Many people who have been coached, feel like the would make a good coach or are drawn towards it will find themselves asking: “Should I become a coach?”
In this article I hope to shed some light on some of the questions you might need to consider including what kind of person you are, what you enjoy and what you want to do with coaching.
On the surface, training to become a coach is simply learning a new set of skills and investing time and money into a course that delivers this.
In truth, however, it is so much more than that.
- It is becoming part of a profession with shared values, assumptions and ways of being
- It is taking a journey that encourages you, even requires you, to look inward at your own assumptions, beliefs and expectations and to be open to change
- It is working with people at deep levels of personal and professional revelation and, often, vulnerability, which requires a strong ethical commitment to confidentiality, non-judgement and respect
- It is being willing and able to be part of groups where the focus is not only on task orientation, as it might be in learning a pure skill, but on interpersonal dynamics and the tensions that can arise in any group – paying attention to what might be going on under the surface and what your part in that might be
- It is setting off on a road of life-long learning and development – a journey embraced by all successful coaches
And it’s not right for everyone.
Unlike more purely skills-based learning such as using spreadsheets, editing videos or computer programming, coaching is about people. And people are complicated.
The learning groups you become part of, the client work you do, the communities you engage in and your own critical reflections on yourself and your beliefs, all demand certain qualities that make some people more naturally suited to being a coach.
That’s not to say people can’t develop these qualities, but they have to at least be open to developing them. Someone coming into coaching thinking it is a short course to get qualified and then you’re the finished product will struggle with the journey.
So, let’s take a look at the key areas to consider when deciding if becoming a coach is right for you.
We’ve identified 6 main areas to explore:
- Essential Human Qualities
- Your Previous Professional Experience
- Your Previous Personal Experience
- Openness to Growth
- Aims and Outcomes of Becoming a Coach
- Coaching vs Related Helping Professions
Essential Human Qualities
Firstly, there are what we might think of as the essential human qualities that make up any good coach. These are not skills that can be learned but are embodied in the very nature of who you are and what you value, and are what leads you to look at coaching in the first place.
This is not a tick-box exercise and you might find that some of these resonate with you more than others, but broadly speaking I would suggest these are the qualities you need to have to some degree:
- Care about people
- Curious and interested in people
- Believe people can change
- Have an essential faith in people
- Fascinated by how people think, act and feel
- Believe that people can guide their own life and make choices that matter
- Value the idea of people living a better and happier life
You might notice something in common here.
The essential qualities of someone who makes a good coach are a genuine interest in, care for, and belief in people and the lives they live.
You might also notice that what is not there is skills.
People often think you need to be a good listener to be a good coach, or to be able to ask good questions, or to challenge. Yes, you do, but these are all skills that can be learned.
That’s why you undertake coach training.
What we can’t give you are the essential qualities that draw you to coaching in the first place.
That’s why I think of coaching more as a kind of calling than a career. Not in some grandiose way but rather in the same way that teaching, psychotherapy, medicine, social work and so on can be callings. They call to our essential qualities rather than being only simple choices for how we make a living.
These sorts of vocations allow us not only to make our way in the world financially (earning a living) but to fulfil ourselves by expressing our essential human qualities.
For some, those qualities are about data, logic, structure, order, creativity, faith.
For coaches (and others in the dialogue professions) it is about people, potential and the journey to helping people live better lives.
So when you’re thinking about becoming a coach, ask yourself whether that speaks to you.
- Do you feel you would realise your true potential as a human being by helping others achieve greater happiness, meaning, fulfilment and achievement of their potential?
- Do you think you would enjoy the vast array of strange and always fascinating behaviours, beliefs, attitudes, emotional responses and more of the people you would encounter?
- Do you feel you would enjoy the challenge of learning with other people who, whilst having shared the basic values that coaching demands, might have very different beliefs and values systems about what that life looks like?
- Would you feel drained and depleted by the people you encounter or energised, touched and inspired by them?
This isn’t a binary answer, of course. There could be days when you don’t want to see a client – you have enough going on in your life. There’ll be sessions when the client is making no progress and you feel frustrated. There’ll be moments you question whether you’re good enough. We all do!
But do you think that over a period of time, you’ll look at what you do as a coach and say, yes, I’m giving space for those human qualities to shine?
