Life coaching and the ick factor

My partner and I were recently interviewing applicants for an executive assistant. One of them impressed me greatly with his courage and honesty: during the interview, he expressed concerns about our work as coaches.  “I don’t know,” he said, “it just seems that you might be peddling snake oil; there’s a little ick factor, and to be honest, I am not sure that I want to work somewhere unless I absolutely believe in what the business is selling,”

I told him that i couldn’t agree more.

Coaching is an unregulated profession. As an industry, there are growing attempts to self regulate–for example I am a member of the International Coach Federation, and, now that I have attained CTI certification, am applying for ICF certification.  Many, probably the majority, of professional coaches approach their work with the same diligence that other professionals do–perhaps even with more diligence, precisely because we are a self regulated profession.

But–and this is where the “ick factor” comes in–people can call themselves a coach and hang out a shingle any time, with no particular schooling or supervision. You can be a coach after graduating from a one weekend online course, or with no training at all. So in coaching, as in so many things, buyer beware.

For years, I actually made fun of the concept of life coaching. It struck me as a bunch of new-age nonsense. Someone who is no more enlightened than I was, I thought, sat in a room with incense and bells and such, and gave people nebulous advice designed to sound profound and keep the marks (clients) coming back. Coaches were not too far removed, thought I, from a boardwalk psychic or three-card-monte scam artist.

Then I learned about what good coaching actually is. I learned about designing a unique alliance with each client, working with them to explore their desires, find their life purpose, and find the ways that they could make the courageous choices that transform their lives from a place of being stuck into a place of growth. I learned that good coaching is so powerful, and so common-sense based, that I was converted.

So, if you are looking for a coach, I urge you, shop around. Talk to more than one coach. Ask if they can give you recommendations. Check out their site, if they have one, and do a sample session. (I never charge for a sample session, neither do many of my colleagues.) During that sample session, ask yourself if you are really being heard, or are you being sold a cookie-cutter program? Ask yourself what you intuitively feel about this person–do you feel safe? challenged? intrigued? Or perhaps patronized or less-than? Then decide.  Once you hire a coach, if your gut tells you you made a mistake–If a coach strikes you as a little flaky, or coercive, or shallow–you’re the boss. You get to hire, you get to fire. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve come to know that there are a lot of good, in fact great, coaches working in the field. But the ones that give the profession a bad rep, while perhaps dwindling in number, are still out there. So…proceed with caution.

But proceed. You’re worth it.