"In this unregulated profession, how do you tell the coaches from the cowboys?"

June 6, 2016

Says Karina Bray from Choice.com.au. Or, as Sandy Smith said for the Sydney Morning Herald, "Anyone can set themselves up as a life coach and charge hefty fees for trying to help people achieve goals or desires in their personal or professional lives." So what do you need to look for?

Have you noticed that coaching is becoming increasingly popular on social media, and popular and professional culture? In case you were wondering, it's not about success on the sporting field - no-one yells at you from the sidelines, telling you how to improve your performance. Coaching is a profound personal relationship between equals, established for the pursuit of life-changing results in our clients' personal and professional lives.


And it is indeed an unregulated profession. This means that anyone, anywhere, can hang a shingle up on their door saying "Want to achieve success in your life? See me!" with or without adequate professional insurance, credibility, credentials, training, and/or experience. 


This lack of regulation can pose a problem. How do you know that your coach really has a grasp of the subtleties of human behaviour and the things that might be affecting you in your world? Behavioural science tells us that many issues at home and at work can be subtly maintained by a variety of factors for many months, if not years (chief among which is avoidance of experiences that make us uncomfortable). And there are sometimes only subtle differences between strategies that suppress the discomfort and maintain avoidance (and therefore the problem), and strategies that help revolutionise the relationship you have with those experiences and thus help you transform your life.


That being said, us humans can be fairly resilient creatures. Our ability to grapple with the challenges we face and live with purpose often is directly proportional to the encouragement and support we receive from others. Also, coaching is future-focused. If someone we trust believes in us, and keeps us motivated and accountable, then we can surprise ourselves and create a future that we didn't realise was possible! (See here for some real life examples.)


So. What do you need to look for if you start looking for a life/executive/leadership/wellness (etc, etc) coach?


When it comes right down to it, the research indicates that personal chemistry and the effectiveness of the coach’s coaching are the key factors. As I said earlier, coaching is a profound personal relationship. So when you enter such a profound relationship, it is critical that you feel a sense of connection with them and expect to build a deep, trusting rapport. 


A coach's job is to create a framework, to help you figure out what changes you need in order to create the world you want to see. One of the most effective and powerful tools in that process is their ability to stay completely present with you. Can they detach from their own thinking, opinions, and life experiences, so that they can be fully in the moment with you? Can they then notice those subconscious cues about what lights you up or closes you down, while simultaneously engaging in meaningful conversation about what matters in your world and what changes you think are called for? A coach’s idea about your issue might be useful – but it usually is much less powerful than the ones you develop yourself. 


You might then ask, is the coach you’re considering confident in themselves and what they have to offer? (Of course they are – they wouldn’t be out there otherwise!) However, do they also have coach-specific training or related credentials to back it up? Are they affiliated with a professional organisation with a specific code of ethics? What was the last professional development course they did? The best coaches are the ones who keep studying and learning, and stay at the cutting edge of their profession. 


Do you want someone with a specific background? Why? Occasionally, as coaches, we need to do skill-building with our clients and draw from our own expertise (e.g. mine in brain and behavioural science, making the psyche work for my clients rather than against them; or a business coach’s background in marketing, economics and finance). However, that is typically secondary to the main work we do together.


If you're looking for a trainer, mentor, or adviser, then coaching may not be quite what you're after. Coaching is about showing you yourself, believing in your future, drawing out of you what you already have, and helping you figure out how to develop that to shape your world. It’s a wonderful journey! Choose your companion wisely, and you’ll create something you never imagined you could!



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