A Coach in Your Corner: Crafting Your Dream Life

Why using a life coach can be life—and work—altering

By Tanisha A. Sykes

The Dalai Lama once said, “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” For executives like Niambi Harris, 45, truer words were never spoken. “In the span of a year, I got married, inherited two wonderful teenage stepchildren, and became pregnant,” says Harris, director of quality assurance for Daiichi Sankyo, a global pharmaceutical company in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

Harris loved her new life, but transitioning into marriage, motherhood, and managing a high-profile career was just a bit . . . chaotic, she says. In addition, she was still financially reeling after losing several real estate properties during the 2008 Great Recession. She needed help, and fast.

Enter her life coach, Dee Marshall, a certified life and leadership coach in New Jersey. “I’ve known Dee for about 10 years,” says Harris. “She is authentic, empowering, and inspirational She is the perfect example of someone who not only dreamed of wanting to empower thousands of women around the world as a certified coaching professional, but manifested her dream.” As a result of working with a life coach, having weekly calls, Harris started meditating and prioritizing her time to gain clarity in her life.

“A life coach focuses on how personal development fuels professional growth, whereas an executive coach focuses more on your profession, your leadership,” says Sheri Riley, a life strategist and author of Exponential Living: Stop Spending 100% of Your Time on 10% of Who You Are.

The International Coach Federation (ICF), the world’s largest organization of professionally trained coaches, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Life coaches are required to complete a certified life coach training program, which is available through organizations such as the ICF. Prospective coaches can expect to complete 100 to 2,500 hours of coaching, depending on the level of certification sought.

Life coaching is not therapy or counseling; it’s a forward-looking approach to achieving positive results in your life. Yet, most leaders don’t have a life coach. Our experts say they resist change, they’re afraid, or they think it’s not worth the investment. Whether you’re a C-suite executive ready to take on more responsibility or a high-level achiever feeling stuck, here are seven reasons why using a life coach can be priceless.

Reason #1: To gain clarity.

Sometimes we know exactly what we want to do in life; other times, we have no clue. “This can be the toughest step of all,” says California-based life coach Mary Allen, known as “America’s Inner Peace Coach.” She argues that if we don’t choose, life will choose for us. A coach will help you explore options and discover what you really want in life, focusing on what’s most important. To get there, Allen advises answering the following questions.

• What’s most important to you in life?
• What’s most important to you in your career?
• What’s most important to you in your relationships?
• What are you tolerating in your life?
• What do you want more of?
• What do you want less of?

Setting value-based goals will help you to get clear on what you really want.

Reason #2: To assess any gaps.

Jerilan Greene, a global chief communications officer for Yum! Brands in Louisville, Kentucky, has always invested in a coaching relationship during transition periods. “As a midlevel manager for Deloitte years ago, I was learning a lot, but felt like there was something missing in terms of career development,” says Greene. She wanted to reflect on the happenings at work and in her personal life, so she contacted Wendy Wallbridge, a strategic and intuitive advisor to Fortune 100 leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“It caused me to ask, ‘Where do I belong professionally? Do I belong here geographically?’ Coaching is very outcome-oriented, so it allows you to dedicate more time to really reflect,” says Greene. She eventually left the job to join Burson-Marsteller in Chicago.

“Coaching can be viewed as soft and squishy, but that’s a great foundation because once you, the client, start to understand yourself, it has the power to change your behavior,” explains Laurie-Ann Murabito, a professional leadership coach in New Hampshire. People who are open to constructive feedback and who want to improve make the best candidates for coaching.

Reason #3: To stay accountable.

This was a challenge for Harris, the pharmaceutical executive. “Accountability is hard because now you’re saying out loud what you want in your vision,” she says. Life after Corporate America includes running her nonprofit, Why Save a Life Foundation, an organization determined to increase the survival rate for minorities diagnosed with cancer.

“It’s one thing to say it in your head; it’s another thing to own it,” Harris explains. “Instead of making excuses, I’m doing the work.” Now, she meets with her coach weekly and takes actions like setting up a website, fund-raising, and speaking at churches on behalf of the foundation.

Reason #4: To benefit from an 
impartial perspective.
Author Sheri Riley, a John Maxwell–trained life strategist (he is a nationally recognized life coach trainer), says that sometimes high-level professionals need a safe, unbiased professional to give them space to hear themselves think. “I am working with a senior executive who is in a career transition, which will affect her family,” Riley says. In this case, she knows what to do, but talking it out will give her the confidence to move forward.

Others are in a broken place, and they need help moving forward. “A lot of high achievers reach a point where they’ve maxed out what they know, and because they are typically someone who most people come to for advice, they can’t talk to their employees or friends,” says Riley.

Working with a life coach gives them the ability to say 
‘I don’t know’ and get feedback on how to take the next steps.”

Reason #5: To better manage your time, talents, and resources.
Nearly 15 years ago, Harris’s mother died of colon cancer. “I think a lot that had to do with her taking on the persona of Superwoman,” she says. “As an older mom to a five-year-old, I want to be here a little bit longer, so I shifted my priorities.”

Harris travels once or twice a month to see clients. To better manage her workflow, she started prioritizing and letting the perfectionism go. “I ask what my responsibility is, meet my time lines, and hit my targets,” she says. She has also gotten a lot more organized and manages her team better. As a result of her stellar efforts, she was promoted to director earlier this year.

Her new routine includes meditating, setting an intention, writing a vision, praying, and working out. This sounds like a lot, but she gets it all done within 90 minutes each day. “The value of setting my intention has helped me to move in a clearer direction. I’m not as spastic anymore,” she proclaims. She also attributes her newfound success to having a stronger relationship with God.

Reason #6: To explore all options.

After finishing her MBA, Greene, the corporate reputation builder for Yum!, said she had a great job at Edelman, a leading global communications marketing firm. “At that point, I had been consulting or working with agencies and wanted to explore other ways to contribute my talent in the workforce,” she says.
She took a StrengthsFinder test and completed a 360 Degree Feedback. “My coach and I had some focused conversations regarding who I am, what I was doing, and where I was heading,” says Greene. She uncovered three different directions to take: “I could focus on being a general manager of a professional service organization, continue to advance in corporate communications as a change agent, or potentially go into education or teaching,” explains Greene.

Reason #7: To commit to what’s really important.

Once you attain an executive-level position, it’s easy to put the work before everything else. “That drive is necessary initially because it helps us get the As in school and to land the good job,” says Greene. However, once that behavior is not serving you—relationships are suffering or your health is deteriorating—it’s time to change. Coaching, she says, helps you realize where you need to go in order to have the future you want to create.

To find a coach who suits your needs, educate yourself about coaching and ask for personal referrals. The International Coaching Federation offers a research portal to start the process. DW

Tanisha A. Sykes is a career development expert and seasoned journalist. Follow her on Twitter @tanishastips.

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