Revaluing Charm School

In the Career Advice section of the June, 1999 Fortune Magazine, I was reminded of my introduction to work as a coach. The article focused on the kind of executive or management coaching and training sometimes referred to facetiously as “Charm School.”

The name “Charm School” is derived from the fact that this particular form of training tends to focus on image. Recipients of this schooling are often perceived to have a need to address the personal elements of expression that add up to a powerful first impression, or the visible form of leadership demonstrated by poise and charisma. (The very word “poise” is packed with derogatory associations evoking the comic superficiality of beauty pageants.) These beleaguered folk may be unaware that they’re being groomed for a promotion, or refined to retain their present position.

My background as an east-coast university trained actor positioned me as a natural for delivering effective “Charm School” coaching. After all, a guy who grew up in farmland Pennsylvania was rife with learning opportunities when it came to demonstrating refined presence. You can’t very effectively do Shakespeare with a hick-twang- Philly accent (very challenging combination) stooped shoulders, and a shit-kicker lope.

(a farm-boy with rhythm? – only in Footloose)

So, I suffered many painful hours of movement classes and speech classes, tripping over my feet or my tongue.

Finally after four full years of what I sometimes felt was torture, I discovered I had gained valuable flexibility and learned a myriad of techniques to center myself, generate energy, and stretch to impactful levels of expression. I was even given a scholarship as an assistant speech teacher my final year. That was when I discovered I also loved teaching and coaching.

Later as I worked in business to augment my acting career, I was able to tap my personal learning experiences to help associates be more influential and dynamic communicators. Eventually I used the same internalized processes to be an effective director, behind camera for a television magazine show.

When I finally noticed I had a true passion for coaching and training, I entered the business-training world full-time. Although I sometimes had to deflect comments about my “Charm School” work, I soon discovered that a much deeper result occurred from working with clients, image-down. Our psychological foundations of intention and communication are wired into our physical expression. When you change a physical habit there is a circuit tripping effect of released tension that can strike very deep.

It is extremely rewarding to witness almost immediate results. An accountant stands up straight, speaks louder, moves with assurance and is soon perceived to be leadership material. A manufacturing manager changes his demeanor and tone, discovers how to authentically shift to a motivating congeniality and production improves. (He also gets to keep his job.)

When clients learn that simple changes can produce dramatic effects, the path opens for deeper work. Actors learn the power of physical changes when portraying characters. Charm School coaching can lead to work that affects clients on the level of character, values and intentions, going far beyond physical work and image. Coaching works best when using: psychological surveys, associate feedback, management techniques, skills for effective verbal communication – influence and conflict management, and too, an exploration of principle and spiritual alignment. These combined support lasting and personally profitable change.

The cost of the coaching sited in the Fortune article ($7500 per day) shows how much organizations can value the results of personal coaching. Fortunately, many very effective coaches charge a bit less and the profitability of the investment soars.

What price do you place on productivity and the nearly priceless gem of individual growth?

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