Updated: Feb 24
It can feel like everywhere you look there's a Coach, whether it's for fitness, health and wellness, jobs and careers, social media and influencing, business growth or entrepreneurs, there's a coach just about everything. Coaching seems to be going through something of a growth explosion in the same way that yoga did several years ago.
One of the key challenges for people looking for a Coach is the sheer number of options, so using some personal criteria can help you narrow the field a bit. It's also good to be clear about the type of coaching that you need since there is a significant misunderstanding of what coaching actually is, the unique nature of coaching as a discipline and a profession, and the lack of standardisation around Coach training.
Despite the best efforts of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), CTI, EMCC, AOC and other bodies, there is no actual 'regulation' of the coaching profession right now.
In other professions, like the Bid & Proposal Sector where I am the Deputy Chief Examiner, having an industry certifications helps differentiate talent in the market and gives buyers confidence that the certified professional speaks a common language, and can consistently apply the principles of proposal management to their work. The certifications in both this industry and coaching are not 'easy' to acquire - they take time and experience. If it were that easy, everyone would simply get certified. Like many things, Coaching takes experience and practice - and lots of it.
One of my key concerns, and something I'll address later, is the lack of awareness amongst some Coaches who have not had any formal training about the very real issues of ethics and professional boundaries.
So how might you choose?
Here are six different factors to help you when exploring a coaching agreement.
1. Can You Help Me? (Trust)
Trust is one of those intangibles - you either have it or you don't and your gut will tell you immediately if the person you are talking to is right for you. For most people the question they most want answered when speaking to a coach is this: 'Can you help me?'
At the end of the day this is the only question that really matters and it's the question that transcends everything. No Masters degrees, coaching qualifications, fancy website and likes on facebook or instagram can replace the 'feeling' that arises when you look someone in the eye and ask this question. It's a question only you can answer using your own intuition and when you hear the response, you will know.
If you can answer that question, but still need to reassure yourself, here are some other things you can explore with a potential Coach.
2. Meta-Coaching & Supervision
How is your Coach being supported in their work? There's two reasons why it's important for your own coach to have the support of another Coach or a Supervisor:
Self development - if your coach isn't continuously investing in their own skills and development, you may also ask why should you? Continuous self-development helps coaches keep abreast of new developments and improve their skills in the craft of coaching.
Supervision - Coaches can support their clients through a range of situations in their work, and it's important that Coaches have mechanisms in place to support them. As the sphere of coaching transcends traditional boundaries, so too are the support mechanisms coaches may need to support them.
Like qualifications, a Coach who has their own Coach is investing in their own development as much as they are in yours. When your coach has their own Coach, they also have a clear avenue of support and guidance in the event that they need it. This is often overlooked and can lead to some coaches finding themselves in tricky situations that they may not be experienced to handle, or worse they can become burnt-out from not being able to work through issues that sometimes arise in coaching others.
3. Ethics & Confidentiality
With so much information floating about and increasing concerns about privacy, professional Coaches will have their own code of ethics and privacy, or at least one aligned to the industry best practices and local regulations on data protection. Check what your Coach has in place to protect you.
Questions you can ask your prospective Coach include:
What is your approach to ethics in the coaching relationship?
Do you have an ethical code of practice that you abide by (either your own or someone else's)?
Where is my information stored?
How is it used?
Who, if anyone, is it shared with and under what circumstances?
Professional Indemnity insurance costs money and depending on the levels of coverage, it isn't particularly cheap.
If your coach is serious about the work that they do, having PI insurance is another indicator (albeit a relatively small one) about how your Coach views quality, risk and responsibility.
There's no legal right or wrong here and there's nothing to stop a coach from practicing without insurance. It's worth checking to see if your Coach has insurance, since it will also let you know what avenues of redress you have if something does go wrong.
4. Coaching Agreements
If you're going to hand over a lot of money, you might as well have a record of what you're agreeing.
Coaching objectives change as the relationship develops, but having a written record of what has been agreed initially is another way to check how serious your coach is.
Agreements don't take a long time to put together, but it takes some effort to draw one up. It's a useful record for both the Coach and the Coachee about the direction of travel and the agreements that have been made about payment, non-payment, termination and many of the issues already covered above.
6. Qualifications & Recommendations
Some of the most famous Executive Coaches openly disagree that Coaches need a coaching qualification. To a certain extent that may be true when you have decades of experience serving clients and started coaching before some of today's Coaches were born. It may also be true if you have decades of experience in the area where you intend to coach others.
As I've already highlighted at the beginning of this article, given the sheer number of Coaches out there who are also relatively inexperienced in "coaching" or leadership, but are gifted with social media, one way you narrow your options is to work with a Coach who has invested in getting credentials with an international accrediting body or association of record within the personal development space. Qualifications are expensive, time consuming and show that your Coach is investing in upskilling themselves so that they can improve their craft and service to you. As I explain next, it's less about the coaching content they teach in these schools and more about the ethics and legalities.
Coaching schools cover a lot of theory and depending on the school, there is also a lot of immersion and practice (not all of it is as fun or interesting as you might think), but there's a big difference between a 'diploma' bought for $25 from an online institution, and a course that includes face-to-face education, homework, practice with other Coaches and formalised assessment.
Longer coaching courses and degrees demand that Coaches understand the ethics involved in their work and the potential dilemmas that can arise. They also seek to prepare coaches for the legal implications of the work they do.
Personally, I'm on the fence with this one because I've worked with Coaches who don't have these certifications, but who are exceptionally gifted humans and their work is positively transformational. They are the exception to the rule and I'm happy to recommend these people on the basis of my lived experience.
When a Coach has chosen not to pursue formalised qualifications, find out the types of people they have helped, the results those clients have achieved, and check their recommendations or references. Results speak for themselves, and we're not talking about vanity metrics like followers on Instagram or likes on Facebook - you can buy those.
With so many people calling themselves a Coach these are just some of the things for you to consider when choosing a Coach. At the end of the day, the question you most need to answer for yourself is 'Can this person help me' and that's how I selected my own Coach.
The choice doesn't have to be overwhelming. Many people find their own Coach through word of mouth so if you're stuck, ask around for recommendations. I'm happy to provide referrals as well.
When you're ready here are a fews ways that I can help you #ignitepotential:
Tim Snell is on a mission to help people and organisations reach their potential through trust, connection and authenticity.
Tim delivers Personal and Executive Coaching, Group Coaching and Training, and he runs leadership retreats for Executives who want to tap into their most powerful inner resources to create exponential shifts in themselves and others.
These are exclusive opportunities with transformational results.
Tim is a professionally certified ICF Associate Certified Coach and is pursuing a PG Cert in Coaching from Chester University.