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It is probably the thorniest issue facing the coaching profession and was recently cited as the second biggest obstacle to coaching in the International Coaching Federation’s COVID-19 and the Coaching Industry report. Untrained individuals who have not done accredited coach training who call themselves coaches is a niggle that the global industry is keen to shake off.
For anyone entering the world of coaching it is not long before you bump up against the issue in a conversation, industry study or magazine. Harvard Business Review even captured some of the mood in its article The Wild West of Executive Coaching, stating that “No one has yet demonstrated conclusively what makes an executive coach qualified or what makes one approach to executive coaching better than another. Barriers to entry are non-existent - many self-styled executive coaches know little about business, and some know little about coaching.”
While things have thankfully moved on considerably since HBR published its famous exposé, we are still often asked at the AoEC if accreditation does indeed matter. In short, yes it does. If you don’t invest in credentialed coach training, then there is a significantly reduced chance of your coaching dreams getting off the ground. Let’s look at some of the reasons why.
1. Coaching comes with responsibility
Coaching is sometimes put in the same category as counselling and other types of therapy. While it is not one of the traditional caring professions, it is a method of helping people and as such comes with a duty of care.
As a coach you have the moral and legal responsibility to ensure that your coachee is fully protected from any emotional and physical harm. That means you must have a clear coaching service agreement in place with the coachee and sponsor if applicable before you start any coaching. You must also respect the client’s right to terminate the coaching at any point and be prepared to signpost the coachee if you feel that coaching is not the right means of support for them.
2. A minefield of ethics, dilemmas and boundaries
Dilemmas can be ethical or professional and can crop up at any time regardless of how much experience you have as a coach. We all have a set of personal values instilled within us and coaches are not unsusceptible when it comes to issues with boundaries and ethics.
Coaches can have dilemmas from conflicting interests between the coachee and the sponsor, a clash of values with the coachee, confidentiality, managing their own weaknesses and the client’s/sponsor’s changing goals. Novice coaches can also have differing dilemmas from more experienced coaches, while manager as coach can be even more complicated with the implications of coaching direct reports.
The biggest risks of making a wrong decision in handling an ethical or professional dilemma could be losing the trust of the coachee and sponsor, damaging your credibility as a coaching professional or even doing harm to the coachee’s development.
A good quality coach training programme will equip you with the best tools for contracting effectively, but it will also ask you to explore what constitutes an ethical challenge for you and how would you know when you met one head on. In addition, it will introduce you to the best practice of using supervision and ask you to consider what your main sources of support and guidance are and to think about the other resources you can draw on.
3. Coaching engagements are complex and complicated
As Jonathan Passmore says: “Coaches occupy a privileged position with access to unspoken thoughts, dilemmas and confidences. The ability to understand and work sensitively through the complexity of moral choices is a key factor that differentiates excellent coaches from good ones.”
Sound coaching is dependent on so many different and multifaceted elements that weave together to create a space that brings change, insight and understanding.
Professionally trained coaches are walked through its psychological underpinnings of understanding mindsets and behaviours, the way relationships are constructed and how patterns and habits form. They are also armed with the many tools, models and methods that can be applied to empower the coachee to reach the outcome they are seeking.
Team and resilience coaching are even more emergent and challenging with multiple layers of complexity, numerous connections and influences needing to be worked through with the right skillset.
4. A professional obligation and buyer expectation
Education, training, continued professional development, adopting an ethical code of practice and competence are all key ingredients in enabling you to say you are a coach or use a coaching approach.
The popularity of coaching has seen it expand beyond professionally trained coach practitioners to include managers, leaders and human resource and talent development professionals. Regardless of job title, those in organisations who are buying in external coaching services or investing in their internal coaching capabilities, attach a high value to training and credentialing and have the expectation that those using coaching skills have received coach-specific training.
It may not be mandatory to complete coach training, but if those entering the field don’t take this route, the title of coach will remain unprotected. A coaching qualification will stay with the individual throughout their career and having qualifications certified by one or more of the industry’s professional bodies are the most desirable to employers and clients alike. If you want to find true purpose and meaning in your coaching work, then investing in yourself to be the best you can be, will be rewarding financially and personally.
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