Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Taking Accountability: Encouraging collective responsibility for the future of the coaching profession

We are pleased to share an article entitled “Taking Accountability: Encouraging collective responsibility for the future of the coaching profession” written by Charlotte Saulny.

One of the most tangible examples I have seen of the power of coaching was revealed during a coaching experiment I completed for a large hospitality chain. We identified 100 General Managers from different performance quartiles, and put them through a three-month course of both group and individual coaching. We examined their performance metrics before the coaching, immediately after the coaching, and again three months later. We then compared their scores with a control group of 100 General Managers with similar profiles who did not receive coaching. The performance improvements were exponential. For example, we saw an extreme 3,960% relative difference between the study and control groups in performance along a composite indicator measuring occupancy, daily rate, and revenue. There wasn’t a single aspect of our review in which coaching did not lead to positive results, proving none of this was circumstantial—it was a result we could attribute only to coaching.

 These results aren’t surprising to anyone familiar with coaching. The impact of coaching on individual performance is well-documented. Research has shown that coaching can lead to significant improvements in self-confidence, communication skills, and leadership abilities. Employees who receive coaching are more likely to set ambitious goals, take proactive steps to achieve them, and navigate setbacks with resilience. This personal growth translates into enhanced productivity and accountability, better decision-making, and increased job satisfaction. It also leads to employees voicing their concerns in a constructive manner, thereby creating a conducive environment for more dynamic improvements to organizational structures and processes. 

In short, coaching represents a win-win situation for employees and employers, in which awakening, unlocking, and harnessing the potential within each person benefits both the individual and the organization. 

The world increasingly realizes the value of this effect. There may be pockets in which the employer-employee relationship is still a one-way, transactional arrangement, but most of the business world now acknowledges the need for professional development as a key part of any individual’s tenure with a company. This change has given rise to the increasing prominence of coaching as a crucial component of any talent engagement strategy. 

As such, it’s no wonder the coaching profession has experienced marked growth over the past decade. According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), the number of professional coaches worldwide has increased by over 50% in the last five years alone. Coaching as an industry has grown by over 60% since 2019, currently generating more than $4.5B annually around the globe. These developments reflect the recognition that coaching is one of the most powerful vehicles for facilitating growth and positive behavioral change. 

 If it’s great coaching … And there’s the rub.

 The Double-Edged Sword of Exponential Growth

While we celebrate the growing popularity and accessibility of coaching, we in the profession should also be aware that this growth presents certain challenges. The influx of new practitioners into the field has led to a wide variance in coaching styles and approaches. And this is great, as it allows diverse individuals and groups with a wide array of challenges and objectives to find coaches they can match with in terms of “chemistry” and particular expertise. However, this also leads to variation in the quality of coaching services available. The lack of standardized credentials and the ease of entry into the profession mean that anyone can claim the status of coach, regardless of qualifications or experience. A client who engages with a coach today may be connecting with someone who has practiced for years after completing a rigorous year-long program that included mentoring, supervision and testing — or someone who became a coach after a three-month online coaching course that promised a 6-figure income and the ability to work from Bali. 

A proliferation of under-qualified coaches can undermine the credibility of the profession and dilute its effectiveness. Clients may find it challenging to distinguish between competent coaches and those who lack the necessary skills and knowledge. New coaching clients especially, not having a frame of reference to assess the quality of services they’re getting, are vulnerable to inefficient coaching. Poor coaching experiences can lead to disillusionment and skepticism, potentially harming the reputation of the entire field. 

 To maintain and elevate the integrity of the profession, it is essential that we promote rigorous standards and best practices, and also nurture a sense of community and collective accountability among coaching professionals. Professional organizations like the ICF and European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) play a critical role in this regard by setting accreditation criteria and ethical guidelines. And I believe there is still much, much more these organizations can do on this front. However, the onus also falls on individual coaches to take the steps to become properly trained and continue to hone their craft. 

I say this as a steadfast believer in the transformative power of coaching. I’ve seen it first-hand within organizations with whom I consulted on building internal coaching practices. I’ve seen it as a coaching practice leader, overseeing the delivery of 1:1 and group coaching services to Fortune 500 companies. Most powerfully, I’ve experienced it personally with coaches who have changed my life — and at times, I believe, even saved it. 

 Yet, not every coach nor every coaching process can lead to such meaningful outcomes. Based on my experiences to date, I believe there are several aspects that separate well-intended coaches from great coaches. Over the 20 years that I was privileged enough to run a coaching practice, I learned a lot about what it takes to be an exceptional coach. And I propose that we as a coaching community make a conscious and clear commitment to build an even better future for coaching, by striving to uphold high standards that foster a culture of integrity and accountability. 

 How do we do it? Let’s honor three core elements that distinguish great coaching.

