Personal Development or Training?

I had a great conversation recently with one of my clients. She had come to me initially for some coaching about advancing her career. I am not specifically a traditional career coach so we talked for some time before committing to anything on either side. And as we talked it became apparent that she knew exactly what she needed to do to get on but the issue was one of confidence and belief in actually doing it!

She had tried various training courses but they didn’t help. Not because they weren’t good training courses; they sounded excellent, but because she wasn’t psychologically in a place to make best use of the information. She didn’t actually need any skills based TRAINING at that point in time, she needed some personal development.


Although people (including me) often use ‘training’ to describe what I do it’s not particularly accurate. When I am running one of my women’s courses I am not offering traditional training, I am offering an opportunity to reflect, grow and develop in a way personal to you.

Key Differences.

If you attend a training course it’s likely to be work oriented, and skills based. You may attend a training course on manual handling, for example. A manual handling course is often mandatory in particular fields- you have to attend and you have to come away with a piece of paper that says you’ve attended and met a required standard. The person teaching the course has a list of competencies or skills to teach you.

Or your firm may have introduced a new computer system and all employees have to understand how it works so have to either enrol on line or undertake a short course, or turn up for some hands on experience and tuition.

What these have in common is everyone is taught exactly the same way, with the same information. Even if you begin with quite a bit of knowledge on manual handling or the computer system you still receive the same input; there are ‘correct’ answers that you have to give at the end of the day. You can benchmark yourself against others and see how well (or otherwise) you are doing compared with others.

Personal Development

When you undertake personal development everything you have ever done is relevant, regardless of your status or age, or educational achievements. No judgements about your abilities are made.

In personal development, be it through a women’s course or coaching, there are no right answers to strive for. Everyone is unique and everyone has a different response. Never compare yourself to anyone else. You don’t pass or fail, you simply develop. And how you develop depends on so many different factors but most of all on the uniqueness of you.

So you could attend a woman’s personal development course one year and maybe get something from it but it may not be especially life changing. Yet you could attend that self same course six months later and because of where you are at (figuratively speaking) in your life it totally transforms you.

For example, someone may be on one of my courses at exactly the right moment for them and it really does set them off on a new path. So, when I ask if anyone wants to make a comment, they stand up and proudly announce that this opportunity to evaluate their life means they are now going to give up the day job, learn eye surgery (in Flemish) and explore Timbuktu riding backwards on a donkey!

However, if you are sitting in the same group you may be thinking to yourself:

“Well, this period of reflection has been great. I think I’m going to join the local library and get a book out on being more assertive and make sure I give myself some ‘me’ time.”

The point is personal development is exactly that, personal. Don’t compare, don’t set yourself impossible goals, simply be honest and allow the thoughts to do what they will. It’s for you, not a test or exam. Neither is right or wrong; you are simply exploring what is right for you at any particular time in your life with someone who is not judging you in any way, but focussed on helping you be the best you can be.


Similarly with coaching; sometime clients come to me having been talking with friends and colleagues who have made enormous life changes following coaching. Coaching is another form of personal development– you don’t pass or fail. You get what you need at the time from it and a good coach will help you identify what is right for you. And that’s rarely what worked for someone else. It’s your life – what is important to you is what matters. So never compare yourself with others.

Another difference with personal development or coaching is that it is entirely voluntary. You cannot be ordered to have coaching or go on a personal development course. (Well, I guess you could but it would probably be a worthless experience for you!)


One point that may be of interest; the Springboard Consultancy commissioned some research a few years back looking at the effectiveness of this type of coaching/personal development work. What they discovered was that managers noticed a positive difference in staff who undertook personal development work; they returned more focussed on problem solving than complaining about what was wrong and they coped better with change. And even more interestingly, women who had done some personal development felt that the effects of it went well beyond the actual time they were doing it. In fact, most said they really began to feel the full effects about 12 months afterwards as they began to see the fruits of the changes they had made in their lives.

And Finally

Back to my coaching client from paragraph one! What she actually rang me to tell me was that she now realised she didn’t want to go on in her career but had been swept along by other people’s expectations of her. The opportunity to reflect had allowed her to seriously think about what she wanted from her life and it wasn’t the role she currently had. She wanted to let me know that she had decided upon a different path and was actually setting up her own part time business which sat very happily with her value base and need for some autonomy. She was being true to herself!

A  Coaching Question

A simple question to leave with you to ponder upon:

If you had no fear and you could do one thing to improve the quality of your life as it is right now, what would it be?

Picture Credit: Sigurd Decroos


Posted on March 17th, 2010 by

4 Responses to “Personal Development or Training?”

  1. Very interesting article, Jane. As a personal development consultant, I sometimes struggle to define what I do vis-a-vis coaching, therapy, etc. My approach is slightly different to yours: I don’t offer courses but concentrate more on analysing the current situation and what needs to change for each individual.
    I was interested in what you say about expectations – I am doing some research at the moment which seems to suggest our ideas about work-life balance may be influenced by other people’s expectations.

    • Jane says:

      Thanks for commenting Ruth. I’d be hugely interested to see your research when it’s completed, and if I can help in any way, please just ask. Jane

  2. Thanks, Jane, that’s very comradely of you. I’ll certainly get in touch once the research is done. I’d be very grateful if you could help me gather a few more responses! This is the link to the survey:
    I’m sure you will have used Survey Monkey before – you just click on to this link and it takes you straight to the survey pages (only 2!)
    Thanks a lot

  3. […] Executive Coaching for Women – Personal Development or Coaching? | Changing People Blog August 17, 2010 tags: coaching, development, differences, interesting, Training by Daniel K Wentzel URL:… […]

Leave a Reply

Jane's Book

Paperback or Electronic copy

Free Updates
Simply fill in your details below to get regular updates in your in box. Your details will not be shared – ever.

Connect with me
facebook twitter google+ linkedin RSS