The accredited coach - what I wish I knew when I started out

20th February by George Warren

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Some years ago, pre-lockdown, I reached out to a whole bunch of those coaching providers. The big, international platforms. Yes, that one. And the other one. And yes, that one too.

I was told after submitting my applications, either automatically or later in an email response, that due to the high volume of applications, they were only considering welcoming coaches holding an ICF PCC level credential, or similar.

Fair enough.

What has changed?

Last year I obtained my PCC. Representing Professional Certified Coach, it sits above the ACC (Associate Certified Coach) and below MCC (Master Certified Coach) in the ICF hierarchy.

Now that I have obtained the PCC. So what?

Well, firstly, I feel proud of the journey and achievement. Coaching can be lonely work, and we coaches can feel not good enough and are often our biggest and harshest critics.

Moments like this are opportunities to take stock, appreciate where we are and celebrate. I have been deeply touched by all the messages of congratulations I have received.

Better coach? Higher fees?

Does the PCC open doors that were previously closed? Yes. A few so far, actually. Some really interesting and exciting work has come my way specifically because of this accreditation.

Others may have operated differently, but I haven’t automatically increased my fees with this new level of credential either. I carefully choose my rates based on what feels right, fair and required for me to operate sustainably, while reflecting the value of my offering and the wider economic and market conditions my clients face.

Am I better coach than I was a few months ago? I’m not sure I am. I’m grateful for the challenging process of mentor coaching and assessment, which has, without doubt, increased my effectiveness as a coach.

The magic, the paradigm shifts

As an example, the emphasis that the ICF places on co-creation, on exploring mindsets and ‘underlying beliefs, thinking and learning’ and on the translation of awareness into action have improved the quality of my contracting, and thus my coaching.

There is something so helpful about having a mirror held up to your coaching. As if they have magical eyesight, a good mentor coach will see through things. See around corners. And see into your soul.

I have had well-protected parts of my psyche brought right under the spotlight by a challenging mentor coach. While painful and uncomfortable in the moment, it has been invaluable to my personal and professional development.

As opposed to a sudden step change, much of the magic, much of the key paradigm shifts in my journey happened across the last few years. Mostly, for me, in supervision.

On courses and in workshops. Even now, as a PCC level coach, there are some clients for whom I will naturally ‘show up’ more authentically, more loosely, more playfully - more present with - than others.

One source of comfort for me, taking some mentor coaching a few years back, was that I was already hitting enough of those markers to pass the assessment element of the PCC. And that the leap from ACC to PCC level wasn’t as significant as I’d imagined it.

The coaching marketplace

One of the many paradoxes in the world of coaching today is that there are some highly accredited coaches struggling to find regular work. And there are many unaccredited or unaffiliated coaches who are not struggling to find work.

Paradoxically, there are some fantastic, highly experienced and highly effective coaches unaffiliated to a coaching body. There are some accredited coaches who have moulded their style to temporarily fit the criteria, having been coached to pass the assessment, and who have reverted to their natural style after passing.

Yet in an increasingly crowded marketplace of coaches, one decent way of ensuring a baseline level of experience and competence is to only recruit those at PCC or higher.

One danger here, as we touch on in several podcast conversations, is the risk of commoditisation. A production line of new coaches joining an increasingly large pool, only to find that some work is only accessible to those at a higher level. One which often requires more time, more money, more study to be invested in attaining it.

As more and more coaches train and certify each year, there is also a risk that some of the significance, the exclusivity of holding a credential becomes diluted. One guest of the podcast last year quipped about the MCC level, ‘when it used to mean something’.

While I don’t know that I agree, I understand that the more any community will grow, the meaning and dynamic of that community will change and evolve. The more the exclusivity of a particular accolade will diminish.

I wonder if we will see a time when there are so many Master Coaches that an even higher level of accreditation is introduced. And what that might be named.

The tension in the system

As the ICF continues to grow in size, turnover and in brand recognition, it could be seen to be warping the whole shape of the coaching world. The force of gravity getting so strong that coach training institutions may be caught in a bind: either to bend their teaching and assessment to fit the ICF style - or to not and miss out on the ICF credential, with the above brand recognition and potential loss of earning or relevance that may result.

