What does a Career in Coaching Mean? – Part 1

I am often inspired to write about great questions and one that has recently been a topic of conversation for our students is: ‘What does a career in coaching mean?’ This article starts with that question and then expands to encompass two follow-on questions. Part 1 explores: ‘How would you recognise the gaps in a coach who espouses ‘I am a career coach’?’ and Part II explores: ‘Where do I start as someone wanting a Career in Coaching?’

Let’s start with the first question – What does a career in coaching mean? This question generates so many differing responses that it can be hard to get a firm, consistent response. Some would say: ‘It means you are professional’, or ‘You are taking coaching seriously’, or ‘You have been trained and are credentialed’ or maybe the view is that coaching is something anyone can do and can easily say they have a ‘career in coaching’. This raises a slight smile for me as it has a similar ring to those who would call themselves ‘career Politicians! And we know how society views career politicians. 😉

[Please do notice I have dropped the Capital ‘C’ for Career and am therefore not talking about the niche coaching marketing of those who specialise in Career Coaching – just to be clear! Career Coaches do a brilliant piece of work in supporting people out and into employment.]

So what is a career in coaching? My view (narrowly communicated for the purposes of ensuring this article does not develop into a thesis!):

  • someone who is willing to undergo the rigour of training and personal development,
  • someone who is taking a professional approach (often demonstrated through a credential)
  • someone who has developed their coaching attitude (how they interact), with a coaching mindset (how they perceive) with co-active coaching behaviour (how they act), and finally,
  • someone who knows how to bring/access/develop awareness for their whole-system as they partner with their client and their client’s whole-system. 

This leads us to the second question: ‘How would you recognise the gaps in a coach who espouses ‘I am a career coach’?’ I want to briefly explore this question from two positions – firstly those who attend coach training programmes within business and secondly those who call themselves a coach.

How is coach training delivered in business? The above statements often reflect the quality of coach training offered in business. We know from our experience, spanning many different industries, sectors, countries and working with individuals with different levels of responsibility/authority within organisations – that the above kind of training does not transfer the ability to coach or to be a professional coach to the individual attending the training.

They may have learnt how to take someone through a model or maybe how to follow a set of steps – but as soon as they are in a real-world setting, the person or team they are working with does not fit that model and/or steps which results in the learning being abandoned. The knowledge is lost. People return to what they ‘know’ and continue, often getting the same results dismissing the recent learning because it didn’t work. This kind of training does not work, and I say this having worked in this industry for over 35 years. I have been involved in the design, development and delivery of many different leadership programmes, many of which have sadly not brought the quality of change sought. It has been a constant source of frustration being asked to change the culture of a team or a department by delivering a two-day coaching programme.

Where I have seen and experienced real change is when contemporary coaching underpins the training. In these situations the training moves from being:

  • Training (transfer of knowledge) to …
  • Learning (challenging the internal systems such as beliefs etc.) and starts to become a …
  • Personalised embedded process of learning which …
  • Deepens the learning behind the eyes which, with a coach and group of committed learners …
  • Leads to the learning becoming externally evident which starts to …
  • Shape into consistent external behaviours (in front of their eyes) resulting in …

People being internally equipped to be externally XXX (fill in the blank with whatever was required)

The second position of exploring gaps is directly connected to the coach. How would we know that a coach is not enacting what they espouse?

This can be a challenging area to really gain clarity. For example, if we take credentialling. Some coaches are members of accreditation bodies such as the ICF, EMCC and/or AC – but are not credentialed. Being a member does not equal credentialed. This only matters if a credential is an important area for you and/or you want to make sure any coach you are working with is credentialed. However, it does surface the lack of clarity and/or regulation in the coaching profession and how coaches can position themselves in the market place. Whilst I am content we are currently able to self-regulate – if we don’t create alignment around our practice – regulation may become imposed in the future. However, moving back to how can we spot any gaps, here are some specific questions to ask:

a.    Do they have a rigorous coach training/education? Rigor often equals credentials, but it will always include CPD (recent training enhancing their coaching service). If someone tells me the coach training they are relying on comes from the last century or even 10 years ago – I am concerned. Coaching and coaching techniques have exponentially accelerated and as a coach we need to stay on top of the latest developments in order to best serve our clients. I would also ask them about their recent CPD – Where is their interest of development today?

b.   Are they regularly receiving feed (feedback or feedforward) on their coaching practice? We all know that if we don’t share with someone else how our practice has changed and evolved, we can develop poor habits. Driving can be a great example of this. Would your driving examiner pass your driving today? We encourage our students (with client agreement) and bring their recordings to coach training and/or supervision. We seek to build the robust capability of being able to analyse, critique, appreciate and future-proof their coaching practice.

c.     Are they in regular coach supervision (individual and/or group)? Coaches can often hold an interesting mindset around supervision. There can be a lack of understanding/ appreciation of what it is and a reluctance to pay for it. Which is curious. But that must be on us, as supervisors, not clearly demonstrating the added value supervision brings. If we think something is valuable – we will buy it, give our time and commitment and take ownership in the process. So what is it about supervision that stops coaches from regularly being involved in having that support, guidance, expertise to enhance their professional service?

d.   Are they consciously aware of and upholding coaching ethics in their coaching practice? I am often surprised when talking with coaches who say they have never encountered an ethical challenge or ethics do not really feature in their work. Interestingly, and I haven’t done an empirical study on this so am not citing my observation as ‘truth’, but…., I have noticed those coaches who say they don’t have any ethical challenges in their practice are often uncredentialled and/or not aligned with any ethical association. I am not sure if there is a connection – just something I have noticed in recent years. My experience, both as coach but also as the Academic Director of SBS educating 100s of students, our ethics are often being challenged. It doesn’t mean we are less able to coach than others nor does it mean we haven’t contracted appropriately – things happen. People change. Situations change. Expectations change. Whilst we know we need to recontract with emergent information – we may still be faced with an ethical dilemma. Building on ongoing awareness of this demonstrates a maturity in coaching.

There are other questions that could be explored, but in essence the gaps between what an individual says and what they are doing are shown by the way they invest in themselves, the way they take their profession of coaching seriously and ultimately are they seeking to be the best version of a coach they can be with the confidence to say: ‘I am a professional coach’.

If these questions are sparking your interest in really understand coaching, please do read the second in these series of two which will focus on the question: ‘Where do I start as someone wanting a Career in Coaching?

We know as we gain deeper awareness of what makes a great coach, strong in their professional and ethical practice, fully able to support, challenge and meet the evolving needs/wants of our world, the clearer the value add of professional coaching will become.

Ready to truly make a difference using coaching as your vehicle for change?

Pheona Croom-Johnson is Co-Founder and Academic Director of Sandown Business School. She has been in the OD field for over 35 years, partnering with Coaches, C-Suite and Senior Leaders. Pheona is a triple credentialed Master Coach (ICF, EMCC, AC), Master NLP Trainer, Team Coach Supervisor (ACTC, ICF) and credentialed Supervisor (ESIA, EMCC), IFS Trained therapist (Level 1) with psychological foundations (BPS). Get in touch to find out more about coaching, leadership and/or supervision.


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