A year ago Kathleen Hosfeld knew she wanted to take her 11-year-old marketing business - and her life, for that matter - to a new level.
But the Seattle businesswoman didn't know how.
So she hired a coach to help her figure out what she needed to do to focus her energies and make Hosfeld & Associates a bigger and better company.
Renton real-estate agent Moshe Kipersztok had the same realization three years ago. He not only wanted to become a better businessman, but the father of three wanted to do it while spending more time with his family and improving his overall health and life.
He, too, sought an outside coach to help him achieve the balance he was looking for. Now he's not only more productive at work, he has time to exercise and to read for pleasure.
Business executives in large companies have been using coaches - many times in secret - for years.
The coaches act as a sounding board, a reference library and a teacher to help the executives grow their business skills and become better managers.
It started with the industrial psychologists brought in during the 1950s and 1960s to improve conditions in the workplace. Then the buzzwords turned to "mentors" or "personal consultants." But coaching today has risen to a new level as individuals outside the executive suite hire these personal advisers to help them succeed in business and achieve their life goals.
"Everything is speeding up with Internet time; people simply aren't willing to wait or pay the dues that their parents did to get what they want," said Leonard Thomas, a former Seattle financial planner who is considered the father of modern-day personal coaching.
"If they see a coach as a way to get there faster, they're willing to bring in a coach."
Leonard started a formal coach-training program called Coach University in 1992 and is now chief executive of coachville.com, an Internet portal for coaches.
In that time he's watched and helped the industry mushroom. Lately coaching has grown at an unprecedented rate, spurred in part by the Internet, which makes it easier for clients to find a coach and to interact with one.
Students can take classes over the Internet through Coach University. Coaching sessions with clients have moved from in person and over the telephone to e-mail. In April, Coaching.com introduced a Web-based coaching program for corporations.
Leonard estimates there are 20,000 part- and full-time coaches in the United States. Membership in the Washington, D.C.-based International Coach Federation, which certifies coaches, has grown from 2,000 to 4,300 over the past two years.
Unlike a therapist or a counselor, a coach does not focus on solving emotional or mental problems. Instead, the coach focuses more on business or lifestyle questions and lets the client set his or her own agenda.
"A coach is working with a person who wants to move forward. They are mentally healthy and they just want to grow and have a more fulfilling life. They have specific goals in mind," said Phil Woolwine, Hosfeld's coach.
Unlike consultants, who are paid to offer their own solutions to problems, coaches help clients find their own answers, said Woolwine, a Marysville resident who also acts as a business consultant.
"Coaches provide inspiration, and consultants provide information," added Jeremy Robinson, an executive coach and president of Robinson Capital, a New York coaching and consulting firm.
Hosfeld and Kipersztok can attest to that.
During weekly half-hour sessions, Woolwine helped Hosfeld figure out her values and set goals that would allow her to run her business according to those values.
Hosfeld said she tries to bring the journalistic ethics she learned in college to her marketing business.
That means instead of letting clients dictate a marketing plan, she helps them develop one that will better serve their clients. In practice, Hosfeld interviews her clients' customers to see what they want and how her client can better serve them.
"The idea was that if I was going to change my business, I should change it in ways that made it more supportive of my values," said Hosfeld.
Hosfeld used Woolwine to help her bring her beliefs to her business, which translated to her creating a more personal relationship with the owners of the businesses that hire her. She asks them pointed questions on how her marketing efforts can help them achieve something meaningful to them.
"Whatever I've learned from Phil, I'm passing along to anyone who will listen," Hosfeld said.
Kipersztok has used three coaches who specialize in real estate to help him achieve a more balanced life. Like Hosfeld, he talks with his coach for a half-hour a week over the telephone.
During those sessions they discuss how the previous week has gone in meeting the goals he has set. The coach helps him get back on track by offering suggestions from his own experience, and recommending books to read or tapes to listen to.
"One of the key things I've gotten out of my coaches has been the ability to create a balance in my life," said Kipersztok, who used to work seven days a week. But by following the advice of his coaches Kipersztok has become more efficient and now works five days a week. That allows him to have more time for a social life and his children, and he's better able to manage his employees, he said.
As the number of coaches has grown, so has the diversity among them.