For the individual, re-accreditation with the ICF involves the individual subscribing to a set amount of Continuous Coach Education Units - continued learning hours at ICF accredited training.

And so, there is a complicated merry-go-round of coaches in the ICF system seeking CPD that facilitates them staying in the ICF system by training providers. Providers which understandably follow the market trends and design their courses and training so that fits the ICF system.

Indeed, I am within it and on the merry-go-round. I take part in the mentor coaching both as a mentor coachee and a mentor coach myself.

At the dawn of 2024, I notice that I feel a sense of freshness and liberation that none of the CPD and training I’ll be taking this year is ICF accredited.

Sitting in complexity

One of the qualities and skills I bring as a coach is to be able to sit with dissonance, with two competing ‘truths’ at the same time. I can be at once, both inside the ICF system and respectful of its code of ethics and competencies- and at the same time hold concerns for what this means for the coaching industry, to question a possible homogenisation of coaches through competency frameworks.

For example, as discussed in podcast episode #2 with Frances White, how can you measure, asses and tick-box something like presence?

In my experience of discussing this with many coaches, the more comfortable and experienced we become as coaches, we often loosen our grip on the competency framework. We swim in the wider ocean and follow the currents instead of staying in the lane in the swimming pool.

Like a jazz musician learning the notes and scales, they are, perhaps, more helpful to coaches in the first years of their practice, before then improvising and working with them more fluidly and creatively. Holding them more lightly.

This sentiment is discussed at depth with Paul Lawrence, in my latest podcast conversation.

Fluidity in accreditation

In much the same way that it can be unhelpful to take one coaching theory or model and ‘swallow it whole’, I personally have appreciated a sense of fluidity in the alignment I have with the different accrediting bodies and their ethical codes.

Earlier on I mentioned that some of those big coaching companies were only accepting coaches holding an ICF PCC level credential, or similar.

That ‘or similar’ I feel is also crucially important, both for coaches and for those buyers of coaching. As the ICF familiarity continues to grow worldwide, and brand recognition encourages more towards it, I feel it is really important to also fly the flag for the other accrediting bodies worldwide.

While I hold an ICF PCC credential which is necessary for some of the work I do, I have enjoyed membership of and volunteering with the Association for Coaching. I’m increasingly hearing great things about the work of APECS from many voices I trust, and I am exploring accreditation with both APECS and EMCC.

So, it doesn’t need to be either/or. And just because they might be the most famous or seem the loudest voice in your circles, it might not necessarily be that the most well-known option is the best credential route for you.

I appreciate it is a luxury and choice to be able to accredit with more than one body, but I prioritise my own growth, development and ‘being stretched’ as paramount as a coach. So, I view it as a profoundly sound and important investment.

I recommend doing your due diligence and checking out the language, the codes of ethics, the vibe of the different bodies, and aligning to one or more who feel like a good fit in your bones and in your gut. Speaking to other coaches or supervisors.

Finding a community to whom you don’t have to bend yourself and your coaching too much out of shape, but that is welcoming and appreciative of you and your style.

And of course, for some coaches, it doesn’t need to be anything.

Love > fear

My recommendation is this. Don’t choose to accredit from a place of fear. Looking sideways at what others are doing. From constriction, tactics, or a scarcity mindset.

Your accreditation choice might be about unlocking doors, building your business, getting the badge. But there is also learning, reflection and growth along the path towards it as well. Many coaches accredit or re-accredit because they value the stimulation, the challenge, the rigour. They value the journey more than the destination.

Choose to accredit from a place of love. From love for the language, from a connection to the spirit of what and how they talk about. From admiration for what the body stands for. For the professional growth that the process will give you.

In many ways, this has been a letter back to myself at the start of my journey.

A big thank you to coach and AoEC Faculty member - George Warren. You can check out his latest reflections and articles which are shared via the Edge of Coaching and Slowing Down newsletters and tune into his informative and engaging podcast series - the Edge of Coaching here.