Life coaching has probably been around since that first cave woman smacked those poison berries out of her son’s hand. Certainly Socrates, Moses and Jesus were all master coaches. Things started to get a little more formalised with the beginnings of a life coaching industry in the US in the late 1950’s. Massive growth in the 90’s has been largely sustained. Needless to say if life coaching is a fad it must be the longest fad in history. Personal coaching is estimated to be the second fastest growth industry after IT, earning over a $100 billion worldwide annually.

When you think of a life coach you may think of someone helping you to reach your personal goals in the areas of health, wealth, spirituality, relationships or career. But the biggest segment of the field is the ‘executive coach’ working within organisations to assist managers to improve job performance. Either way, the personal coach helps an individual to close the gap between where they are and where they want to be. Whether its losing twenty kilograms, making a million, finding the love of your life, rising up the corporate ladder, climbing Everest, or improving profit margins, the life coach helps you to define the goal, figure out a plan to achieve it and perhaps most important of all, holds you accountable for taking action. Where the psychologist or counsellor focuses on eliminating problems by reflecting on the past, the life coach focuses on developing solutions by helping you plan the future. The key similarity between coach and counsellor is that ideally, rather than provide you with specific solutions they will guide you to finding your own.


You’ll pay anything from R150 for an entry level coach to R14 000 an hour if you’re a CEO looking for a top executive coach. But does it work? Going by a study conducted by MetrixGLobal, executive coaching produced a 529% return on investment. Unfortunately there is much less research available on the effectiveness of life coaching and here I have identified some major problems.


For one the industry is unregulated. There are coaching qualifications available but there is nothing stopping anyone from calling themselves a coach. Even with a qualification many coaches don’t walk the talk. Readers of my books regale me with stories of overweight coaches in beaten up old cars professing the wisdom to show them how to get rich and healthy. It seems that there are too many coaches out there teaching that which they need most to learn. That’s not to say that if you’re healthy, wealthy and happy, you’re able to show others how to be the same, but surely it must be a prerequisite.




The fault is not always with the coach, often it’s with the client. There are four main reasons why even with a good coach you may be wasting your money.




1.      To adapt an old joke: ‘How many coaches does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has got to want to change. If the desire isn’t there, the only thing that is going to change is hard cash from client to coach.


2.      A client who is severely depressed or suffering from some other mental illness is also unlikely to shift. What they need is a psychologist.


3.      Then there are the clients who are looking for a friend, these people are better off at a recreational club.


4.      Finally there are those who put their faith in their life coach rather than in themselves. Unwilling to put in the hard work necessary to achieve any great goal they think a coach will do it for them. These people are looking for a magic bullet. What they need is a wake-up call.




A good life coach knows when to fire his client but the reverse also holds true. I have found that some of what would be the world’s ideal life coaches are too busy living great lives to be life coaches. But you can use their expertise anyway and coach yourself to success.  Many top performers have written books or articles, giving you everything that you need to do it yourself. Why not put together your own life coaching program. Start of by getting information on the four key areas of success.


Motivation. A Harvard study shows that high self-motivation is the only factor present in the top performers in sport, business, art and science.

Goals. Research shows that people who have specific, written, time-framed goals tend to do significantly better than those who don’t.

Habit change. All lasting personal change is a change in habit.

Relationships. The royal road to our greatest dreams is lined by people, how we deal with those people will determine whether we get to our destination or not.

If you have a wealth goal get information on debt elimination, saving and investment but make sure you also get information on the psychological barriers that keep people poor. If you want to get into shape forget about another diet book. Research shows that 96% of people who go on diets will gain back any weight they lose. What you need is new health habits that above all need to be pleasurable. If you hate it, you won’t stick to it.


There is one thing that a book won’t give you that a good life coach will: social accountability. Most human beings like to be perceived as consistent and honest. For that reason you’re more likely to stick to a public commitment than one you only make to yourself. But a ‘goal buddy’ could provide the same thing for free. A buddy is a friend, family member or colleague who also wants to achieve a goal. You have regular interactions where you hold one another accountable for slip-ups and cheer each other’s progress. Need more expert information relevant to your particular situation?  Identify a role-model, someone who has achieved what you want and is willing to help you do the same. I have found most high-value individuals want to contribute, don’t expect them to hold your hand but if you approach them with respect they are likely to give you valuable advice. Does life coaching work, in many cases yes, but the best life coach may not be a paid practitioner, it may be a combination of book, buddy and role-model.


© Justin Cohen