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Lessons in coaching: the new way to get ahead in business

Rizk even gives the executives he coaches homework assignments, which include learning about their competition to see what they do differently.

BEIRUT: It may seem counterintuitive to have someone coaching CEOs on how to better manage their enterprises if that person has never gone to business school or run a large company.

But that’s exactly what’s happening, with a growing number of “coaches” in Lebanon taking on the task – and companies are lining up to seek their services in everything from communication skills to management and employee morale.

“After the crisis of 2008, companies started understanding the importance of the human being,” says Mirna Makhlouf, who has been coaching people in life and business for the past four years.

“They started focusing more on the person and how to make better employees, how to help them grow and develop ... It’s a great way to reshape employees and managers and help them become better people in life and business.”

Business coaches – or executive coaches as they’re often called – have been gaining ground over the past several years, particularly in the United States. There, they can earn up to $3,500 an hour, according to a 2009 report by Harvard Business Review, which did a survey of 140 of the world’s leading coaches.

The report said the results showed an industry “fraught with conflicts of interest, blurry lines between what is the province of coaches and what should be left to mental-health professionals, and sketchy mechanisms for monitoring the effectiveness of a coaching engagement.”

Nevertheless, the coaches they surveyed pointed to the healthy growth in their industry, with a high rate of return and clients who often provide referrals as proof that “coaching works.”

Indeed, even though the industry is still in its infancy in Lebanon, local business coaches – many of whom also serve as life coaches, motivational speakers, neuro-linguistic programmers (NLP) and therapists – say they are seeing a keen interest from professionals in Lebanon.

The coaches say they give their clients guidance in “life balance,” so that they don’t bring the baggage of their personal problems to the office.

They act as a sounding board for people to talk through their problems, help their clients with time management, teach the art of persuasion for those who work in sales, and, possibly most importantly, school people in the crucial yet often elusive skill of effective communication.

Johnny Ghoul, a business coach who also works in life coaching and NLP, says that a gap in communication is typically caused by clashes in different styles of personal expression, which he identifies as falling into four categories: direct, social, analytical and expressive.

He has found that those who fall under “analytical” category often have difficulty being flexible.

“I always sell the idea that the responsibility of the communication is with the communicator,” he says. One of his workshops designed to tackle this problem is jokingly dubbed: “I’m not crazy. I’m just not you.”

Anthony Rizk, a Beirut-based life coach who also does assignments in the Gulf, got into business coaching four years ago by offering free personal sessions and then getting paying clients through referrals.

He sees the job as much more than helping improve his clients’ emotional IQ. As soon as he is hired, the first thing he does is study his clients’ business. One of the most common problems he comes across is Lebanese family businesses that are unable to grow due to lack of proper management.

He has seen some cases in which all the decisions come from the CEO, the general manager and the owner – often all represented by the same person.

Another problem he often comes across when doing one-on-one coaching with CEOs – particularly in senior positions – is complacency.

“When they decide to stop learning, reading books and studying cases, I have to teach them to expand out and get out of their comfort zone,” says Rizk. He even gives the executives he coaches homework assignments, which include learning about their competition to see what they do differently.

Some of his work includes examining how to read body language.

If a company is experiencing a high turnover rate, he will coach those in their human resources department on how to tell if an interviewee is lying and whether they will be a good fit for the firm.

Still, the coaches interviewed stressed that what they do differs from company trainers in that they cater specifically to the needs of the coachee rather than the company as a whole.

As one Lebanese coach noted, the loyalty and confidentiality lies with the one being coached, even if they are not the one that paid for the service.

With confidentiality such a hallmark of the business coaching industry, it is not always easy to get reliable testimonies from the clients of business coaches.

Rizk points out that any unsatisfied customers are entitled to a refund – which he says has never happened. He also has a number of testimonials on his website, such as one from Ralph Dagher, who wrote: “One of the best sales mastery trainings I ever attended.”

There are none however from CEOs of top companies – not surprising for a business that is based on helping clients in a confidential setting the necessary gain skills to beat the competition.

The business advice website www.allbusiness.com recommends that those considering enlisting a business coach check professional organization, the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches, but a search of their website for professionals in Lebanon came up with no results.

Probably the best option is to go by referrals from trusted friends and associates – and it’s preferable to not to ask your direct business competitor.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 20, 2013, on page 2.

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