(This is a revision of an entry I wrote months ago.) I’m ambivalent about calling myself a coach. This label, like consultant, is loaded; it opens one to criticism and skepticism, much of it justified. Anyone may claim to be a coach. As I commented in my January 14, 2009 post, “buyer beware” is excellent advice. However, well-meaning sources who warn about hiring untrained coaches fail to consider that some of the best coaches were doing outstanding “coaching” work before coach training, universities, or certification existed. Should a highly-educated expert with a track record for coaching excellence go to coach training school? This is a complex question, with no definitive answer. I have chosen not to pursue coaching-specific credentials, and I’ll explain why.
I took on the coach moniker after others began to describe me this way, around 1994. It was becoming trendy to be – or to have – a coach. I’ve been doing this work professionally since 1987, when I thought of coaches as dudes shouting at athletes from the sidelines. Before executive coaches or life coaches were invented, I offered “individual consultation sessions” for corporate clients. This was a rewarding way to apply my interpersonal communication expertise, beyond teaching at the local college, or leading seminars on active listening and productive dialogue (recognized as coaching competencies). When I wasn’t officially working, I helped friends and others start businesses, change careers, improve relationships, or move ahead on various goals. These activities mirror what life coaches do.
By the mid-1990s, business, executive, and personal coaches were everywhere, and entrepreneurs figured out that wanna-be coaches should be certified, registered, or learn how to ask questions and listen more effectively. Structured learning and development for new coaches took off. The proliferation of coach training is astounding, as some universities now offer coaching certificate or degree programs.
Although coach training is widely available, and has strong advocates, I am rarely asked about it. Sometimes, a client wants to know if I use a well-known coaching model, or if I’m affiliated with a professional association. These are fair questions, and I recognize the underlying concern: is Julie a good coach? I respond that I am not a registered or certified coach, nor do I advocate one coaching model over another, although I acknowledge the value of excellent training programs, professional groups, and methodologies. In 22 years of doing this work, the leaders I coach have not questioned my credentials, and they can count on me for results. I’m confident in my broad, deep experience, plus the relevance of my formal education in communication, a field uniquely suited to what coaches do.
The right coach training is appropriate for many coaches, including people transitioning from other careers with little knowledge of the required communication, leadership, organizational, and relationship management skills. Yet, as far as I know, even the best coaching schools do not offer the holistic, advanced professional development and rigorous graduate training I — and other seasoned coaches — have pursued.
Because I’m committed to learning from diverse perspectives and using the best information available, I am always absorbing new material relevant to coaching. I welcome opportunities to develop my skills. I engage in academic research, conferences, and workshops with respected, wise leaders with whom I continue to learn. My own coaches have enriched my life and coaching/consulting practice immeasurably, and I have not selected them based on coach training credentials (although I understand their desire to pursue coach-specific credentials, if it feels right to them).
The bottom line? Think carefully before hiring a coach, and don’t base the decision on official coaching credentials, alone. Some of the best coaches I know have had no coaching-specific training.