By David Steele, Founder of Relationship Coaching Institute
Being a Professional Coach is a fun and fulfilling way to make a great living as well as make a difference in the world. If you enjoy helping others and find that your friends, family and co-workers come to you to talk about their goals and challenges, you’re probably a good fit for this growing profession.
In my 20+ years in the coaching profession and having trained thousands of coaches I have seen many good and bad coaches, and the two main differences are:
- Credible training vs. “Self taught”
- Ego vs. Service
Let’s take a look at what that means.
Credible training vs. Self taught”
A profession is commonly defined as an occupation requiring specialized education and/or training. Therefore, a professional coach is someone who has specialized education and/or training in coaching.
Coaching, especially Life Coaching, is widely misunderstood by the public and other helping professionals. Coaching is very different from therapy, counseling, consulting, and education, yet many practitioners of those professions call their service “coaching.”
A sex therapist might call himself a “sex coach,” a nutritionist might call herself a “wellness coach,” a business consultant might call himself a “business coach,” a financial planner or investment advisor might call himself a “financial coach,” a family therapist, lawyer, or mediator might call himself a “divorce coach,” and so on.
Below is a billboard spotted in Washington D.C. of Target stores referring to their pharmacy clerks as “Nose Coach” (coaching has hit the mainstream!).
Even more concerning, individuals with no professional training or qualifications are calling themselves “coach” and marketing their “services” to an unwitting public.
I suppose those of us in the coaching profession should be flattered that so many other professionals, non-professionals, and even department stores, want to use the label “coach,” however, this creates much confusion amongst the public about coaching.
What is an UN-Professional Coach?
Coaching is currently an unregulated profession and anyone can call themself a coach. Broadly, an unprofessional coach is someone who is behaving unprofessionally by violating professional coaching ethics, standards, morals, even breaking laws through fraud, plagiarism, copyright and trademark violations, etc. As the coaching profession grows, a consequence of being unregulated is that increasing numbers of individuals see coaching as a way to make a fast buck and market themself as a “Coach” without coaching training, which I define as “unprofessional.”
Who Determines What is “Professional” Coaching?
The most universally recognized (self) governing body for coaches is the International Coach Federation (ICF). Their definition of coaching is here and their stated Core Competencies for professional coaches are here. The ICF Code of Ethics is here. Here’s a good FAQ About Coaching page.
To become a Professional Coach it is highly recommended to choose a training program that has sought and obtained approval from ICF. Their standards for certification and accreditation are rigorous and one of the best indicators a coach or training program is of high quality.
How Can I Be Sure I’m Hiring a Good Life Coach (or any coach)?
- Do not hire a coach who lacks discernible coaching credentials. Be sure to verify their credentials by visiting the web sites and contacting the training programs they claim to have trained with and professional associations they claim to be a member.
- Conduct an internet search and learn more about them. What do other people say about them? What have they published? What else have they accomplished? A credible, professional coach should be easy to check out on the internet.
- Ask for references. Credible coaches will have many happy clients that will enthusiastically share about their experience with them. Don’t buy claims of “confidentiality” as this is not therapy or other service that might prohibit this practice.
- If they publish testimonials and/or endorsements, follow up and contact those people to verify.
- Interview several coaches. Shop around and find someone you feel good about who has solid references, credentials, and a good track record of helping people like you.
- The easiest way to tell a Professional Coach from an UN-professional coach is their approach to giving advice. Just as you can’t successfully build a house or a business or a relationship from reading a book on the subject, telling people what they should do just doesn’t work. Information and answers alone are not effective. The Professional Coach believes that you the client are the expert and the best source for your solutions, and will empower you to identify and implement the choices most effective for you. UN-professional coaches believe they know what you should do and that your job is to listen and follow their directions.
- Use your common sense and trust your gut. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
How Are UN-Professional Coaches Harmful?
- They harm the coaching profession by creating confusion about coaching
- They harm professional coaches when dissatisfied clients of unprofessional coaches get turned off about coaching and tell others
- They harm their clients by giving advice, providing “professional” opinions, and other behaviors that are not coaching and do not serve the client’s best interests
- They harm themselves because they tend to wash out fairly quickly as word spreads about them and they can’t get clients
Are UN-Professional Coaches Bad People?
Most UN-professional coaches that I’ve encountered are well-intentioned. They are certainly motivated by money, but they really want to help! They truly have no idea they are behaving unprofessionally and unethically. They often believe that their life experiences qualify them to help others in similar situations. They do not intend to do harm and are unaware of how their behavior is harmful. Thankfully, I have yet to encounter a truly ill-intentioned person preying on people through the guise of being a coach, though I’m sure they exist.
If they’re well-intentioned, why don’t they simply get coaching training? I don’t know, but I speculate that they truly don’t understand exactly what coaching is and enjoy giving people advice (who doesn’t?). They’re a bit like the delusional bad singer on American Idol who truly believes that they have an excellent voice and that they’re exceptionally talented and should be awarded fame and fortune for sharing their “gift” with the rest of us.
The UN-professional coach doesn’t understand that reading books, online courses, personal growth workshops, life experience, and even having a college degree does not qualify them or give them the skills to competently help others with their most important life goals and challenges.
Ego vs. Service
The desire to help others is among the most noble, however this desire tends to be driven by either ego or service.
