Is coaching elitist?

Why I don’t think so

Over the past  few months, I have received a number of emails from individuals who believe that coaches in general (and that includes me) are aiming the content of their blogs, articles and programmes at people who are already successful, but are somehow just temporarily, and somewhat inconveniently, experiencing a little glitch on the golden conveyor to the dizzy heights of their professional pyramid. They feel that these ideas don’t reach or apply to the average person stuck in their jobs,  the ones  who feel that they are living in “quiet desperation”  to quote Thoreau. They believe coaching is elitist.


Janie B,  says “Dorothy, I love your blog it is filled with humor and good tips and really accessible. But I think you are talking about high-flying,  talented people who can afford coaches. What do ordinary people like me do who can’t?  I’m stuck in a job I hate…. I don’t excel at anything  and there’s no way out.” 

 I have to consider those comments seriously. What Janie B  and others are suggesting is that coaching principles cannot be equally applied and are therefore undemocratic.

How green is your grass?

Let’s give this a global perspective. We should take into account that the message writers (including Janie B)  are literate, highly educated and clearly have internet access ( 80% of Americans have broadband access,  Japanese 75%), then they are probably already in global terms,  better positioned than a large percentage of the  world population, who do not.  Nigeria for example has 7.4%  internet penetration. So to that extent, some modern coaching channels  blogs, web sites, webinars etc) can appear to be elitist and focus on people living in advanced industrial economies who can tap into modern communication methods. Janie and the other message writers, despite what they think, are already in a global elite. That is something often forgotten when examining other people’s grass.

But real coaching is not related to modern technology, or for a select, wealthy few. Some of the greatest philosophers and thinkers from Seneca, Plato to  Gandhi and Einstein not just in our time, but throughout history, have eschewed material goods on their path to personal development and spiritual enlightenment. Neither did they have internet connections. Nor were they on Twitter or YouTube. Would they have in different times used these media?  Strong possibility  – they were all communicators. However, their legacy is time-honoured thoughts,  that are applicable in all our lives and have nothing to do with  technological advancement and superficial successes, whether economically or professionally. In fact many  certainly rejected the latter.

So although working with a coach can be hugely beneficial,  do I think that most coaching techniques are democratic and can be universally applied and available, regardless of where we are financially, professionally, in our relationships or lives?

Yes I do.

 “If you think the grass is greener on the other side,  try watering your lawn” 

When people feel trapped in their jobs, there is a tendency to offer bumper sticker type solutions. But no plastering your office wall or refrigerator with ‘post its’  or magnets containing the latest positive thoughts will help make your grass greener long-term. They are of limited short-term value, like tending your lawn with a water pistol. I’m not suggesting a water cannon would do – but just  more of a garden sprinkler type of activity.  Timely, systematic and measured.

So what can you do if you have the privilege of living in an advanced economy and feel stuck in your job or your life?  How do you achieve something  you feel passionate about – for free?

Here are just a very few suggestions:

  • Check out your life and professional goals. Are they aligned?  Usually I have found that this is the root of the problem.  If you could change your life what would it look like? How do you look?  Is it really the job that bothers you or something else? Be honest, tough if you have to.
  • Manage your negative thoughts
  • List the challenges you’ve had in your life. What skills did you use to deal with them? What were your success stories? These are your transferable skills .
  • What don’t you like about your job? Why? Is there anything about your job you like?  List those points. What skills do the good points require?
  • Make a mission statement. You know from a previous post  that even CEOs struggle with this.
  • Set yourself some goals and objectives. They need to be  specific, measurable,  achievable, realistic and time bound ( SMART)
  • Take courses: on-line, night school,  open university, start a blog , join Twitter or LinkedIn. There are so many ways these days to add to your personal development  and they cost very little. If you don’t have  internet access  go to your local public library.
  • Volunteer. There are  also different ways to achieve goals outside a professional arena.
  • Set up a job search or life plan with lots of small  incremental steps to achievement.  Reward yourself when you succeed.
  • Cherish yourself  and those near to you!  Ask for their support and feedback
  •  Look after your health and exercise. Walk every day.

Cost to date….  ZERO.

Who can you add to the list?

13 thoughts on “Is coaching elitist?

  1. Heather Stubbs

    Dorothy, this post is excellent! After 13 years of teaching entry-level piano lessons, I was getting stale. At the age of 60, I took a deep breath, sent my students to other teachers and used my lifelong experience as an actress and concert singer to create a workshop called “SPEAK UP! Mastering the Art of Public Speaking”. There is an enormous amount of free coaching available online, and I use it constantly. Reading the blogs of experts like yourself is like taking a never-ending correspondence course. Some days I spend so much time reading, I hardly get my own work done!

