“Give us the inside scoop,” people demand. “How do we know who’s a good coach? What life coach qualifications really matter?”
The inside scoop is that there is no inside scoop. There’s no secret, easy way to figure out who’s a good coach.
First, let’s look at what a coach must do to be able to call herself a coach. I can tell you in one word — nothing.
No requirements to be a coach
Coaching is an unregulated industry, and there are absolutely no requirements for a person to be a coach. No legal, professional, or any other requirements.
You want to be a coach? Poof, you’re a coach.
Coaches are in a bind
Coaches — even talented ones (not that there’s any agreement on which coaches are talented) — are in a bind. Coaching skill is, to a large degree, a nebulous, vague, difficult to define thing. But coaches want to be able to give you hard facts, documentation, and proof of their skill.
So they tell you about things that are hard facts, like training, certification, coaching experience, and personal success.
The only problem is that these qualifications don’t really tell you that a coach is talented — and certainly not whether she’s a good match for you. So, please, keep in mind that it’s not necessary for a coach to have any of the standard qualifications to be a gifted coach. And a coach can have all of them and be a real dud.
The best coach for you may be a naturally talented newbie. The worst coach for you may be a world-famous, expensive coach.
List of Life Coach Qualifications
Let’s go through the common qualifications coaches use, and I’ll show you why I don’t think any of them is a reliable indicator of coaching talent.
Though some academic institutions offer coach training, most coaches are trained in for-profit programs. These programs usually don’t have admission requirements — a coach just pays the tuition, often in the $2000 – $5000 range, and she’s in.
Often, the main requirement for graduation is attending class.
Some coaching training programs are just downloadable audio, video, and text that students consume at their leisure. (Or not.) While training generally gives students some tools and opportunity to practice coaching, most coach training leaves students to figure out the bulk of how they’re going to practice on their own. Coaches from the same program coach very differently from each other.
Certification is a hotly debated topic in the coaching world. Some coaches feel the process of getting certified is valuable and certification is real evidence of coaching competence. Many think certification is just a marketing thing and they don’t bother with the expense and hassle unless they’re worried about not having enough clients or they want to work for corporations, which often require certification.
There isn’t one, universally agreed upon certification.
Several major certification bodies, as well as many training institutions, offer some sort of certification for coaches, each with its own requirements.
Two major certification bodies in the United States are the International Coaching Federation and the International Association of Coaches.
You might think that a coach who’s been coaching for ten years would be a masterful coach, but that’s not necessarily the case. Just doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t turn someone into a world-class performer, argues Colvin, in his excellent book, “Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else.”
I’ve known coaches who’ve been at it for over ten years — who even train and mentor other coaches — who regularly make what I consider to be rookie mistakes when they coach.
I’ve known talented newbies.
I’ve known coaches who learn quickly and deeply from just a little experience working with clients. They keep evolving. I’ve known coaches who do the same thing, year after year, with little learning and growing.
Experience and/or success in a particular subject
Some coaches hold themselves out as experts in a specific field, like business or parenting. They often point to their experience or success in that field as one of their qualifications. A business coach will tell you that she started three successful businesses herself.
In my view, experience is generally necessary for a person to be an expert in a field, but by no means a guarantee of it. Also, a coach’s personal success may not translate into an ability to help you replicate it. Her analysis of the reasons for her success may not be accurate. She may not be able to communicate her approach well to you. And her approach may work for her, but not for you.
A coach’s high rate of success with clients who are similar to you and are working on projects like yours could be truly helpful evidence of a coach’s competence.
Unfortunately, there’s no way of getting accurate, complete data about clients’ results. Coaches often don’t have the information. They don’t necessarily know the long-term effects of their work with clients.
And even if coaches did have this data, they probably wouldn’t share all of it with the public. Coaches typically will tell you about their success stories, even if those stories represent only a tiny fraction of their clients.
Some coaches list memberships in specialty coaching organizations — like an organization of coaches who work with people who have ADHD — as one of their credentials. Professional memberships may be valuable to the coaches who participate in them, but they are not indications that a coach has achieved mastery in a particular area of coaching.
Generally, the only requirement for a coach to join a professional organization is a willingness to pay the organization’s fees.
My suggestion: form your own impression
Instead of relying heavily on life coach qualifications to find a coach who’s a good fit for you, I recommend that you form your own impression of the coaches you’re considering and trust that. You can read their websites and other materials. You can listen to them being interviewed, giving classes, doing podcasts, and/or any other audio that’s available. You can watch any videos they have on YouTube or their sites. And you can experience them firsthand in a free initial coaching session/interview.
Your sense of a coach is your best indicator of whether or not the coach is a good fit for you.