I started my career in marketing and had some great jobs, but I really became interested in the people side of things after being trained in communication and working in teams.
My graduate studies were in Organizational Development. I am still at the first job I was offered—in HR as a trainer—but I just don’t like it. Most employees don’t seem to really care about training and it is always up to me to try to make it interesting for them.
I now realize that what I really am is a coach. I wish I had a graduate degree in coaching instead of OD. How can I tell if I would be a good coach? How do I know if I would like it better than being a trainer? How would you recommend I proceed?
Missed the Boat?
Dear Missed the Boat,
I get a lot of letters asking about this as well as a lot of requests for informational interviews from people who are thinking of becoming coaches, so your questions are timely.
What is coaching, really? It depends on who you ask. It might be easier to define what coaching isn’t. Coaching isn’t giving people feedback, telling them what to do, or teaching or training them. Coaching isn’t a matter of simply listening really well and asking some questions.
Our organization defines coaching as “A deliberate process using focused conversations to create an environment that results in accelerated performance and development.”
Coaching requires partnership and dialogue. Ideally, both parties learn from the experience. Many think that coaching is about giving advice. In fact, a coach can offer ideas and suggestions but generally guides clients through their own decision process. One of the reasons I do this column is because I really don’t give much advice in my work, but it is so much fun to do it!
How can I tell if I would be a good coach? Good coaches are collaborative by nature. They want the best for their clients and see them as capable and creative. They trust others to solve problems and make decisions. The professional organization I am most familiar with is the International Coach Federation (ICF), which is the oldest and largest professional association for coaches. The ICF has developed a thorough list of competenciess that can help you understand where your development gaps might be.
Where do I begin if I think I want to pursue being a professional coach? The ICF website (www.coachfederation.org) is an excellent source of information about all aspects of embarking on a coaching career. If you decide to go forward, you will need to go through a coach training program. There are a lot of programs to choose from, many of which offer a lot of flexibility and a nice mix of in-person and online training. Attend all informational programs and really do your research before you decide on a training program. There are a lot of scams out there where people promise the moon but the program doesn’t really deliver. Get references—find people who have attended the programs that appeal to you and talk to them. And stay away from any program that uses high-pressure selling techniques to get you to sign up.
You might also be interested in my list of Nine Books on Coaching that Coaches Need to Know About. The first few on the list, especially Co-Active Coaching, are key fundamental coaching texts.
Many credentialed coaches complain that anyone can hang up a shingle and say they are a coach, and this is true. What many people can’t do is get through an accredited training program, jump through the hoops to get their credential, stay on top of their own professional development, and build a thriving practice of clients who will refer them to others.
Can I make a living as a coach? Yes, but don’t quit your day job. Give yourself a reasonable timeline and get used to the idea that you have to market yourself. Having a background in marketing should help you, because building a thriving practice takes a fair amount of work. Okay, a lot of work. It will also help your credibility if you lean on your professional experience. Since you are already working in an organization, you might be able to become an internal coach where you are—consider discussing this possibility with your boss. I have seen some situations where an organization has funded coach training for some of their HR people.
The thing most people won’t tell you is that to be successful as a coach you have to be able to attract clients, retain your clients, and thrill them to the point that they refer people to you. So you must get really, really good at it and be impeccably professional. This will take some diligence and some time.
Coaching is a deeply rewarding career. The coaching mindset and skills translate beautifully to mentoring, managing, parenting, and building a terrific life for yourself. It will involve a steep learning curve and some intense personal development, which is not always expected but always necessary. It will take longer than you think it should, and it will be harder, too—but then that is true of most things.
I wish you good luck on your coaching adventure.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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