Succeeding as a professional coach is not being a one-hit wonder! Coaching is still a relative newcomer to the personal change world, but the last 5–10 years have seen a growing recognition that coaching is a profession, not simply a skill that, once learnt, can be assumed to have been safely mastered and stored away.
However, my experience shows that a lot of people, particularly outside the executive-coaching environment, see the initial training to become a coach as the entirety of their journey.
The reality is very different.
A training programme can only ever offer the foundations upon which the rest of your coaching career is built. And, like any career, your professional journey as a coach should be marked by ongoing development, support and change.
I call the critical elements you need to consider the ‘professional coaching ecology’.
So, what do you need to explore, engage in and get serious about if you want to be a professional coach?
1) Joining the profession
The first step is to make sure that the profession is right for you in the first place, and, once you’re in it, that it continues to be the right place. After all, we change, our circumstances change, the industry changes.
Is it what you really want? Are you prepared to invest time, energy and money into your personal and professional development? Will you enjoy the journey? Do you care about making a difference? Does it feel good? Your answers to these and many more questions will help you to know if coaching is right for you, and if so, how you can manage your life to make coaching work.
Once you know that coaching is right for you, it’s time to train. This is where most energy in the coaching industry has been placed, and often the choices people make regarding training are influenced more by smart marketing than by knowing what kind of coach they want to be, or the kind of training that will work for them.
Take time to choose the right training. Many coaches still only ever learn the GROW model, but, as useful a model as it is, it only scratches the surface of how coaching has developed in recent years. Does this really allow you to work at the depth that you want to?
Whatever you choose, the training that kick-starts your coaching career is only the foundation, rather than the whole building. It should give you the knowledge, skills and experience of coaching to know you can work with people in the real world. And it should offer the credentials that ensure you can hold your head up high as a professional coach.
For many coaches, however, this is where it seems to stop. They complete their course, then wonder what to do next. The traditional structures of career progression are not available, and so they question their ability and the next steps, gradually losing interest.
It’s truly a sad loss and a waste. We need coaches who make a difference. We need coaches to take up the challenge of helping people to succeed and change.
And that’s why the rest of the ecology must be embraced…
3) Personal development and awareness
A core part of continuing to grow as a coach is to look first to yourself. Are you personally growing? Are you exploring your own barriers and blocks? Are you being true to what you really want? Are you avoiding things or facing them? This is not about being perfect. It’s about ensuring that you continue to develop and change, both internally and externally, just as you expect your clients to.
4) Continued coaching connection
Another basic foundation in progressing as a coach is to stay connected to the coaching community. Whether that’s being part of an informal network of coaches, the training community from your coaching school or a formal network such as the Animas Coach Development Circles, it is hugely helpful to connect to other coaches for momentum, support, a sense of belonging, and more.
5) Professional accreditation
Although most clients will connect with you-the-person rather than you-the-CV, gaining, growing and maintaining professional accreditation is a powerful framework for staying connected with and demonstrating your own professionalism. It speaks volumes that you continue to invest in your professional standing, as well as offering a structure to continue to develop.
6) Business support
One of the biggest challenges most coaches face is turning their hard-earnt skills into hard-earnt income – what we might call turning learning to earning! Now, of course, there will be coaches who use their skills directly in their workplace and so don’t need to consider creating a business. But many coaches want to work independently. If this is you, you’ll need to develop business skills in order to reach out to prospects, secure them as paying clients and grow a vibrant, effective practice.
This comes in many forms, from understanding how to run your business practically to having a grasp of the basics of marketing and selling what you do. You might explore books, online courses and, if you’re highly motivated, a personal business coach, such as one of our business incubation coaches.
As you gain in experience, you’ll need to stay on top of your coaching practice with clients. This is what we describe as the oversight requirement in the ecology. It’s easy to develop bad habits, as we do, say, with driving, and so it’s important to be able to reflect on how well we continue to coach. We might also confront client issues that challenge us, upset us, make us doubt ourselves or leave us feeling stuck. In both cases, you need to be prepared to invest in some kind of oversight, whether that is peer mentoring, group supervision or professional one-to-one supervision. One of our own goals is to make a range of affordable oversight available to coaches who aren’t part of pre-existing structures, such as a larger organisation.
8) Ongoing learning, skills and knowledge development
As a coach, you will have learnt the core principles of coaching, and perhaps you’ll have developed some specialisations. But as you grow into your profession you will find areas you want to develop further, skillsets you need to learn, and complementary skills that enhance and add to your work as a coach. This is the realm of continuing professional development (CPD). As with any career, your skills as a coach develop over time and are not all learnt at the start of your career. At Animas, we have developed a range of Coaching CPD Intensives, but there are a wealth of coaching courses and skills to explore throughout the industry.
9) Contributing to and engaging with the industry
The final element in the lifecycle of a coach is to engage with, contribute to and influence the coaching industry. This means being part of coaching professional bodies and attending conferences that connect you to industry leaders, the latest thinking, and industry changes. It means being a proud advocate of coaching as a whole, rather than just of yourself as a coach.
The nine areas above form a comprehensive ecology for you to start seeing coaching as a professional journey, rather than merely a one-hit wonder of training.
I truly believe that coaches need to start seeing themselves as being on a professional journey of continuing development, practice, growth, learning and experience. Just as the need for ongoing development is recognised by doctors, psychotherapists, accountants, lawyers, managers, personal trainers and almost all other professionals, so I trust the coaching ecology will become a natural part of what we do as coaches in order to become exceptional in our field.