    Two years later, my reputation as a speaker and seminar presenter is growing, and I’m actually getting paid work. What’s more, I’m having the time of my life! I’m having the fun in my 60’s that I would have liked to have in my30’s. I’m completely convinced that if you can dream it, you can have it. Here I am, living proof that you can re-invent yourself at any age.

  2. Dorothy Dalton

    Heather – thanks for your comments. What a great success story. Investing in a coach or coaching programme can be hugely beneficial, but as you say there are lots of free or inexpensive options for personal development. It’s a question of being open to change!

    Good luck!


  3. Kriss Akabusi

    Hi Dorothy,

    Lots of fantastic wisdom can been drawn out of this blog post. Thank you for putting your considerable experience and intellect into the topic of coaching for personal development. I loved your reference to, “If you think the grass is greener on the other side, try watering your lawn”. It is so easy to think that the grass is greener over the other side instead of being just another shade of green. In the western world our dissatisfaction with life can often be measured by what we peceive others to have that we do not have or might want. However if we look carefully at what we have, but more importantly what we have the potential to achieve with the gifts with in us and the resources around us we literally can be what ever our imagination encourages us to be.

    So with that in mind, and you mention of the country of my origen “Nigeria” you have strengthened my resolve to be a positive catalyst for change with in that country and ignite flames of fire with in the countries ruling class to serve their people with passion pride and a can do attitude.

    Bless you


  4. Dorothy Dalton

    Thanks Kriss for your comments. Sometimes people get so caught up with what they don’t and can’t do and what others are doing and posibly better, that they overlook their best basic resource! Themselves!

  5. Cindy

    Hi Dorothy,
    Great piece. I am currently using a coach and have reaped major benefits. I devour all the free information out there but my coach has helped me clarify my agenda and pursue each step. Yes, it costs money, but it’s also saved me from wasting something even more valuable — time.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Cindy for your comment. I think investment in a coach can reap huge benefits especially as you suggest, getting where you want to go faster ( see my post Case for Career Coaches –, but for those genuinely financially strapped ( rather than not prioritisng personal development) there are huge resources out there that cost very little.

      Good luck on your journey!

  6. Mary Jo Asmus

    Much to think about here, Dorothy. I’ll churn on the aspect of “elitist” for quite a while.

    I do want to mention that many coaches donate their time to non profit organizations and individuals who may not otherwise be able to afford it. We believe very strongly in the value of what we do, and want to be able to make a difference, even if it means we don’t get paid for it sometimes.

    I think the value in coaching for many in organizations has to do with an outside, personalized perspective and some accountability to achieve goals. If the coach is trained or has learned a process to help someone achieve their goals, all the better.

    If accountability is something you need, there are plenty of good “coaches” out there who don’t call themselves that and don’t charge -how about a mentor or a friend?

    My post today outlines a process for essentially “coaching yourself” and learning while you do it. There is even a suggestion to find someone to hold you accountable – it doesn’t have to be a coach:

    I also wonder if the people who are concerned about the “elitist” aspect of coaching understand that a coach can definitely be available to anyone – and that often, their employer will pay the bill for it? If the issue is “stuck in a career I hate” and the person wants a way out, they may have to pay for that but can certainly find one in their price range if they are diligent.

  7. Dorothy Dalton

    Thanks Mary – Jo for your insights and excellent points, especially about finding someone to be accountable to . A coach is clearly ideal, but it could equally be a mentor, peer or friend. The root issue is wanting to change badly enough to find a way.

  8. Monica Diaz

    I so agree with you, Dorothy! Great post and tips for people to move forward. The truth is out there for those who want to seek and find. Furthermore, what we call coaching is a natural human trait that has existed forever. If you are not up to “hiring” a coach, enlist someone you respect and trust to see you through, to bouce ideas off of, to keep you accountable. Modern life has tricked us into thinking that we are alone. We are most definitely not!

  9. Matthew Dent

    Great insight! I think the idea of coaching being elitist is just an excuse to avoid the change. It starts with giving yourself the permission to continue to grow and make the changes. A coach simplifies the process for you and holds you accountable. It is much easier to do nothing, rather than something. As long as we continue to move forward as individuals there will always be an opportunity ahead of us.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Matthew. Well said. Seeking out a coach is quite often the second step on the road to change. Quite often people have been through the self coaching phase and feel they need a bit of focus and accountability. When anyone is stuck – it is easy to see the whole process as being
      intimidating. But as I hope I have shown , it can all be quite accessible.

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