My Coach, My Trainer:
Exploiting the Benefits of Executive Coaching and Personal Fitness Training

Coauthors: Mike Horne and Dan Taylor (A.C.E. Certified Fitness Trainer, Editor, "Healthy Advice" Weekly Wellness E-Letter)

In today's sluggish economy, two different but distantly related disciplines are experiencing immense growth. The fields-executive coaching and fitness training-are highly sought individual and organizational perquisites that provide sustainable benefits. This article, combining our experiences as executive coach and fitness trainer, assists businesses and individuals to gain greater returns on their coaching and wellness benefits. To do this, we'll consider the central questions that harness the energies of the two disciplines. What issues are common to the experiences of individuals who have both coach and trainer? What should executives consider in offering these benefits to employees? In addition, what issues are common to professionals working as either coach or trainer?

The authors left separate successful corporate careers to start up businesses in fitness education (Dan) and executive development (Mike). Dan and Mike began their likely journey as colleagues when Mike became a client of Taylored Fitness, working with its principal, Dan. In their strength-training program, Dan and Mike charted aggressive progress schedules and regularly identified improvement opportunities. In the push and pull of two professionals working one-on-one, a series of key similarities between personal training and executive coaching emerged. A rich understanding of the similarities between executive development and fitness education helps business executives to fulfill organizational demands for continuously resilient leaders.

Executive development and fitness education share a central purpose-to facilitate growth and development (Loehr & Schwartz, 2001; McDowell-Larsen, Kearney, & Campbell, 2002) is this based on personal experience or based on literature review. Both individuals and organizations share desires to thrive, and to stand out from others - whether it means taking stairs two at a time or doubling the last quarter's revenue. For both individuals and organizations, however, the challenge of initiating positive change and development often competes with demands that appear more urgent. Individuals weigh the consequences of staying another hour at the office to plow through mounting stacks of real work against the desires to take the time to eat healthfully and exercise regularly. The result of successfully balancing these demands is improvement in individual and organizational health.

For individuals and organizations alike, achieving substantive improvement requires acceptance of the current condition. Neither individuals nor organizations successfully embark on changing habits, disrupting the status quo, or accomplishing worthwhile goals without first acknowledging the limitations and shortcomings of the current state. An organization might have to acknowledge that once-successful products no longer meet marketplace needs. An individual may find him or herself struggling with an expanding waistline or the onset of a serious health condition. We often ignore events or conditions like this for a period before finally facing the "hard facts." Then, the "hard facts" transform from objects of stubborn avoidance to catalysts triggering change. This transformation or transitions time contains the opposing elements of success and failure. The decision to consider or to avoid the transition often determines whether success or failure is the result.

In the authors' respective professions, clients share many similarities and concerns. This article considers five specific similarities that assist individuals and organizational clients exploit the benefits of executive development and wellness education. These issues further the principles of human performance technology, inasmuch as these topics contribute to a systemic view of added-value performance through partnership with others, and produce measurable results and outcomes.

Navigating Transitions

Successful clients of coaches and trainers learn to effectively direct transitions. The first step may be a positive response to a negative health or performance report. Few of our clients wake up one morning and say, "I will become a new and improved _______________ (CEO, athlete, volunteer, etc.)." Often, the desire to change is associated with the hope of avoiding or reversing negative events rather than an innate drive to improve. These events can produce turbulence and challenge one's self-image as a healthy person or as an effective manager. Events moving our clients to act may be a gradual deterioration of health or a sudden diminishment of current responsibilities. They may be wondering why they were "passed-over" for a promotion, or why their cholesterol and blood pressure levels are climbing. However, whether the motivating factors are positive or negative, a willingness to objectively examine one's current state and admit they need to improve is critical. Successful clients acknowledge recent feedback and open themselves to new possibilities, while seasoned coaches and trainers start by identifying areas of need, and then by establishing specific goals to meet those needs.

