Real Coaching

Posted on May 8, 2015 by Blake Leath

Gosh, there sure are a lot of coaches out there.  Performance Coaches, Career Coaches, Life Coaches, Marriage Coaches, Financial Coaches, Health Coaches, Christian Coaches, even Divorce Coaches.  Every time I fly, I sit next to a coach.  It just seems to work out that way…men and women who hand me business cards with certifications from Covey, Maxwell, some university, or prestigious and puffy-sounding institutions like International Association of Coaching, Professional Business Coach Alliance, International Coaching Council, International Coach Federation, Certified Coaches Federation, Coach U, Certified Coach Training Alliance, New Age World Order, Worldwide This or That, Intergalactic Something-or-Other, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

It makes sense.  According to MarketData, beginning in 2008 our nation was flooded with men and women, unemployed or underemployed HR and OD types, many of whom—necessity being the mother of invention—hung a shingle, called Vistaprint and, poof, became a coach overnight.  Today, this wholly unregulated industry approaches nearly $2.5B USD per annum and is comprised of an estimated 40,000 individuals.  Oh, and the market is growing nearly 20% every year.

It’s the wild west, and all comers are welcome!

Because coaches are not quite mental health professionals or counselors or therapists, no form of accreditation, certification, licensure or ordainment is required, and therefore the floodgates are open wide and what might otherwise qualify as “malpractice” is practiced all the time, but doesn’t even have a name in this zoo.  I mean, after all, what term would you use to describe a charlatan or snake oil salesman in a ‘profession’ in which no standards exist and negligible or poor or underperformance thrives?  Nothing, really, because there is no foundation, no basis, no context, no code, no law, no bylaw, no committee, no board, no “standards and practices” to which one could or should be [held] accountable.

Anyhoo, these coaches are so abundant, so everywhere.  Each of them hawking his wares, peddling MBTI assessments or tarot cards, and describing himself as a professional.

To this, I simply say, caveat emptor, because the genie is out of the bottle, and testimonials are only as legitimate as the person giving them, particularly those that derive from a coach's roundtable or circle or council or cabal or coven, for that matter (the sort that masquerades as a client referral, when it is in fact just a peer-member of said coach's networking group, the members of which conspire to have one another's dues-paying back, that the rising tide may raise all boats therein, not entirely unlike in a pyramid scheme).

The other night, for example, I was invited to attend an elegant awards banquet during which I sat next to a nice young woman who introduced herself as “a life coach.”  “Really?  You don’t say.”  She was maybe all of 28.

Earlier this week I spoke with a good friend who is, indeed, a professional coach.  He has ten years of graduate education to prove it, is licensed as a clinical psychologist, has attended and taught countless coaching courses over the years, possesses a legitimate base of sound referrals, has published a prolific body of peer-reviewed academic papers, serves as an expert witness in civil trials, and sees the problem as I see it: the path too wide, the walls too low, the crowd too large, the scene unmonitored, and the gates unhinged.  He spends a fair amount of time, initially at least, explaining his profession, defending it, and distinguishing himself from the quackery that comes to mind when people ask what it is he does.

But this, too, makes sense, considering how suspicious and skeptical and jaded people have become, employees and institutions alike, as a result of some poor practitioners who give an otherwise noble profession a sometimes stinky reputation.

It's unfortunate and wouldn't be necessary if not for so many bad actors.

There are many legitimate and excellent coaches, proven and successful advocates for one’s potential self.  They are authentic and courageous and trustworthy, are great relators, ask wonderful questions, listen well, have analytical minds, follow a rigorous and worthy protocol that stands up under substantive scrutiny, see patterns that clients/customers/patients would rarely see for themselves, collaborate to implement workable plans, hold individuals and organizations accountable for personal and systemic and sustainable solutions, achieve deeply qualitative outcomes (many of which are quantifiable, too), have legitimate references, and create independence—not dependence—eventually going away.  As is the case in leadership, to succeed at coaching means to become unnecessary.  Having to return in perpetuity is failure as coach and client.  Successful engagements bring an individual or team or organization to such a reliably high level of performance that recurring appointments for prior problems or opportunities become unnecessary; only periodic check-ins and tune-ups are required.  The coach who lingers is not a coach, but rather a surrogate, a crutch or, more insidiously, an enabler or parasite, similar to that ilk of ill-reputed therapists who wittingly medicate or treat patients for years and to no avail, never divulging that no off-ramp exists around the bend or that they, through their personal acts of omission, have commissioned dependence.

Should the day come that you, or someone you value or love, require the services of a true coach, be thoughtful in your search.  I've seen several coaches graduate to 'friend' status and attend clients' childrens' graduations, while bad coaches will borrow your watch to give you the time, then send a bill for their effort.