In the early 2000s, Marcy Pryor had a goal: Be one of the top five sales people at Coldwell Banker. A little less than a year later, she was – and she says it is because of Ginger Jenks.
Jenks is an executive coach. Though she was once called the “secret weapon” of a business, her profession is now becoming commonplace for both companies and individuals.
Coaching is one of the few industries that saw a boom during the recession.
A 2009 study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development showed 7 out of 10 companies reported increasing or maintaining their use of coaches.
“I think the recession pointed out how important it is for people to do what they really want to do,” said life coach Victoria FittsMilgrim, who lives in Durango. “It may require them telling the truth to themselves and saying. ‘the job I had that I lost isn’t what I love to do at all’ and see it as an opportunity.”
The last three years have been Jenks’ most profitable, and she says it is because people see the need to be at the top of their game if they are going to score a job.
“I am an expert in helping people learn, develop, set goals, get motivated, get organized, manage their time,” Jenks said. “A firm perception of mine about coaching is that many people come to coaching because they have a goal. I help you get specific about goals, because when goals don’t have a deadline or specifics, they’re just dreams.”
That is why Pryor sought Jenks’ services after she decided she wanted to be one of the best real estate broker associates at Coldwell Banker.
“I wasn’t making enough money, and so I made the commitment to pay for her coaching,” said Pryor, who stopped using Jenks as a coach after about two years.
Coaching is a large financial commitment, with prices ranging from a couple hundred dollars a month to thousands. Jenks charges $800 a month for her services and talks with clients twice a month.
FittsMilgrim charges $3,500 for one-on-one coaching for six months.
Coaches can have a specialty or niche but Jenks does not despite her background in management.
She first learned about coaching when The Boston Globe ran an article in 1995 about the industry. It immediately piqued her interest.
“This was a totally new profession that was emerging about helping people and organizations develop themselves, and I thought: Wow, that sounds like me,” she said.
FittsMilgrim learned about coaching through Susan Lander at the Women’s Resource Center in the 1990s. Lander – former executive director of the center – had been using a life coach at the time. She introduced FittsMilgrim to her coach.
“I realized very quickly that it was something that called to me and fit me,” FittsMilgrim said. “I think I had a natural affinity to it, but I also had things to learn, so I became a coach at (age) 45 and went back to school.”
FittsMilgrim became a professional certified coach through the International Coach Federation, but there is no single accreditation program for coaches.
That is one of the largest issues facing the profession, said Brian Burke, associate psychology professor at Fort Lewis College.
No “quality control” exists in the industry and anyone can call himself or herself a coach, he said.
But the industry is starting to shift, and several organizations, including the International Coach Federation, are trying to standardize coaching. Several universities have launched coaching programs, including New York University, Harvard University and Pennsylvania State University.
“There was a point when everyone was calling themselves a coach, and what that means wasn’t clear,” said Durango business coach Catherine Boyle. “I think it’s going to become more pertinent for there to be some kind of credible resource out there (for training). I think it lends credibility to some work that we do.”
The industry needs more than accreditation, though.
People might get a life coach rather than seeing a psychologist because of the stigmatization about therapy, Burke said. He sees several similarities between coaching and psychology, particularly coaches who use “positive psychology” and addresses a client’s strengths, rather than weaknesses.
But coaches need to have a code of ethics with an established confidentiality clause, and they need to know when to refer a client to a psychologist.
“You’re dealing with things that could be fairly complicated or dangerous. It scares most psychologists that there are people practicing this without a license or a code of ethics,” he said.
The coaches interviewed for this story say they have a strict confidentiality clause. Jenks helped develop the ICF’s code of ethics. But that is where the similarities stop, coaches say.
“A psychologist tends to focus more on an issue or problem that is keeping you from moving forward,” FittsMilgrim said. “A coach will focus more on you moving forward.”
The coaching industry is still developing, but Pryor remains a believer and says she will start using Jenks as a coach again to help her get a grasp on new technology.
“Coaching has been one of the best experiences for me,” Pryor said.