Firstly, how does one usually become a coach? I have seen that people who become coaches come from a specific corporate experience where they received some exposure to coaching in their jobs and informally picked it up for their practice. Another set of people decides to get coach certification and accreditation from a formal board like ICF or EMCC. Now, this certification is essential for a few reasons:
- To ensure that as an individual, one goes about coaching the right way; so, having a coaching certification sets specific parameters by which one can check if they’re on the right path
- As an assurance for the client that a third party has certified and credentialed the coach
- It allows the coach to be part of a community, wherein they can keep learning from each other
As with most things that we get into initially, we have a very idealistic and rosy picture. Many coaches do not have a complete idea of the profession before starting the coaching journey. So, I thought I’ll try to clarify some aspects that may paint a more realistic picture for new coaches out there – all of which I bring from my own experience of having served as a coach for several years:
1. Coaching does not provide instant solutions
The instinct when coming from a corporate background typically is to look for immediate answers and solutions to problems. In coaching, however, things work very differently; to be successful, one needs to practice patience to take the conversation ahead – which is valid for both the coach and the coachee. A coaching journey is usually more long-term than a corporate journey, where the cycle is usually quarterly.
2. Coaching is not sold but bought by clients
A budding coach has certain expectations: get certified, create a friendly website, advertise on several channels, let people know that you are offering coaching services, and get a lot of business! While you can pitch your services to prospects, most often, coaching is a need to be felt by the client. Thus, coaching is more ‘bought’ than ‘sold’. So, you can, of course, pitch yourself when a prospect is considering an array of coaches and convey how you can differentiate yourself. Cold calling prospects as an approach to get business usually works in a limited way.
3. Coaching requires skillful navigation around confidentiality
All coaching conversations with your clients are confidential – yet how do you communicate your experience and success stories as a coach with prospects without breaching this aspect? The key learning here is that as a coach, you should be able to abstract pieces of information from your coaching conversations and be prepared to talk about it – in blogs, social media posts, or any other marketing effort. If your client consents to give you a public testimonial (written or video), then there is nothing like it! But I’ve often found that clients wish to maintain their privacy when it comes to the experience and conversations they’ve had during the coaching engagement – and that is something a coach needs to skilfully work around to convey the value-added to clients without taking names.
4. Coaching may require a collaborative effort with other coaches
The word coach seems to imply that it is an individual’s forte. In reality, to be successful as a coach (particularly in the corporate way of life), one may often need to collaborate with other coaches for an engagement to be truly successful. For instance, I have coached a team of seven client personnel from a large advertising agency in tandem with another coach. The client appreciated the value both of us brought to the table and the different roles in the engagement. Many new coaches are often not prepared for this when they enter the coaching arena, specifically in executive & leadership coaching.
5. Coaching is not altogether industry or geography agnostic
When undergoing a coach training program, the emphasis is primarily on what one does as a coach – asking the right questions, improving listening abilities, zoning in on client behaviours that need change, helping clients set goals, etc. These are general guidelines that every coach can apply to clients and are thus the focus of most training programs. Eventually, coaches could specialise in one area or another. For example: working with clients in the financial services industry on the East Coast of the USA, specialising as a coach working with semi-conductor industry folks in Taiwan, working with government professionals around the world. As you start doing more work in a specific geographical and/or industry segment, you will get much more attuned to the issues and challenges that the leaders in those segments face. And you become a better coach as you move from one engagement to the next (in the same segment) as you have relevant experience that adds to the coaching experience. Thus, having knowledge and expertise in a particular field helps up the ante for a newly-certified coach and thus helps attract the right fit of clientele towards you.
6. You will never be a 100 % purist coach
A purist approach implies sticking to the coaching guidelines to the T and never deviating from them. The purist approach to coaching is a very idealistic setup that one may find doesn’t fit in the general scheme. For instance, if you’re a business coach helping clients launch their start-up, the assumption would be that you as a coach also have experience in that area and thus, when the need arises, you will be able to play the role of advisor/mentor/consultant to guide your client in the right direction with your expertise regarding their circumstance.
7. Becoming a coach is not an end-game
You could get certified as a coach and even have a career as a full-fledged coach. Yet, individuals may decide to come back to the corporate world after serving as a coach – which I’ve seen happening for quite a few people. As coaching gains more and more acceptance, the concept of the manager as a coach has gained strong acceptance. So, even though people working in organisations get certified as coaches, many don’t end up making it their full-time profession and instead do it as a side-hustle. This helps them learn the intricacies of coaching but not be entirely dependent on coaching as their bread & butter (especially in the initial phases of coaching), and yet continue to count their coaching hours – all of which could potentially prepare them for a full-time occupation as a coach, if they wished.
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