Some focus on executives, while others focus on small-business owners, office workers and even those who have left the workforce.
Nationally, about 40 percent of the Fortune 1000 companies use executive coaches, estimates Robinson. He ticks off Chase, IBM, Pfizer, Wells Fargo and Hewlett-Packard as just a few.
Local coaches list clients that include Boeing, Microsoft, AT&T Wireless and Unigard Insurance.
And while executives and managers at many of those corporations have used coaches in the past, some companies and organizations increasingly are starting to offer coaching services to non-executive employees.
Some of these firms have noticed the benefits that employees have received by hiring their own coaches and are now sending employees to school for coach training, said Fran Fisher, president of the 3-year-old Academy for Coach Training in Bellevue.
"Until now it's mostly been individuals committed to their own personal and professional development. Companies haven't been as supportive," she said.
"That is shifting, and companies see the value of having their employees have coaching skills and redesigning the culture of an organization to a coaching culture. People who have trained themselves on their own nickel are getting the attention of the supervisors... ," said Fisher.
The Academy of Coach Training, which has an enrollment of about 250 students, graduates about 125 students a year as certified professional coaches. It's one of eight schools accredited by the International Coach Federation.
Among those who have attended classes at the Bellevue school are managers from the Environmental Protection Agency Region 10, which is based in Seattle and serves Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
The agency recently implemented an in-house coaching service for all its employees.
About 50 percent of the regional EPA's managers had received outside coaching during the past two years, noted Grover Partee, an EPA solid-waste employee who also is an internal coach. Those managers met with outside coaches mainly over the telephone in weekly or bi-weekly meetings. They discussed problems and challenges the managers faced at work, and coaches helped the managers resolve those problems.
Under its new initiative, EPA officials are opening up coaching support for anyone in the local agency who wants it.
"We help people with what they want their career to look like, identify training they need to get, and identify opportunities they can open up," Partee said. "We help folks to avoid the frustration of being stuck in a job and just simply not knowing, or thinking they don't know, what to do about it."
Boeing offers internal coaching to all of its executive-level managers. But some of those managers have also used outside coaches on their own to address additional problems.
One Boeing manager who didn't want her name used said she hired an outside coach two years ago when she felt she couldn't talk to her boss about her work situation.
"I felt like I needed someone to talk me through a whole system of things," she said. "At Boeing I can get specific coaching about a job, but I needed to look at the whole integrated picture between my job, my family and where I was heading in the future."
She met with the outside coach, Vikki Brock of Renton, for about 18 months until she felt she was able to proceed on her own.
Some people believe there's still a stigma around using a coach.
"People still hold the belief that if you have help, you are weak," said Laura Berman Fortgang, a coach from Montclair, N.J., and author of the new book "Living Your Best Life."
"It's not true. The greatest CEOs will tell you that their greatest skill is that they know what they don't know."
Tim Calibaba, president and founder of TWC Financial in Radville, Saskatchewan, would agree with that. He not only has used a coach for the past 10 years, but also believes so strongly in coaching that he became one of the first executives ever to hire a "chief coaching officer" for his mutual-fund company.
"I'm the kind of guy who thinks I still have a lot to learn. I want to find people who can help me build my business," Calibaba said.
Last year Calibaba hired Ross Gilchrist, one of his former coaches, to lead coaching efforts for his company, which includes 400 independent financial advisers throughout Canada.
Even though the advisers have to pay for their own coaching and travel to meet with their coaches once a quarter, more than 100 have already signed up for the program. They work on integrating their business with their personal lives. That means everything from how to improve their health to figuring out ways to reach future financial goals, Gilchrist said.
While coaching is becoming more popular, it's still considered a perk - one that doesn't come cheap.
According to the International Coach Federation, coaching for individuals averages $200 to $450 per month for one half-hour call per week. Coaching for corporations is more expensive, often running $1,000 to $10,000 per month.
But those who have gone through it say it's well worth the expense.
"My coach accelerates my progress by being there and holding me accountable every week," Hosfeld said.
"The coaching process has helped me connect with my own values and has kind of turbo-charged everything that I'm doing."
Free-lance writer Cynthia Flash covers business and technology from Bellevue. Reach her at email@example.com.
Copyright 2001 The Seattle Times Company