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New breed of professional coach helps in scaling corporate ladder

WHETHER it's the young expat professional looking for a career change, the time-poor executive or the Chinese middle manager looking to climb the corporate ladder, many white collars are turning to a coach to give them an edge.

While the concept of professional and so-called life coaches is relatively well established in the West, it's just getting started in Shanghai. There's a burgeoning number of both foreigners and locals either being coached or, in fact, join the coaching ranks.

Many of Shanghai's coaches use online training and attain certification through the International Coaching Federation. Established in 1995, ICF is the world's biggest provider of training and certification for coaches and has a code of ethics its members are required to follow.

The federation defines coaching as: "Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential." Setting itself apart form therapy, consulting or mentoring, it claims clients who are coached can experience a "fresh perspective" on their lives, enhanced thinking and decision making and increased confidence.

Instead of giving advice, a coach tries to ask the right questions, so that a client can find his or her own answers to challenges in their career or life.

Coaching in Shanghai doesn't come cheap. Rates for a life coach start at around 700 yuan (US$103) for a one to two-hour session. Professional (skills, executive training) coaches usually charge upward of 1,000 yuan per session.

Established coaches in the United States charge upward of US$250 an hour, with corporate packages for top-flight executive training running into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Dr Lydia Simon is a professional coach, who, after climbing the ranks of the chemical industry, decided to move into professional coaching. She has 10 clients in Shanghai, including job, middle management, senior executives and entrepreneurs.

Simon set up her own coaching and consultancy company, CTR Global, last year and is in the final stages of completing her certification with ICF.

Simon helps both Chinese and foreign clients look at almost every aspect of their careers, from time management and leadership skills to their career path and potential career changes. Simon spent 14 years in the chemical industry, including the last four years of her career in China. She was responsible for setting up and managing the quality control department for a German multinational company.

"Most of my career I spent developing businesses and my new career as a coach is about developing people," she says. "I like the direct approach with people. You can work very effectively and support leaders and professionals in growing and achieving their targets."

Simon says she can fully use her career and life experience in coaching, noting, "I am not a psychologist, I focus on practical skills." One of her clients is young entrepreneur Manuel Ramos, who sought her assistance in managing his various media and consultancy businesses.

Ramos set up a French online newspaper "Le Petite Journal" and also had a communications and marketing arm of his business. But he wanted to move into consulting, helping foreign companies set up operations in China.

"I was facing challenges and I was thinking about stopping my marketing and communications activities," Ramos says. "I was thinking about what I should focus on, how should I sell myself and how should I grow myself and my business."

At first he joined a group that received coaching, then in February he started one-on-one coaching with Simon because he was seeking an individually tailored approach.

"I am more equipped and things are a bit more clear for me now and I have learned how to have vision," he says. "I wasn't able to stand back. Now I have improved myself in terms of how I work with others, build relationships and teams and act as a leader. There were things I wanted to be but now I feel I have more tools to do them."

The Shanghai Coaching Circle was established in 2007 by Beth Ronsick and Mia Van Der Heijden and now has around 30 coaches as members.

It aims to provide a forum for coaches to improve their skills, network and swap ideas.

Its coaches have a range of specialties from professional and executive coaching to life and creativity coaching.

There are coaches specializing in leadership training and helping trailing spouses, and even a youth coach training the next generation of environmental leaders.

"When it was formed it was the early days of coaching in Shanghai and we wanted to plant a stake in the ground to promote a spirit of professional integrity and peer collegiality as the coaching community grew," says Ronsick.

While certification is not compulsory, Ronsick says coaching standards and certification is becoming a "hotter" topic for the coaching industry both globally and in Shanghai. The growing desire by clients for a coach to be qualified is driving the industry toward increased certification, she says.

While life coaching has been around for more than a decade and professional or executive coaching is a well-established part of the corporate landscape, Shanghai's coaching ranks are still greenhorns compared with their more experienced overseas colleagues.

"Shanghai is a younger market in terms of people's exposure and understanding of coaching," Ronsick says. "There are some very good coaches who have been in Shanghai for years, and a bumper crop of new, promising coaches finding their way."

Talent and demand for coaching are growing. One of the next generations of coaches is former bank manager Violet Zhang, who after receiving life coaching decided to quit her job and begin training as a coach.

Despite having a successful career, she said she was not happy working long hours and leaving much of the care of her two children in the hands of her husband's parents. She has moved her family out to Sheshan area in Songjiang District, where she is training to become an ICF-certified coach.

The coaching methodology has empowered her, she says, and Zhang is already using some of the skills she has learned. Her husband Charles works in senior management at a state-owned enterprise and she regularly coaches him to help steer difficult projects he is responsible for.

"It is often the case here that the first half of your life is spent doing what others think you should do and the second half of your life is spent looking at what you think you should do," she says. "These coaching methods can help you find out what it is you want and how to achieve it."


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