There’s a lot of talk about coaching these days. Partly I notice this because I’m in that area myself of course, and so I follow many other coaches while I also get a lot of people asking me about my work; but there’s no denying that it’s an industry that’s growing.
I think a lot of us are drawn to coaching as we go through our own transitions and we’re keen to support others in doing the same. There’s also maybe less of a stigma when it comes to getting support from other people, and even the top CEOs and entrepreneurs (not to mention athletes) work with coaches to become even better. And ultimately coaching is about helping people and it’s fantastic that so many want to devote themselves to this profession!
In my case, it was something I came to very organically. I’ve always been interested in personal development, and before and after I quit my job in 2013 I devoured books and blogs about how to create a life and career you love. In doing so, I came up with the idea of training as a coach. I had some experience from from work, where we as managers had learned the GROW model in order to coach our direct reports; it’s also something that fits with my natural “Socratic” approach to issues.
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Initially it was purely out of personal interest and curiosity and I didn’t necessarily have plans to become a coach – but through my studies and through practising I quickly came to love it and it’s now an integral part of what I do.
Is coaching something that you’re considering as well? I’ve had so many people asking me about this lately that I thought it might be helpful if I shared my five tips, based on my own personal experience as well as everything I’ve devoured over these past few years:
1. Understand what “coaching” is
Coaching as an industry is relatively young and it’s not regulated in the way that other related fields like psychiatry are. Anyone can call themselves a coach, whatever their training (or lack thereof). This gives rise to a broad spectrum of styles and approaches, in addition to all the modifiers that give you life, career, business, executive, leadership coaching, etc. There are also internal coaches and external coaches; as well as many different formats in which coaching might be delivered, such as one-on-one or group, on the phone or in person, online programmes or face-to-face workshops. In a way, coaching is just a tool; one that you can use in a great many professions, without necessarily even having the official title of being A Coach.
The International Coaching Federation, which I believe to be the most credible international body in the field, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential”. A little “bla bla” but there are some key concepts in there:
- “partnering” – the coach is not superior to the coachee, instead they are equals who are working together
- “a thought-provoking and creative process” – the coach will be very present, listening actively and asking open-ended questions to discover new insights and create plans and results together with the coachee
- “inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential” – the coach will provide support and help the coachee to set ambitious goals and create the action plan and structure needed to achieve those goals
I won’t get into all the differences between pure coaching and therapy, or coaching and consulting, and other fields, but my point is: before you go further in your desire to be one, make sure you understand what that entails! A good place to start is Become A Coach by the ICF.
2. Know your “why”
Now that you know what coaching is: what is it about it that appeals to you? When I advise people on their career choices, I always highlight that one of the most important drivers of job satisfaction and fulfilment is that the work is meaningful to you.
What is the impact you want to have with coaching?
What problem do you want to solve, what is your vision for what you can achieve with coaching?
Do you care about helping people and, if so, what do you want to help them with?
Are you looking for something that can be done virtually, as a location independent business?
Will this be one of a number of roles in a portfolio career that you’re creating, or do you want it to be your sole income stream?
What does success look like for you?
Understanding why you’re coming into this, and what you’re working towards, will guide you in making the right decisions for you as well as keeping you motivated, especially through the inevitable tough times
3. Develop the relevant skill set
The first question to ask yourself is whether coaching as a profession is a fit for your innate preferences and personality strengths – are you naturally curious, do you enjoy solving problems, are you good with people, do you really listen when people talk…? Some of these skills can be developed, but it helps if you have that natural tendency already.
It’s not just about the coaching process, either: if you’re thinking of starting your own coaching business, are you suited to being self-employed and all that this entails?
Finally, as a coach who is supporting your clients to be their best selves, the pressure is on for you to do the same: you’ll be a (potentially) inspirational role model and this will require a lot of work on yourself and on breaking down your own blocks and overcoming your personal fears.
Given the lack of regulation, you can simply put up a website and declare yourself to be a coach without any kind of training or qualification; you may even be a good coach without any training. Personally, though, I believe that a good training programme is crucial in equipping you with both the confidence to really support your clients and the techniques and tools you need to be effective, as well as making sure that you’re informed of the ethics and ensuring that you’re really setting yourself and your clients up for success.
I chose to do an ACTP (Accredited Coach Training Program) with the International Coach Academy, ICA. The Certified Coach Training Program included 125 hours of training and was run via teleclasses on a flexible schedule (different sessions in different time zones). It included a large practical element of actually coaching people, not only theory, and it felt much more international than many other programmes that are more US-focused. I particularly appreciated the peer coaching element, the access to different mentor coaches, and the requirement to develop your own coaching models and materials.
If you’re not ready yet to invest in a full programme, I’d recommend starting with a book such as Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives.
4. Get a coach
The best way to understand and learn about coaching, not to mention the best way also to support yourself in achieving your own personal goals, is to get a coach! Also, how can you possibly expect clients to pay you for coaching if you don’t do so yourself? In working with different coaches, you will get a taste of their different styles and ways of working, you’ll identify what you like and don’t like, and you’ll (hopefully!) experience the benefits and see the results that you can achieve in your own life.
When I first started on my coach training, one of the requirements was to get a certain number of hours of coaching. I didn’t really feel that I “needed” coaching and signed up simply to tick the box. Not only did I get to see how other coaches behave, however, and fulfil that course requirement, but I also made a number of breakthroughs in unexpected ways.
Today, I’m investing in a professional coach and seeing huge benefits, and this is definitely something I plan to do as a matter of course from now on!
5. Start coaching!
For all my talk of understanding coaching, looking at your skill set, and getting the proper training, don’t let this stop you from doing what all this is about: coaching! The best way to learn if it’s something you really want to do, and to get better at it, is to actually do it.
Now I wouldn’t recommend that you coach your close friends and family as they can easily get annoyed and you may find it hard to separate your feelings as a friend and as a coach – at least make sure to ask them permission before you do so! You can, however, let people know that you’re training to be a coach and that you’d like to offer free sessions to people who are looking for support in whatever area you’re thinking of specialising in.
Coaching is an incredibly powerful approach, and can be an incredibly fulfilling job – just make sure that you really consider if it’s a fit for you personally, weigh up the pros and cons, and, above all, go out there and experience it so that you can decide if it’s really something you want to pursue.
I hope that helps to shed some light on the mystical and alluring field of coaching – I’d love to hear if you have specific questions, so go ahead and comment below if so and I’ll make sure to answer them!