somewhere else."

Frustrations that seem centred on work can turn out to be a symptom of problems elsewhere. Sometimes trying to maintain too ostentatious a lifestyle is the cause, or demanding friends who drain you. Berman Fortgang expects ruthless downsizing and pruning if that's the case. In common with other coaches, she acts an example: unlike a therapist, counsellor, or consultant, who will usually work with any client for a fee, she works only with people she considers ideal. Now, having set up her own company that employs five other coaches, she has reduced her list of individual clients from 30 to five.

"My ideal clients are ready to look at things another way, even if they're not 100 per cent sure they can make the change now. They have enough reserves so they're not frightened and can afford to make radical changes. I bail out a lot. My expectation is that people take action. When they don't, and stop keeping promises to themselves, it feels like a waste of energy. I say, `I'm not the best coach for you anymore. Let's get someone who is.' The bottom line is: are they developing in measurable ways? The clients I'm working with now grow me as much as I grow them. They're doing something I'm interested in, or there's an energy about them that is delicious, or I'm learning about a new industry through them. It's two-way process."

Laura Berman Fortgang's workshop, `How to Coach Yourself and Others to a Great Life', is on 29 January, 6.30pm at Cecil Sharpe House, 2 Regent's Park Rd, London NW1; pounds 18, pounds 16 in advance (07000 782 949); free parking available.

News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
video
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions