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16 JUNE 2008
How to choose a coach training school

by Dale Williams: Business MacGyver, Facilitator and Executive Coach.

Choosing a coach training school falls into the same category as deciding on your next cell phone when renewing your contract. Many choices, each with hundreds of options and the process can be quite confusing.

Your choice of cell phone will definitely have some consequences. Some good and some bad. These consequences will however have a fraction of the impact of choosing the school that will teach you about coaching.

Deciding is tricky because every school has their own marketing spiel explaining why their particular approach is best. On their own, they all look pretty compelling. Which one is right for you?

For most courses, I would say compare them and look for the one that offers you the most benefits at a cost that meets your expectations. Being a coaching course, I believe this is a terrible approach. Let me tell you why.

Why use a different approach?
Coaching is making a valiant attempt to develop itself into a profession and while many people think that you can go out and learn to be a coach, I do believe that not everyone is a coach at heart. I can illustrate this by looking at a well known profession – medicine.

I recently had an interaction with a very talented surgeon who operated on a friend’s daughter. Before the operation he explained to my friend, in front of her daughter, all the things that could go wrong and how bad the surgery could be, together with what he was planning to do.

With her daughter in tears and terrified about the surgery, his best approach at consoling her was to say, “if you don’t stop crying, you will have to stay in hospital longer”.

The operation was a success and I’m sure he is a talented surgeon. His emotional intelligence (EQ) is however non-existent. In his case, he can however fall back on the skills he has with his hands. A coach is different. Coaches have to lead with EQ. Without it, what do they have to offer their clients. Unlike the doctor, they cannot easily fall back on another skill. This leads me to a major principle of coaching:

The best coaches are those who can coach while being themselves rather than taking on the “role of coach”.

Bill O’Brian, the ex CEO of Hannover Insurance said, “the success of the intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener” which is profoundly true for coaching and another way of saying: coaching without EQ is doomed to failure.

This is the role of coach. We are interveners in a person's learning and development. We positively contribute to their growth. Our internal condition as intervener is more important than the skills we possess.

Coaching is about a real conversation. From the perspective of someone being coached, who would you prefer to have a real conversation with? A coach with coaching skills which they roll out for the session while taking you through a learned methodology? Or a coach who just shows up as themselves, without techniques or tools? I’d always prefer the latter. Tools can be learned. Being real is – well – real.

Which brings us back to the decision about a coaching school. To decide which qualification is best suited to yourself, you need to get clear on why you are seeking a qualification. The qualification will provide you with skills. Without EQ and your own sense of ‘realness’, you will be a bit like my doctor friend.

Coaching you to make the decision
If I were to coach you while you were deliberating on which coaching course to do, then I would probably distill the session down to seven insightful questions.

Answered honestly and with careful reflection, they will give you an excellent understanding of yourself and your motivation to coach. This will equip you to make the decision.

The answer at the end of the process is deeply personal. There is no one right answer and I would be skeptical of anyone who says they have the right qualification for you. Only you can decide that.

So here goes. Get a pen and paper - create enough time to work through the process in a very reflective way and let’s see what you come up with:

  1. What is your motivation to study coaching?
  2. What meaning will coaching have in your life?
  3. At the end of the course what would you like to have achieved?
  4. How do you learn best?
  5. How important is the qualification you receive in relation to the learning on the course?
  6. How will you use coaching once you have qualified (e.g. be a career coach, complement your other work, life coach, sports coach etc.)?
  7. What have you learned as result of answering these questions and following this process?

When you have finished, put your writing aside and review it a day later. Add any new insights that you have had overnight.

Once you have been through this reflective process, you will have a good idea of your own motivation and be in a good position to start working your way through training schools.

When considering training orgnisations and coaching credentials, keep in mind that the context within which these organisations operate is fraught with unanswered questions and complexity. Hence the reason to be very clear about what you want.

To illustrate this, in an article published in 2005 on Peer Resources in Canada (available at http://www.peer.ca/credential-full.pdf), Rey Carr noted that ‘there were more than 65 distinct credentials in North America and the United Kingdom as well as other countries, and the systems used to grant these credentials included competency-based assessments, attaining hours of course work, supervision requirements by someone who has already attained the credential, self-assessment, qualifications obtained without ever coaching a client and even credentials that are just based on self-proclamation.’

Self-proclamation! There is one thing acknowledging that someone has decided to become a coach without background or training – but offering them a credential is perhaps a step too far.

In amongst the various credentials on offer and while working your way through the marketing claims of your potential training organisations, you will need to dig below the surface and find a course that matches the needs you discovered in the above process.

Peer Resources run a poll on the importance of certification in coaching. The poll can be viewed at http://www.peer.ca/CertVote.html. Current views (shown below), although not scientific, give an indication of the feelings about accreditation which may affect your decision process.

People responding to the poll were asked to leave a comment about their vote. As of the time of writing this article, nine main themes emerged:

  • Certification is a political tool.
  • Certification is a marketing tool.
  • Certification is arbitrary.
  • Certification is a revenue generator.
  • Certification is a weak substitute for integrity.
  • Certification exploits the inexperienced.
  • Certification acts as a mark of distinction.
  • Certification protects the public.
  • Certification acts as a beacon.

This demonstrates the diversity of thought on this topic. Currently there is a global initiative underway called the Global Convention on Coaching (GCC) which has as it's goal bringing together diverse players from all over the world so that together we might envisage the future of coaching.

Working groups within the GCC are grappling with topics such as mapping the field of coaching, whether coaching is in fact a profession, the ethics of coaching, what the core competencies required for coaching are and the role of research in the development of the field. This work is still under way.

In summary, we can draw a few conclusions:

  • The decision around a coaching qualification is deeply personal.
  • The schools providing coaching qualifications are still developing.
  • The industry within which the schools operate is only loosely defined.
  • Your own inner process is more important than what schools offer you.

From all of this, you can see that the field of coaching is emerging rapidly, is tremendously exciting and offers huge potential to the world. Somewhat ironically or perhaps appropriately, the field still has many more questions than answers, and those entering should be prepared to grapple and participate in the development of the field.


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