When I first became a professional coach (more than a decade ago), and people asked what I did for a living, I’d simply say I was a coach. People assumed that meant I coached some type of sports team, such as soccer. That conversation would naturally lead to a correction about me being a “professional coach.” This was often followed by a quizzical look and the next question: what is that, like Tony Robbins? This ultimately led to my explanation of how I help people and businesses.
I’ve found more recently that people are starting to understand what professional coaching is. Or at least they think they do! The term is commonly used to refer to a variety of activities, many of which do not fall within the true domain of coaching.
The field of coaching is still fairly new, dating back to the 90s, but it is still unregulated. That means that anyone—yes, literally anyone—can say they are a coach. Anyone can designate him or herself as a coach. It doesn’t require a license, degree, or experience. As a result, the term has become diluted and overused. A professional coach (the key word here being professional) should have standards, ethics, and competencies that they uphold.
The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the accrediting entity that certifies schools in coach training and credentials individuals as certified coaches. In order to be certified, one must:
- Complete an accredited coach training program
- Demonstrate proficiency in coaching sessions
- Uphold ethical standards
- Pass a three-hour knowledge assessment
Here’s the tricky part: if you aren’t a member of ICF, you can say you’re a coach and not have completed any of that. That’s what I call a “fake” coach.
How Can You Tell You Have a Fake Coach?
There are many red flags. A good first step is to ask your potential life or business coach about their training, certification, and membership in the ICF. Beyond that, here are some quick giveaways that your coach is a fake.
Your Coach Tells You What to Do
The role of a coach is to facilitate a conversation that supports the client in recognizing their own strengths, resources, and answers. Coaching isn’t about telling someone how to run their business or live their life. That’s the role of a consultant, parent, or advisor. I knew of a coach who told a woman after one session that she needed to get rid of her existing business, and go back to what she was doing before, since that would get her closer to retirement. There was no discussion. Not only does this create confusion and dependency, but in the long run, it creates a high level of dissatisfaction.
Your Coach Oversimplifies Change and Human Behavior Based on a Familiarity with One Tool
There are a plethora of tools and assessments that look at strengths, personality, behavioral style, learning style, decision-making abilities, leadership skills, and more. A fake coach is usually familiar with only one particular assessment. I say this because reading a report to a client and regurgitating the synopsis doesn’t support them in enhancing motivation and long-term behavioral change. Coaching this change requires a specific skillset.
Your Coach Overlooks Social Dynamics and Environmental Factors
As humans, we adapt based on our surroundings and our environments. Have you ever noticed, even as an adult, that when you are around your parents, you feel like a teenager all over again? That’s because we all have roles, expectations, and identities that differ at work, at home, and with family. A good coach is able to understand the external influences on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They use this to empower clients to become authentic. A fake coach often overlooks these principles or minimizes their importance. It’s almost as if they say, “get over it” or “that’s no big deal.”
Your Coach is Disingenuous
I’m certainly not perfect, no one is. For instance, I can coach someone on emotional intelligence and strategies for emotional control and self-management, and still blow a gasket when I am stuck in rush hour traffic! By disingenuous coaches, I mean the ones who ooze arrogance and brag nonstop about their own success. Success in my mind is determined by the richness in your life, not the riches in your life. Richness in life encompasses the quality of your relationships, your contributions to society, and the meaning you find in your work—all of which, by the way, can be nicely compensated. A fake coach gauges success solely on dollars earned.
The next time you meet someone who says they are a coach, or if you are considering hiring a life or business coach, make sure you find out about their background, credentials, and style! That will tell you everything you need to know. If you’d like to speak with a coach who has completed an accredited training program, has experience, ethics and is a member of the ICF, contact me today for your initial consultation.