Coaching Industry’s Identity Crisis

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After I quit my corporate life, one of the professional pathways I explored was coaching – more in the context of life coaching. It was something that came by chance, not because I actively sought it out. This pathway was presented to me through two options: one was to do a Masters; the other was a Certificate IV or Diploma in the subject.

The different between these two pathways are significant. The former involved up to two years of intense academic study and upwards of $60k in fees. The latter could also take up to two years but was far less academically intense and involved a reasonable $15k investment. In addition, whereas a Masters would focus more on the academic side of coaching, the diploma would equip me with the knowledge and advice needed to open a successful coaching practice. I chose the latter.

The first step to becoming a coach was to enrol and attend a Foundations of Coaching Weekend where in two days we learned the basic techniques of coaching. After those two days, I was free to go out into the world calling myself a coach whilst finishing the two-year diploma program. Part of the initial course is also some advice on how to get started getting my first coaching client – someone who was willing to pay me for coaching after two days of facet-to-face instruction. The key strategy, we were told, was to attend networking events. Having come from a corporate background, the world of small business networking was completely foreign and highly intimidating. Nevertheless, if this coaching thing was to work, I had to go out and do it, and so I did.

What a crazy feeling it was to get amongst a bunch of professionals with a new label – a coach! So the moment came when someone approached me and asked the dreaded question: “What do you do?” I was used to answering that question in my previous professional life and it was quite straightforward and simple; it now took a whole new dimension. In our social lives, people ask us what we do in order to gauge where they sit on the status ladder relative to us. It determines whether they will look up or down on us. In this new scenario, it meant something different. It meant: are you worth my time? And this question could be divided into two subquestions: are you a potential client or are you a potential supplier?

I initially answered the question with a simple, “I am a life coach”. When I spat out those five word two things happened: the first is that I felt like a fraud; surely after two days it didn’t feel right to call my self a professional in that area. The second was that telling someone I was a life coach was received as well as fart in a crowded elevator. I could notice the other person’s body language and facial expression say, “Not another one of these coaches.” Consequently, the conversation wouldn’t last long after I splurted out my 60sec elevator pitch about ‘forks in the road’ and it would all end with a ceremonial exchange of business cards where I offered a complimentary first session.

There were a group of people that showed particular interest in me; they were the other professionals that were used to preying on fresh meat (people that obviously looked liked they were new to networking) Interestingly enough, most of these were business coaches. Every networking event will have a horde of business coaches circling around recently started entrepreneurs like sharks. I made the mistakes and wasted numerous hours attending ‘coffee chats’ that came as a result of these networking events where we tried to develop just enough trust with one another to try and sell our products and services.

The problem with coaching in general is that people don’t wake up needing a coach like they do a doctor, bookkeeper or dentist. Coaches are not on people’s to-do lists. Coaches have to convince people they are needed. Anyway, I continued attending these networking events and as with anything, I went through the learning curves of dos and don’ts. Looking back, I now understand why most people in networking events received coaches as farts in an elevator.

The first reason is that new coaches attending networking events attempt to be generalists and describe themselves as transformational or mindset coaches -something of a sort of beginner level Tony Robbins. If I am in a networking event and someone were to tell me that they are a transformational coach, the first thing I would ask is how do you do it? How do you help people transform themselves? I guess the successful coaches answer that question well enough to entice the other person to try. However, from experience, most coaches get it wrong by drawing out some New Age mumbo jumbo and that reflects badly on the industry as a whole – an industry that already lacks credibility because it doesn’t require any qualification for people to practice.

As mentioned, the other type of coaches present at networking events are business coaches. Unfortunately, these lot are not doing the coaching industry any favours either. Firstly, there is a multitude of them and secondly their methods at networking events resemble those of used car salesmen. Often times, they are pushy, deceitful and unqualified. Before you know it, you will already be receiving newsletters with tips on how to get back to enjoying your business. Again, no qualifications are needed to become a business coach and there are plenty of business coaching franchises out there looking for buyers.

I got roped into business coaching in the hope it would help me get my ‘career’ coaching business up and running. The result was $3k I am never gonna get back. The real damage is the credibility to the industry because in my coaching group there were professionals from other areas who also felt they weren’t getting ripped off. Now, wait until they see another business coach at a networking event (and they will). What will they think? Another fart in the elevator.

If you don’t believe me, check out Awaken with JP’s parody video on life coaches on Youtube (link below). It provides a good insight on how life coaches are perceived. Funny enough, JP is a real life coach, but even he seems to think his profession is becoming a bit of a joke and is probably making more money satirising rather than practicing it.

Lastly, there is something to say about executive coaching. I think this where the rest of the industry should model itself. Most executive coaches are qualified, structured and use practical and theoretical methodology. Though not all are perfect, executive coaching is shedding a positive light on the industry by providing value and proving coaching is a useful way of improving human performance. It is also helping other types of coaches by sanitising the industry’s reputation.

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