It´s International Coaching Week. You probably haven´t noticed and that´s all right. We are still a very young profession (the International Coach Federation (ICF), the world´s largest coaching organisation with approx. 34,000 members today, was started in 1995). There are some myths about the coaching profession that confuse people who might greatly benefit from working with a coach. So let me bust some of these for you and give you some tips on how to identify quality and professionalism in coaching:
Coaching is not a panacea. But it´s very powerful. So what can coaching do for you?
Coaching is about professional and personal development and its return on investment can be measured. It´s about learning more about yourself, about how you act and react. It´s about getting rid of the thought patterns and behaviours that cause you to “punch below your weight”, i.e. that hinder you from working and living at your best. It´s about learning new skills and actually applying them in your work and life.
Studies have shown how adult learning happens: only 10 % through formal training, 20 % through observing others and a whopping 70 % through experience and experimentation. Coaching helps you get the most out of those 70 %. One study has compared the effect of professional training (in this study it was leadership skills) with and without coaching and the difference was stunning: After training only, performance increased by 22 %. After training and coaching, performance increased by 88 %!
I have used coaching often at turning points in my life such as moving to Sweden or taking on a new role in my job. It helped me to get a clearer picture of the challenges ahead, my strengths and pitfalls, and to gain greater confidence regarding the way forward. My clients have often reached even more stunning results that are clearly visible and measurable and I´d like to share some anecdotes with you:
- I met a law firm partner about a year after we had finished coaching and he actually gave me a hug and regards from both his wife and his colleagues, who thought he had become a new and better person (mind you, law firm partners are not in the habit of hugging people and our relationship was strictly professional).
- I followed up Legal Project Management training and coaching with a group at a law firm. One paralegal stuck out in particular: she had gained such skills and confidence that she had clearly established herself as valued resource and role model. The CFO of her firm commented “I know exactly which projects she is working on, because we have fewer write-offs there.”
- A lawyer was struggling with thought patterns that made her less effective at work and much less confident in her skills than she had reason to be. Only 6 hours of coaching were sufficient to cut through this Gordian knot and made her much more effective and confident. She even managed to do Sudokus on the highest level of difficulty in just a third of the time compared to before the coaching – just imagine what this means for the speed with she is working on the legal files on her desk.
Coaching is NOT therapy! Nor is it consulting.
A business developer at a law firm once told me that she had mentioned to one of the partners that she would like to work with a coach, to which he replied “Oh, I didn´t know you are not feeling well and need a psychiatrist”. Err, no! Nothing could be more wrong. Coaches work with healthy people and we hold the firm belief that clients are competent and able to find the solutions for their issues. In the rare occasion that a client needs help from another profession (e.g. therapy), we support them to find that help.
We are not therapists, nor are we subject matter experts that give advice or consult. We are experts in change and development processes. We know something about the human mind and how we as human beings sometimes can trip ourselves. And we know a lot about how to free human potential! The subject matter expertise, on the other hand, lies with our clients and we partner with them to co-create solutions that are individually tailored to their needs.
Does coaching always help? Or: When is coaching a waste of time and money?
Some clients seem to think that a coach will solve their problems, while they can sit back and enjoy the view. Others think that staying on the surface and just dealing with symptoms will be enough. Not true. Coaching can be quite intense and it´s supposed to be. One client has likened coaching to “an internal massage” – you probably know that feeling where your massage therapist focuses on the really tense muscles in your back while you breath through the discomfort and then emerge much more relaxed and smiling? It´s a bit like my work as a coach. I feel deeply honoured by the trust my clients give me and approach their “massage spots” with respect and care. However, if clients are not willing to look into the mirror and see both their challenges and their greatness, if they consistently evade the tough questions, if they come unprepared to coaching sessions or are not willing to invest time and effort in their coaching, then it is a waste of time and money.
Finally, some tips for how to look for quality and professionalism in coaching
If you are considering working with a coach, this is what you should look for:
- Training, credentials and ethics: Has the coach received thorough coach-specific training? Does he or she hold a credential from a respected organisation for professional coaches? The ICF for example, know as the gold standard in coaching, provides credentials on three levels: Associate Certified Coach, Professional Certified Coach (which is my credential level at the moment) and Master Certified Coach. Is the coach subject to a set of ethical rules? (read the ICF´s code of ethics here).
- Productive working relationship and trust: Meet your future coach in person or by video link and find out whether you can have a productive working relationship with this person. If not, let them know and meet another coach.
- Partnership: Expect to be in a partnership with your coach. Expect your coach to ask you for the agenda and goal(s) for each meeting and to frequently check with you how the two of you are doing regarding the path to your goals. Your coach should ask you a lot of questions that help you understand an issue and move forward. Your coach should not tell you what to do or what he or she would do in your shoes.