Your Previous Professional Experience
Let’s be clear right away here. There’s no single kind of experience needed to become a coach and we have had people from every spectrum join us.
However, when you think about the human qualities explored above, you can imagine that coaches often come from a particular group of people-oriented professions that share certain characteristics with coaching.
And whilst this is not a list that you must belong to, it gives a good representation of the kinds of people who thrive as coaches.
That said, if you come from a completely different professional background and resonate with the human qualities above then that is far more important. We have had actors, engineers, artists, designers, accountants, web developers, authors, architects and so much more join that the list below truly just highlights the most typical professions that coaches come from.
In brief, then, these are:
- Management & Leadership
- Health & Social Care
- Human Resources & Learning and Development
- Therapy and Counselling
- Complementary Health
In all of the above five there is a natural affinity with coaching.
Managers often yearn to bring a more human-centred approach to their work or to take those people skills and start up independently.
Health and social care professionals gravitate to coaching because it remains a helping profession but enables them to feel freed from some of the shackles of their more regulated work. Many medical and social care professionals maintain their existing profession whilst adding coaching as a part-time practice in which they get to express a new approach to helping people.
Human resource and learning and development professionals as well as trainers and facilitators will often have dealt with coaches either internally as part of the in-house function or through bringing in external coaches. Over time this can lead to a natural pull towards becoming a coach and integrating coaching with their existing skills.
Therapists of all types, as well as counsellors, are increasingly turning to coaching as an additional approach to use with clients, finding the focus on more positive aspects of life and change adds balance to some of the more challenging work they do. Equally, they might find that coaching becomes a part of the work they do with a client as they move from stuckness to growth.
Complementary health practitioners such yoga teachers, body therapists, mindfulness practitioners and many other therapists who work in this broad field often find coaching supplements and supports the work they do by bringing a more cognitive, verbal perspective to the work.
If I haven’t said it strongly enough already, this list is merely indicative of the most common careers that precede becoming a coach but there is no restriction.
Anyone can become a coach if they have the right human qualities and an openness to growth, which we will look at next.
Your Previous Personal Experience
This one is somewhat harder to pin down than the professional experience yet it is just as important. Perhaps even more so.
Your personal experience could come in any form that seems to lead you to coaching.
Perhaps it is some traumatic experience you overcame that led you to believe in the resilience of people in the face of tough circumstances.
Perhaps it is how you have always been that person your friends go to when they are struggling or need to feel heard, understood or even challenged.
Maybe it’s your own personal journey through life in which you have achieved things that you know are down to your mindset, your tenacity, your beliefs, and you have an urge to help others tap into what they’re capable of.
Perhaps it’s because you have been coached and you saw what a huge difference that made to your own life or experience of something and now you want to master the same skill. This is something we see a lot at Animas.
Whatever the reason, your own personal journey can be the biggest reason for you to want to be a coach.
Listen to that voice and explore whether it’s right for you.
Openness to Growth
I said earlier that things like listening, questioning and challenging are all skills. Some people might naturally be better at some coaching skills than others but ultimately all coaching skills can be learned.
If you’re open to doing so.
The fact that you’re considering becoming a coach suggests you are open but it’s useful to know where growth will be expected of you as a coach.
Here are some key areas in which you’ll need to be open to learning and growing rather than assuming your tried and tested approaches to conversation and support for people are the right way.
You’ll need to be be open to:
- Hearing other people’s points of view without closing them down or trying to be “right”
- Holding a position of respect for everyone even when you disagree with their beliefs, for example
- Reflecting on your own worldview critically to think about what you assume to be true
- Recognising that what you have always done might not be the only or best way
- Becoming a better listener and learning to hold back your views
- Asking better questions and expanding your range of inquiry
- Becoming more non-judgemental and holding people in higher regard
- Trying new ways to coach or have conversations that feel challenging or somewhat unnatural at first (that’s why the training exists!)
- Interacting in groups in ways that add value yet respecting other people’s contributions
These are but some of the ways you might need or desire to change and grow and that is the purpose of coach training.
It seems almost obvious to state all these and yet, in practice, the journey to becoming a coach can press the buttons of resistance, pride, fear, stubbornness and so much more as we try to hold on to and validate existing ways of being.
There is no one place you need to arrive at to be a coach but you do need to be open to exploring these areas of growth and making yourself open to change.
