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How do you get hired as a coach?

31 January 2020 Anthony Eldridge-Rogers

I met a professional in the addiction treatment field a few years ago whose profile on LinkedIn plunged me into feelings of inadequacy. Let me say I am not blaming him! I did the inadequacy bit all on my own. Now, what triggered me off into a nasty bout of self immolation was the number of letters after his name! He literally had about 20! In strings of 2’s, 3’s and 4’s. I read his bio which was essentially the letters of his credentials unpacked for us all to read.

Since then, and I will come back to this professional later, I have seen some interesting differences on how professional coaches present themselves. These differences have shifted and changed over time as coaching has been increasingly taught in academic institutions bringing forth various biases in how different groups of coaches present themselves.

Within this there are the anomalies, the coaches who have gone their own way and defied the ‘rules’ of presenting themselves as set down by the different interest groups. I will set them out below but before I do, consider this train of thought.

- Coaching is a ‘helping’ profession. i.e. the intention of a coach is to participate in a relationship with another person or group to the benefit of that person and group first and to the benefit of the coach. The benefit to the person or group is measured by the person or group themselves rather than by the coach who of course has skin in the game.

- Effectiveness then is the key metric by which we measure coaching practice.

- What a coach ‘knows’ is valuable only insofar as how what they know translates into effectiveness.

- There is an inverse relationship between the number and quantity of theories, models, techniques and knowledge of coaching that means there are reducing returns on gaining such knowledge.

- Coaching is not a practice built on diagnosis and treatment model, and so accumulated knowledge and expertise in medical diagnosis must not be confused with coaching effectiveness or promise of coaching skill.

So, if you can go along with this train of thought it becomes clear that there are different ways of marketing yourself and your coaching business. This is where it gets complicated and somewhat counter intuitive. You would think that what people and organisations would value above all else is effectiveness. In fact that is not entirely correct and in many cases downright incorrect. People get hired as coaches and trainers for various reasons that often do not have anything to do with effectiveness. More on that in a moment.

Our knowledge bias means that people and organisations take evidence of formal knowledge training as evidence of effectiveness. In some domains this might be a good bias to have but think on this. Suppose you had to have a tricky brain operation and you are faced with two choices of neuro surgeon. The first has performed the procedure you need 500 times with a 99% success rate but they never acquired a medical degree, never went to med school and graduated. They learned the procedure by watching the operation being performed a 1,000 times when they were a nurse and one day while practising as a medic in a conflict zone, performed the operation on someone who would have died without it. Your second neuro surgeon has just qualified and has only performed your actual procedure once but has watched it, also many times. What does your brain tell you is the best course of action for your most likely best outcome? This example is in a very specific domain that is governed by the medical model. Now it is harder than this dilemma in coaching for the simple reason is that effectiveness is subjective in most instances and is determined by the subject themselves!

What to do then? Most coaches opt for a blended model where they present evidence of training to substantiate that they have gained ′knowledge′ of coaching and, within that training, coaching skills. To that they then add evidence of effectiveness. This is usually in the form of testimonials gained from clients.

So how do coaches really get hired? And what should we aspire to in getting our services out there into the world?

On balance, my experience says that some kind of training evidence is necessary, although not vital. Second is evidence in the form of testimonials from people you have coached who fit into the target group of people you want to coach. Third is your signature coaching identity and presence. We coaches cannot be all things to all people. We all have a signature energy that makes us unique to be around. A metaphor would be that we all have our own default weather system. The knowledge and testimonials will get you through the door. Your signature coaching identity will get you hired or not.

So back to the story I started this blog with. Our astonishly accomplished expert with the letters after his name was certainly very bright academically. When we met, which we did on a video call, it was a massive let down. You see all those letters had led me to understand a couple of things.

First, it signalled to me that, despite his ability to become so accredited, he had not acquired insight into how parading all these credentials might impact on how he would be perceived. He placed himself into a category in which his achievements triggered a distance between himself and all those others in the field.

Second, he misunderstood the inverse law of returns. Person who has acquired 10 coaching qualifications cannot be 10 times more skilled than someone who has one qualification. So the quantity of credentials does not indicate mastery of skills necessarily.

Third, this calls forth unrealistic expectations. I was expecting superman on the call with him. Somehow all this learning and studying would have produced an astonishing human being in whose presence I would be able to bask. That was not the case. He turned out to be a nice chap with not terribly good interpersonal skills. Was a little more keen on talking than listening and would constantly offer frameworks for everything. He was not someone I could imagine I wanted to have coach me. What he lacked was a genuine signature presence. What he had pursued was a line learning that was spectacular but which ultimately led to an imbalance. He was a great person to chat to about coaching psychology theory but not a good coach.

It has a tricky balance to get right and our social conditioning often leads us to seek more qualifications when we can’t make our business work. That can be a mistake for often developing ourselves through skills practice and working on our unique coaching presence is what is needed.

Please get in touch if you have any thoughts on this and let me know how you are getting along in building your coaching practice.

PS. My next blog is going to be about how to set up, manage and close an initial meeting with a client.