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First published in Business Coaching Worldwide, Ask the Expert is a regular column responding to readers' questions by sharing stories from the offbeat life of coach's coach Dr. Xavier Fink (his mother calls him Melvyn) as his colleagues interact at the sharp end of the business world.

Question: How should we coaches respond to the present economic climate in terms of our marketing and presentation?

Dr. Fink
Illustration ©
Janet Schatzman 2007-9

Fink in Recession: How the Coaching World Has Changed

By Dr. Laurence S. Lyons

Melvyn looks into the mirror and the world's most eminent organizational expert stares straight back. Or does he? "No two ways about it," he mumbles to himself through unkempt whiskers, "Dr. Fink's getting a little jaded around the edges." And in saying this, the good doctor is being remarkably kind to himself. Between you and me, Fink's a mess.

There's no getting away from this simple fact: in order to be recognized as an authority one has to look like an authority. Of course, if you're fortunate enough to be a top celebrity then a rogue touch of raggedness or a strange predilection for chocolate biscuits can add a dash of zestful color to an already outlandish style. But there are limits. A glance into the mirror confirms that in the case of Dr. Xavier Fink all respectable restraints were long since breached.

To be fair, he's got a good excuse. In the corner of Fink's office a pendulous pyramid of neglected post quietly implodes under its own weight. Several envelopes containing big checks wait to be opened and cashed. A spurned answering machine pulsates red with urgent regularity. Hamburg, Brussels, Houston, Milan, and London—all visited in the last few weeks. Fink's been away on business and let his appearance lapse.

He badly needs tonsorial attention, which is easier said than done. He calls Henri the Barber, formerly know as The Engraver in certain circles following an unfortunate shaving accident with a petulant customer. These days Henri is a reformed character who years ago set himself up as the preferred supplier to the coaching profession on the advice of Dr. Fink, who'd suggested he specialize in some market niche. Henri's wife Mavis, d.b.a. "Madame Fifi Leblanc," runs the beauty salon next door. Between them, Henri and Mavis know everything there is to know about the comings and goings in their local coaching community.

Henri has a full appointment book stretching far into the next millennium. Luckily, he has a last-minute cancellation. So Fink can have his plumage attended to if he heads straight for the shop. Thirty minutes later he finds himself manacled to the barber's chair.

"You're the most bedraggled coach I've ever seen," says Henri. "I haven't seen you in ages. All my other customers come in maybe two or three times a day."

"How come you've gotten that busy recently?" Fink asks from under his cotton coverall.

"It's the economy," answers Henri, picking up his largest pair of scissors to make an initial foray into the dense rainforest. "My shop's jammed full of executive coaches with nothing to do. Sometimes they just come in to read the papers. It reminds me of stories my grandpa told me about his barber shop way back in the ‘30s. There was no work to be found and his place got turned into a sort of social club.

"You got your appointment only because one of my regulars heard the phone ring just as he left home on his way here. Before he could answer, the ringing stopped. He called me to say he's sorry but he just can't take the risk of leaving home in case a prospect's trying to get hold of him, and he's petrified that they'll call again while he's out. Personally I think chances are that the call was from some Bombay boiler room unloading phony stocks; they call me all the time. But that's life."

Snip, snip. Giant thinning scissors shear swathes through the undergrowth.

"This state of affairs is great for you but terrible for all these executive coaches," says Fink, who's unobtrusively observing through the barber's mirror a group of smart well-groomed guys chatting, thumbing through old copies of Harvard Business Review, and generally lounging around the waiting area. "What's their problem?"

"Their clients say that their work situation has become uncertain and unstable. In this climate of struggling for survival, personal development and leadership are the last things on their minds. The demand for coaching in a downturn is zero. So they come here. I help them look presentable, just in case they should get a sniff of a lead."

Fink remains silent. Henri looks at the back of his customer's head and considers the task before him in a new light. This head ain't as dense as it looks.

"You don't have that problem, do you?" inquires Henri respectfully.

"No."

"Why not?"

"Well, of course my clients say exactly those same things. Their situation is equally uncertain and their job positions are often under review. But there is one big difference between my clients and those of your other customers."

"What's that?" demands Henri with a sharp clip.

"In an upside-down world with all its ambiguity and insecurity, personal development and leadership are the first things on their minds. In fact, such matters are at the very forefront of their thinking. For my clients the demand for coaching in a downturn is immense. And that's what I'm seeing."

"I suppose you mean there's demand if the coach can show the client how they can help them navigate through their current situation?"

"Exactly. I believe that's what coaching's always been about!" says Fink.

The beard is crisply trim. Henri's magic has turned jungle into garden. Felled locks festoon the floor. Fink is transformed into a clean-cut version of the man who sat down in the chair only 20 minutes earlier. He now looks as sharp as he is, and he is as sharp as he looks. Melvyn checks Henri's handiwork in the mirror and sees a slightly unfamiliar face. He notices that with age his hairline has retreated to higher ground. It's a more mature visage that now returns his gaze.

"Happens to us all," says Henri, sensing what Fink must be feeling, "this business of getting old."

"I'm not sure I like it like this," says Fink, sizing up his suave senior appearance.

"Oh, you should," says Henri, "really you should. Especially you. I think it suits you, recession."

© Laurence S. Lyons 2007-9 | Laurence S. Lyons identifies himself as the author of this work. | Illustrations © Janet Schatzman 2007-9

All rights reserved. | All trademarks acknowledged.

The "Dr. Fink" characters and "Dr. Fink's Casebook" story title are proprietary to Dr. Laurence S. Lyons.

Dr. Laurence S. Lyons, unlike Dr. Fink and his friends, is a real person and internationally renowned expert in organizational transformation and leadership development. He is a member of WABC's International Advisory Committee. A library of his work is available at www.lslyons.com. Read more about Larry in the WABC Coach Directory.


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