Aims and Outcomes of Becoming a Coach
The final area to consider in determining whether coach training is right for you is what you’re looking to gain from it.
I described elsewhere the five main pathways that a coach might take after qualification and whilst you don’t need to know immediately, it can be useful to have some sense of what you’re trying to achieve.
To remind you, these five pathways are:
- The Independent Coach
- The Associate Coach
- The Internal Coach
- Coaching as an Additional Service
- The Volunteer Coach
Do you have some sense of which of these appeals to you?
Each has its own unique journey but all start with a thorough grounding and accreditation in coach training.
Whilst there are no formal timelines for any of these coaching paths, and much will depend on the individual coach in terms of how quickly or slowly they happen, some pathways are more clearly laid out than others.
Let’s briefly look at each to see what you need to be aware of.
The Independent Coach
By independent coach, I mean any kind of coaching practice where you are self-employed and need to build your own client base. You might be, for example, a life coach, executive coach or team coach.
I won’t go into this in much more detail however, it is important to know that building a practice takes time.
If you’re looking to be an independent coach, you need to be willing and able to take a longer term view of creating your business over many months and years.
That’s not to say you can’t and won’t get paying clients early. Indeed, many of the coaches who train with us transition to paying clients very quickly, but that is different from creating a system of client acquisition that is consistent enough and significant enough to replace a main income.
We have certainly had coaches who have taken the leap straight to self-employment but in most cases they will build their practice alongside another income.
In the past, I have had conversations with individuals who have asked me how easy it is to create a coaching business and my answer is always the same. “No business is easy. That’s why not many people do it. The real question is, can you enjoy the process of building that business over a period of time?”
Recently, a member of our training faculty who trained with us in 2018 shared that she had had her first £10,000+ month. That’s huge! She combines associate coaching with independent coaching and training. She loves her business. It’s balanced, fuelled by passion and gives her what she needs financially and emotionally.
And, it took four years to get to that.
Do you have the patience? The desire to grow your skills? The tenacity to apply yourself?
If so, then it’s a journey you will love! If not, then the next two areas may serve you better: the Associate Coach or the Internal Coach.
The Associate Coach
The Associate Coach is a self-employed role but in this case, the coach needs to do very little, if any, marketing to grow their business.
Instead, they become part of a roster of freelance coaches managed by a large organisation such as BetterUp, CoachHub or any number of other emerging associate organisations. The parent organisation then places the coach with clients.
Sounds too good to be true?
It’s not, but it does come with certain downsides.
Firstly, you will earn less per hour of coaching work than if you’re charging the fee yourself. Though you’re also likely to get more work, more consistently.
The bigger downside is that you need to gain experience first as a coach before joining most organisations as an associate and then you’ll typically need to go through a period where you get only a small amount of work until they build up their confidence in you.
But it certainly works and we are seeing more and more Animas coaches create a balanced coaching practice combining independent work with associate work for the best of both worlds.
Associate work typically also requires specific conditions being met such as being credentialed with one of the professional bodies, receiving supervision and having insurance. All good things, by the way!
The Employed/Internal Coach
The internal coach is an employed role within a company and there are essentially three main ways we have seen this happen.
- Most common is for the coach to join an existing internal coaching function with their current employer. Large organisations, such as the UK’s NHS and civil service, often have opportunities for this and you might find it easier than you think to carve out a certain number of days per month dedicated to coaching in your organisation.
- The second approach, which we’ve seen successfully followed many times, is where the coach advocates for providing coaching within their existing organisation even if coaching has not yet been established. The coach might speak with management to agree that part of their work can be spent coaching members of the organisation and very quickly create the opportunity to enhance their existing work with a coaching role. For many coaches, this makes their current job even more rewarding whilst satisfying the desire to coach.
- The third approach, which is still somewhat rare, is to find a job as an internal coach from an external opportunity. Although still few and far between, we have certainly seen more of this happening and it is likely that, in time, the internal coach role will become more common as coaching increasingly becomes a norm throughout organisations. As an example of this, some years ago, I was mentoring an Animas coach on creating a business when he said that he realised he didn’t want a business – he wanted to coach within his job. He added his coaching qualification to his CV and then sought a role as an IT project manager, stipulating that some of his week must be dedicated to internal coaching. He found a job within a month!