We may find ourselves helping a client to prepare for a trek in the Himalayas or assisting a high potential executive prepare for the next big job. In either case, we know that clients prepare for these events by bringing timelines to coaching or training. Timelines can bring manageability to the processes and encourage the discipline needed to assure follow-through. A client may be slimming down for a high school reunion or gearing up for an acquisition. Executive coaches don't help clients by stating, "I don't know when this will end." Personal trainers set themselves up for failure when they set unrealistic timelines or fail to help the client to set reasonable expectations. Timelines help our clients to retain control over the process.

Clarity of purpose and specific goals supports success in both coaching and training. Desires to be "more dynamic" or "more flexible" may contain seeds of success but alone they are not sufficient. Goal clarity is not only desirable; it is essential for the coach or trainer to co-create a blueprint for the client's success. Skillful coaches and trainers create partnerships with clients to define and refine ambitions. Developing positive new images facilitates clients successfully to navigate their personal transitions. Our work pays huge returns when clients are able to accept the person they've been, the person they are, and the person they are becoming. The transition points provide meaningful and relevant navigational aids for clients.

Remapping Terrains

Imagine Jane, a 42 year-old successful executive, in a large corporation. She paces while she talks on the phone, rushes through meals, and never seems to have enough time. After a recent visit to her doctor, she's told she is at risk to develop stress-related diseases, such as high blood pressure, ulcers, and cardiovascular disease (presently the number one killer of both men and women in the USA). At the office, she seems to be losing ground with her employees, frequently feeling out of the loop on emerging customer issues. Recently, Jane has begun to doubt her abilities to keep life in balance. Jane, usually so certain of herself, is at a loss as to where to begin to look for answers and perspective.

The process of discovering and identifying opportunities provides unique insights for the developing relationship and work between the client and coach or trainer. The definition of opportunities provides unique insights to the client, the coach, and the trainer. Individual and organizational foundations provide the platforms or springboards for learning or improvement. In the perfect mix of charting change, the client addresses issues of meaningfulness and relevance. These issues affect the psychic and physical topography of clients' lives and significantly influence learning styles. Learning styles shape coaching and training experiences and determine how the client responds to improvement (Berger & Fitzgerald, 2002; Short, 1998).

Some clients have a need to shed old habits and to have fresh insights yield new habits. Some clients need to modify current practices to produce desired results. Others have to acquire or develop new attitudes to result in observable behavioral changes. Real change, as we have experienced, doesn't grow out of wishful conversations or internal dialogues, but occurs because we create a new landscape that supports or encourages change.

We forge new maps when we engage in new patterns of behavior. Exploring existing structures and behaviors assists clients in building successful and observable new behaviors. When a client gains muscle mass or establish collaborative work patterns, he or she is likely to incorporate responses from others that support his success.

The 42-year executive described at the beginning of this section is prototypical of many new clients in our practices. Faced with a negative physical report and an increasing feeling of isolation at work, she senses that "something" needs to change. Growth in health and in emotional connectivity at work are likely to occur with an increases in physical activity and processes encouraging leader development (McDowell-Larsen et al., 2002; Quick, Gavin, Cooper, Quick, & Gilbert, 2000). We refer to the client's choices to act on their new data (e.g., health information reports, self-other leadership reports), as remapping terrain opportunities.

Risk

The popular self-help television host, Dr. Phil, is fond of saying: "How's that working for you?" The answer to that question contains the possibilities for positive change and constructive renewal. Ultimately, the roads to change are paved with risk. However, the bigger risk is seldom recognized and given appropriate attention. A company can outgrow the skills of a leading executive, or an individual may needlessly surrender to the premature aging effects of an inactive lifestyle. Risks like these are often ignored and sadly, the obstacles to the natural processes of growth are usually self-imposed. We often hear, "I can't do that!" only to see a client dramatically increase weight resistance or successfully improve interpersonal relationships.