 The Three “C”s of Great Coaching: What I look for in Coaches

 Commitment

This encompasses not only a commitment to the well-being and success of our clients, but a broader commitment to ethical practice and ongoing education in service to the coaching profession at large. 

Most fundamentally, coaches must commit to a rigorous coach training program — regardless of background and experience — in order to call themselves coaches. Is it possible to be a great coach without formal certification? Absolutely. But I have heard people reference their impressive backgrounds and extensive qualifications alone to justify calling themselves a coach. And while I have no doubt that their experience contributes significantly to their skillset, it should not serve in lieu of completing a certification program that is accredited by the ICF. Bluntly, I would argue that any coach who values the profession owes it to the community to complete a recognized coach training program regardless of whether or not they think they need it.

On the other side of the coin, the mere act of obtaining a certification, while it does indicate a level of commitment to putting in the time and growth necessary to be a great coach (and is therefore something which has always held a lot of weight for me personally) is not in and of itself a guarantee of coaching competence. So the commitment required to be a great coach doesn’t end with a certification; it merely begins there.

After completing a certification, great coaches methodically ‘build’ a substantial number of coaching hours, finding opportunities to deliver coaching. This practical coaching experience is not only a crucial component of building confidence in navigating a range of client situations, but also speaks to why accumulating “coaching hours” is a crucial component of becoming accredited by the ICF. 

Curiosity

Curiosity in coaching is a form of humility. It’s about recognizing that the coach does not have all the answers. Curiosity drives coaches to ask insightful questions and genuinely seek to understand their clients’ perspectives, experiences, and challenges. This inquisitive approach not only deepens the coach’s understanding but also empowers clients to discover their own insights and paths forward. It dismantles the power dynamic, encouraging clients to rely on their own cognitive and emotional apparatus to explore their own solutions rather than relying solely on the coach’s expertise.  And without this curiosity, coaches may miss crucial nuances that could unlock deeper levels of growth and true, sustainable change. 

Curiosity as a coach also manifests as a relentless commitment to learning and growth, both for themselves and their clients. A curious coach not only employs their own coach,  or invests in supervision, but also continuously seeks to expand their knowledge and skills, staying abreast of the latest theories, techniques, and industry trends. This commitment to personal growth helps them stay current with thought leadership that can serve them and their clients. If a coach loses a sense of curiosity, it’s only a matter of time until that coach becomes complacent, and thereby less effective.  

As Albert Einstein once said, “A mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.” Curiosity has a transformative power. The pursuit of new ideas and knowledge can fundamentally and permanently expand one’s understanding and perspective.

Congruence

Congruence, or the alignment between one’s words and actions, is a cornerstone of effective professional coaching. Drawing from Psychologist  Carl Rogers’ humanistic approach, which emphasizes genuine, authentic interactions, congruence ensures that a coach embodies the principles they advocate, fostering a trusting and transparent environment. Peter Drucker’s assertion that “trust is congruence between what you say and do” underscores the critical role of integrity in building and maintaining trust. 

Consider a coach who consistently encourages punctuality, but often arrives late to sessions; or who advises clients to set clear goals and celebrate achievements, but neglects to recognize client progress; or who stresses the importance of continuous learning, but neglects to be consistently improving their skills through ongoing education. Coaches who exhibit these types of incongruences appear disconnected at best, or, worse, disingenuous. The effect is to undermine credibility, leading to diminished respect and trust from the client. Conversely, coaches who exemplify the behaviors they promote, coaches who demonstrate visible alignment between their words and their actions, build credibility and trust. This kind of congruence strengthens the coaching relationship, as clients feel more confident and valued, knowing their coach truly practices what they preach.

Walking the talk not only solidifies trust but also enhances the overall effectiveness of the coaching process. When coaches are authentic and their actions match their words, they set a strong example, modeling the kind of congruence they know is essential for clients to adopt in order to experience positive outcomes. Thus, congruence is not just about ethical practice; it’s about overall effectiveness.

The Promise of Coaching

Being a coach is not easy, but it is particularly rewarding. It is not just a profession but a calling. Being a coach means being part of a movement, of a community that seeks to make people and organizations better. 

At Coaching.com, we proudly occupy a place at the forefront of efforts to elevate the coaching profession. To us, coaching is not just a business. It’s a community guided by the purpose of activating human potential. In order to thrive, this community must constantly and consciously create itself by embodying its core vision. Every coach who, through our platform, deepens their knowledge or learns new tools that make them more effective, becomes a multiplier of this vision’s impact. While we cannot instill a sense of responsibility, we can help coaches to recognize the personal role they play in bringing credibility (or lack thereof) to our community, and we can give them the resources and examples that will allow them to earn their place in this community. 

 As the world is catching up with the promise of coaching in advancing human potential, the coaching industry is poised for continued growth and impact. We are on a mission of making it easy and natural for coaches all over the world to be their best. Only by doing so can the coaching community maintain high standards, deliver exceptional value, and live up to this noble promise.

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