If building your own business is not what you’re after, then are you able to carve out space in your existing role either to coach your own team or to coach across the organisation?
Is there an existing context for this? Or can you create one?
Coaching as an Additional Service
In many ways, this option is the easiest of the five.
Here, we are presupposing you have your own business already. You might be a consultant, a therapist, a personal trainer, a nutritionist or any number of other service professionals and you’re looking to add coaching to your services.
Assuming you have a relatively functioning business in your field, then this is simply a matter of deciding and communicating what coaching adds to your existing business, how your clients benefit and designing the process that’s right for the way you work.
For instance, some therapists will only use coaching after they have completed whatever therapeutic journey is needed. Others might integrate the coaching with the therapy.
Some consultants might carve out coaching as a unique standalone service whilst others might make it an intrinsic part of how they do the consulting.
It’s a choice.
Of course, this is not to say that it’s as easy as plug-’n’-play, but if you run your own business then it’s certainly easier and faster to make these sorts of choices.
- Do you have a business or existing professional practice you can add coaching to?
- How might you use it?
The Volunteer Coach
The final pathway is the volunteer coach.
I shared at the start that this can run in tandem with any other of the models above or it can be a way that you give back to the world with coaching without wishing to build a business or work as a coach in an organisation.
So it is a relatively straightforward and rewarding journey.
The key to success here is finding the right project for your skill level as a coach.
Some social impact projects and voluntary schemes can involve working with vulnerable people such as disadvantaged youth, the elderly or cancer patients. A new coach might quickly fall out of their depth here.
But there are many volunteering projects for coaches that involve less emotional challenge, including projects working, and it is wise to begin with client groups that match your skill.
Certainly such volunteering projects are excellent ways to build your skills, build your experience and make the impact you want to.
Indeed, we had one coach who created a coaching project with Age UK that ended up going national and now has multiple projects. So for the ambitious, if a project making the kind of impact you want doesn’t exist, it’s possible to create it.
- Does volunteering appeal to you?
- What kinds of client groups would you like to work with in this way?
- What impact would you like to make?
Coaching vs Related Helping Professions
The final thing to consider, when thinking about whether coaching is the right fit for you, is whether it allows you to do the kind of work you want to do or whether you are more suited to one of the other helping professions.
In particular, we find that some people are torn between coaching, psychotherapy and counselling and are somewhat unsure of the differences.
I go into this in more detail in my book, Coaching in a Nutshell, but I want to address it briefly here as it’s useful to check in with yourself on whether coaching is going to give you what you need in terms of impact, client type and emotional outcome.
Let’s be clear straight off the bat that there is no absolute, unequivocal distinction that can be made between these three ways of working.
Yet, we can also know at the extremes that they are different.
For instance, taking the extremes, a client with severe depression and suicidal thoughts is not a coaching client. They need to be seeing at least a psychotherapist and potentially a clinical psychologist.
Likewise, an individual who is highly motivated and wants to make a huge impact on the world with their business is unlikely to choose a psychotherapist. Rather they would gain benefit from a coach.
But these are the extremes and it gets an awful lot more grey in the middle where a client might tip either way to a counsellor, a psychotherapist or a coach.
What it is probably fair to say overall, is that counselling and psychotherapy are concerned primarily with suffering in one form or another, caused either by chronic challenges or due to more acute, current challenges. For instance, a bereavement counsellor supports someone through a specific situation rather than something that someone has struggled with since childhood.
Either way, the overall aim is the alleviation of suffering with an emphasis on listening, empathy and, often, understanding the “why” – though many therapies also involve a more active element.
Coaching, on the other hand, is concerned with change and growth. This does not mean that someone’s emotions and even past experiences are not relevant – they are wholly relevant – but the focus is more on the readiness to create change in the current experience.
As we’ve discussed, many therapists and counsellors add coaching to their work, or even switch wholesale to coaching, because they are attracted to the more positive frame of change it represents.
It is important to be clear that this is not a value judgement – all these approaches are vital and extremely important. The question is what kind of work you want to do.
I hope this article has been helpful in deciding if coaching is right for you but we’d recommend attending or free Introduction to Transformative Coaching to find out more.
The journey to becoming a coach is a joyous, fascinating, challenging and transformative one if it’s the right fit so do as the Oracle of Delphi says and be sure to “Know Thyself”! Then make the right choice.