Ego motivates people to help others as a way to gain status, power, money, and self-esteem.
Many aspiring coaches that come to my coach training organization say they are drawn to coaching because they love giving advice, which is not coaching, and comes from ego. They are the hardest to train.
Service motivates people to help others from a selfless calling to a higher mission.
The art and magic of coaching is a combination of a service-oriented presence and effective coaching skills. A good coach with credible training is 100% present for their client and able to empower them to accomplish huge, seemingly impossible goals by simply by applying their coaching skills, not by telling their clients what they should do, which simply doesn’t work.
So, Who Makes a Good Life Coach?
In my opinion, three very important, things:
- Credible professional coach training by an ICF approved training program
- Supervised practice by an experienced mentor coach or trainer
- Strongly motivated by a desire to be of service, not ego-driven
Coaching is a profession, and to be an effective, credible Professional Coach you need training and supervised practice.
How Can You Find High Quality, Credible, Professional Coach Training?
First, beware of cheap online “training.”
While a high quality training program can be conducted via “distance learning” using resources such as the telephone, internet, video, etc, there is no such thing as 100% online training.
– Reading about coaching online is not training.
– Watching videos online about coaching is not training.
– Listening to audio recordings online is not training.
– Passing online tests is not training.
Because coaching is a profession and requires real training to learn skills, which requires instruction, supervised practice and mentoring from a qualified, skilled coach trainer.
Completing an online course about coaching without actually DOING coaching and acquiring coaching skills with the help of skilled trainers does not help you become a qualified, skilled, professional coach.
I’ve seen too many aspiring coaches wash out because getting training from “the best online” program that does not set you up for success is a waste and setting yourself up for failure, simple as that.
Here’s my 5 criteria for high quality, credible professional coach training:
1. A good training program teaches coaching
This may appear obvious, but just as anyone call him or herself a coach, anyone can call their training program “coaching training.” In fact, many non-coaches are providing non-coach training, passing along their style of misguided “coaching.” I call them Unprofessional Coaches because they are.
Look for a clear definition of coaching as distinct from other helping modalities. In other words, if your potential training provider cannot clearly explain to you how their coach training differs from other kinds of training, then that’s a red flag and you should look elsewhere.
Also be sure that your potential training provider is not simply following a fad or using a marketing device by calling their technique “coaching.” Investigate to find if they are teaching a model of coaching that applies the skills and principles described in the core coaching competencies described by the International Coach Federation (ICF) as mentioned above.
2. A good training program provides practicum and mentoring
Training requires doing — not just reading, listening to lectures or viewing videos. Be sure your training program provides you with an adequate opportunity to practice and apply the skills you’ve learned. Most often you will practice your skills with fellow trainees.
Additionally, your training program may encourage or facilitate a “Buddy Coach” relationship for additional practice. A dyad is great, but a triad is even better as the observer can provide more input and feedback.
In addition to experiences with your peers, be sure that your potential training provider gives you the opportunity to observe, be evaluated, and experience coaching with a skilled mentor coach. This might be the instructor, but most often this will be with former graduates who assist with the training. It’s important that you work with other professional coaches, who can inspire you with examples of how skilled coaches go beyond the mechanics and clearly demonstrate and teach the “art” of coaching.
3. A good training program provides certification
Ensure that your potential training provider offers an internal certification. If you are seeking additional ICF certification, ensure that the training you receive will meet ICF certification requirements.
To be meaningful, the certification that you earn must include supervision and evaluation of your competent work with real clients. A “certificate of completion” can be compared to sitting through traffic school and passing a written test and is meaningless for inferring skills acquisition or competence as a coach.
One question that you might ask is, simply, “Do I need certification?” The answer is… maybe!
You might already have plenty of credentials and letters after your name, and potential clients generally don’t ask you to prove your qualifications unless you don’t appear to have any. As such, if you have a lot of other credentials, certification may not be essential for you; not like coach training (which is essential).
However, obtaining coaching certification can indeed assist you to become a highly skilled and accomplished coach and demonstrate your commitment to a high standard of professional coaching to your prospective clients. This is helpful in many ways, including marketing.
4. A good training program prepares you to practice
It’s (unfortunately) common for training providers to focus on skills and strategies for helping your clients “in theory,” but leave you clueless as to how it all applies in the “real world.” Your potential training provider should help you establish things like an intake and assessment process, templates for client forms and contracts, examples of fee structures and service delivery systems, and so on. While these may seem like the less glamorous aspects of coaching (compared to actually working with people who need help), they are essential for operating a successful practice. If your potential training provider isn’t supporting you with this learning, you will likely not succeed, even if you’re a fabulous coach.
5. A good training program helps you get clients
You cannot change the world, help a person, or even make a living if you can’t get clients. The leaders and staff of your potential training program should have ample experience marketing their services and building a successful practice in the real world, and should pass along their knowledge and strategies to you.
Frankly, while I don’t expect many other programs to match Relationship Coaching Institute in this manner, I would still urge you to choose a training program that pays attention to the practical, real-world business side of being a helping professional – that is, one that helps you get clients and build a successful practice.
So now that you have an idea of what a credible, quality coach training program looks like, it is my sincere desire that you use these criteria to seek the best training program for YOU, online or otherwise. And if you’re seeking to hire a coach, be sure to check the quality of their references and their training program.