Clients who engage risk recognize that they are creating differences. They acknowledge that they have the potential to lose-and to gain. They realize that new behaviors may cause them to lose old alliances or friendships-and to develop new interests and expectations for themselves that can create isolation from those who feel threatened and perhaps become objects of misplaced envy. When the dust settles, the risks usually reinforce the wisdom of change, and the short-term conflict can illuminate the need for real improvement.

The tolerance for risk increases with desirable results. When a client is able to shed unwanted pounds by thoughtful changes in eating habits, commitment to the change increases. Transcending guilt and regret promotes feelings of balance and control in life. Clients increase risk-tolerance by embracing the fear of loss or injury. Talented coaches and trainers embolden their clients and help them to create a more receptive environment for risk-taking. For example, the coach delivers feedback in a non-threatening manner or the trainer guides and encourages clients to exploit incremental improvements in strength, stamina, and flexibility by modeling, sharing personal feelings about the process, and letting the client know what physical sensations to expect. A successful coaching or training experience usually increases an individual's risk capital, causing greater long-term success.

Risk may be the decisive factor in turning situations around (Anonymous, 1989; McCarthy, 2000; Zahra & O'Neill, 1998). Clients experienced with risk-taking demonstrate a sense of adventure and enthusiasm. Those unfamiliar and uncomfortable with taking risk appear fearful and timid. Both coach and trainer guide clients in the assessment of risks and balance the vision with reality.

The successful client uses the trainer or coach's expertise and objectivity to make informed decisions about what risks they may be willing to bear and how to approach them. We support "risky behavior" when several factors are in place.

  • Short-term and long-term goals exist. Clients stand to gain little if goals are not in place. Envisioning both, immediate and long-term results assist clients in evaluating risk.
  • Appropriate support systems are in place. These support systems may be the singular trainer or coach, or they may include larger networks of coworkers, family, or friends.
  • An environment of accountability exists. Clients accept the responsibility for intended and unintended outcomes.
  • Reasonable options are present. Clients who feel they have few options are unlikely to envision new self-images.

Value

Progress accelerates when the coach or trainer and client share an understanding of value. In the last 10 years, values became one of the most widely used and least-understood concepts in business. The wellness community has yet to use the word with the same frequency as business consultants. What does value mean for clients?

Clients become adept, through their experience with the trainer or coach, at overcoming obstacles limiting improvement. A mix of expertise, objectivity, experience, and genuine concern strengthens the coach or trainer and client relationship and delivers on client needs. The benefits that flow from that relationship typically create significant and lasting impacts on the client's personal or professional life. The performance improvements that result must be limited only by the client's willingness or ability to apply the principles and recommendations offered by the coach or trainer. Finally, successful clients commit to-and fulfill the obligations-of a working partnership with the coach or trainer.

A shared understanding of value serves as a differentiator between training and coaching that we feel "okay" about, and training or coaching that exceeds individual or organizational expectations. In helping to shape the definition of value for our clients, we consider overall objectives and blend in distinct measurements-some quantitative and others always qualitative. Value measures the richness or profitability of the relationship. While abstract in nature, considering this element compels the coach or trainer and the client to focus on the results of the coaching or training endeavor and work together to define expectations with specificity.

Successful coaching and training engagements meet expectations and yield mutual satisfaction. The engagements contain the possibilities for follow-up and for feedback. Ultimately, both the coaching and training relationships increase the client's resilience by developing his or her capabilities in the areas of wellness or leadership, management, and business issues (Neck, Mitchell, Manz, Cooper, & Thompson, 2000).

Renewal

Every coaching and personal training relationship provides opportunities to discuss priorities and timing (Goldsmith, Lyons, & Freas, 2000; Hudson, 1999). In both cases, clients and coaches forge alliances to achieve mutually developed goals. When successful, personal bonds in the relationship deepen. The coach is likely to ask about life outside of work, and the trainer is just as likely to learn more about the whole person he or she is training. It was in this way, too, that the authors' relationship developed.

