I am a life coach.
When I tell people that, I am usually met with puzzled looks and some mumbling about psychologists and fixing people’s problems. Although I explain what it means, I am often left with the sense that the listener didn’t quite get it. So I wonder what does it mean to say “I am a coach”? Who and what are life coaches?
The life coaching industry is unregulated, meaning that it is possible for anyone to practice as life coach; a scenario that makes choosing a coach a confusing task.
There is no requirement for a coach to have a specific coaching qualification, or indeed any qualification at all. The coaching profession encompasses a range of individuals who, on one end of the spectrum, have no qualifications but consider themselves to be great leaders, teachers or mentors, and on the other end, highly qualified people who have years of experience in their career as well as a formal accredited coaching qualification, and any variation in between. Whether or not the coaching industry should be more regulated is an ongoing debate for which there are multiple arguments on both sides. That is not the subject of today’s post. I believe a more important question to be asking is what makes a person a coach?
By posing that question I am forced to look at myself and ask; what makes me a coach?
When I decided to become a coach, it was important to me that I obtained a qualification in the field. I already held a Bachelor of Commerce and a postgraduate law degree from two top universities but I felt sure that the art of coaching was a discipline in which I needed to be trained to practice as coach. I found a reputable coaching academy whose qualification is accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and qualified with Professional Coach Diploma. The question is, does my diploma make me a coach in the same way that a medical degree would make me a doctor?
At the time of obtaining my coaching diploma, I had 14 years career experience and 32 hours of coaching experience. In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell makes reference to 10000 hours as being the benchmark for expertise in a field. I was certainly no coaching expert by that standard, but my career experience provided me with business acumen, knowledge, strategic ability, insight and leadership skills.
If coach’s role is never to tell a coachee what to do but to guide them to find the solutions within themselves, what good is my experience if I can’t just fix it for the client?
Without my 10000 hours of career experience, I would not have been able to confidently and credibly coach the senior executives and powerful individuals that I have worked with over the years. My knowledge and experience gives me the ability to connect with a client, to be present to what their world is like and what it feels like to be them in the role they fulfil. Without that the kind of insight the coaching process can feel detached, academic and removed from the real world in which our clients function. So, is it that simple, does a qualification plus 10 or more years of career experience make a coach?
There is more to being a coach than experience and qualifications. To be a coach is no more a job than being a person is a job. Therein is the key distinction; qualifications and experience make it possible work as a coach, they do not make a coach. The question our potential clients should really be asking is “who is a coach”?
What makes a coach is the ability to see possibilities beyond what the client can see and put the client in the position of seeing that possibility as a reality themselves.
A coach simultaneously witnesses the highest potential of the client and the anxious doubtful self in the client and builds a bridge between the two, enabling the client to walk across, keep the troll in its place and reach the higher destination. A coach maintains an absolute, unwavering belief in the client’s abilities, even if the client falters. A coach is a champion for the client’s higher self; with their deep understanding of humanity they see the value in all aspects of the client, without judging, while at the same time calling forth only their highest qualities. A coach is disruptive; they have a fundamental inability to accept that how it is now is how it has to be forever. A coach challenges the status quo in favour of greatness. A coach paints the picture of you as you know you can be and walks with you as you bring it to life, all the while holding the painting up to remind you what you set out to create. Simply, a coach is an expansive, insightful, disruptive, compassionate and steadfast partner to those who choose to commit to their own greatness. This is WHO a coach is.
There is a maxim “leaders are born not made”. I’m not sure I believe that in all cases, but the meaning behind it is true of coaches too. Leadership and coaching are a being, not a doing. We can train people to do coaching; being a coach is not the same thing.
I AM a life coach.
Who or what is a coach? I’d love to hear your thoughts….