Healthy relationships balance the forest for the trees. Effective and efficient coaching and training relationships do more the blindly chase goals. At appropriate moments, we check in with one and other. Trainers may do it more frequently because of habit to assess client tolerance, and connected coaches do it with increasingly frequency. In the end, clients who take responsibility for their successes and failures are those who are most likely to experience growth and positive change. These are clients who are capable of renewing and revising their goals-whether they are related to fitness or management capabilities. Clients, who embrace management improvement or fitness gains, extend their capacities beyond the regular meetings with the coach or trainer, and gravitate towards lifelong learning.

Conclusion

In evaluating what type, or even whether executives should promote and participate in corporate sponsored wellness activities, executives should consider leadership development influences of exercise programs on performance. In a study on the perceived benefits of participation in exercise and leadership, a relationship between managerial behaviors of goal setting, competitiveness, and networking was demonstrated. In addition, the researchers concluded that exercises assists in coping with business demands (Kelinske, Mayer, & Chen, 2001).

In the cases of coaching and personal training, we must work from what is possible, and use our knowledge and motivation as resources for assisting clients to succeed. As examples of success and wellness, coaches and trainers are models of performance. They must train and engage others in ways that foster effective communication and decision-making. The most competent trainers and coaches help their clients to discover bridges to the future that incorporate their wellness or professional goals.

Trainers and coaches serve as catalysts for clients to continue their quests for success. Professional trainers and coaches aren't afraid to link who they are with what they do. Achieving clients develop scenarios that question the status quo and produce transformational results.

Clients share similarities too. They are people, who once engaged in the process, want to change and to grow--they want to be the best they can be. They are capable of setting goals, and having the discipline to work with their goals to achieve them.

Many organizations offer multiple opportunities for employee growth and development. The activities, often unrelated--as in the case of executive coaching and wellness--often share similarities. The abilities of executives, clients, and professionals in these fields extend when all understand the power of combined benefits and results. After all, we're all in the business of helping our clients to make sense of the big picture, and to develop more fully our human potential.

References

  • Anonymous. (1989, July). How do you get managers to be risk takers. Training & Development Journal, 43, 13-20.
  • Berger, J. G., & Fitzgerald, C. (2002). Leadership and complexity of mind: The role of executive coaching. In C. Fitzgerald & J. G. Berger (Eds.), Executive coaching: Practices & perspectives (pp. 27-58). Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.
  • Goldsmith, M., Lyons, L., & Freas, A. (Eds.). (2000). Coaching for leadership: How the world's greatest coaches help leaders learn. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
  • Hudson, F. M. (1999). The handbook of coaching: a comprehensive resource guide for managers, executives, consultants, and human resource professionals. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Kelinske, B., Mayer, B. W., & Chen, K.-L. (2001). Perceived benefits from participation in sports: a gender study. Women in Management Review, 16(2), 75-83.
  • Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2001). The making of a corporate athlete. Harvard Business Review, 79(1), 120.
  • McCarthy, B. (2000). The cult of risk taking and social learning: a study of Irish entrepreneurs. Management Decision, 38(8), 563.
  • McDowell-Larsen, S. L., Kearney, L., & Campbell, D. (2002). Fitness and leadership: Is there a relationship? Regular exercise correlates with higher leadership ratings in senior-level executives. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 17(4), 316324.
  • Neck, C. P., Mitchell, T. L., Manz, C. C., Cooper, K. H., & Thompson, E. C. (2000). Fit to lead: Is fitness the key to effective executive leadership? Journal of Managerial Psychology, 15(8), 833-840.
  • Quick, J. C., Gavin, J. H., Cooper, C. L., Quick, J. D., & Gilbert, R. E. (2000). Executive health: Building strength, managing risks. The Academy of Management Executive, 14(2), 34-46.
  • Short, R. R. (1998). Learning in relationship: Foundation for personal and professional success. Seattle, WA: Learning in Action Technologies, Inc.
  • Zahra, S. A., & O'Neill, H. M. (1998). Charting the landscape of global competition: Reflections on emerging organizational challenges and their implications for senior executives. The Academy of Management Executive, 12(4), 13.



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