Beware the Counterfeit Coach
You’re at a party or a business networking event, or maybe you’re at church or standing in line at the grocery store, and you get into a conversation with another person. Inevitably the conversation comes around to, “So, what do you do?”
How often have you heard, “I’m a coach!”?
Now, you KNOW there can’t be that many Coaches out there, right? And you’re right. There aren’t. There are, however, a lot of counterfeit coaches out there!
We know of a number of companies that sell coaching services. Many are actually selling consulting. Still others are selling a linear program designed by the company and with a specified end result. Now, we have no problem with consulting or training services. We have a huge problem disguising either as coaching.
Unfortunately, many people who call themselves coaches are actually delivering consulting, mentoring, or therapy services, or just handing out advice. When you’re ready to hire a Coach, we want to make sure you have the information you need to hire a REAL COACH. What we want for you is to get ALL the benefits of working with a professional.
And that’s why we created this Consumer’s Guide. Our goal is to answer some of your questions about how to find a Coach and to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about coaching and the coaching profession. When you finish reading our guide, if you have more questions you can contact us directly.
We want you to be able to confidently hire your Coach knowing you have the best information available for making sure the Coach you hire is not a counterfeit but a real, Professional Coach who knows how to move you to action and success, whatever that might be for you.
We hope you find the information valuable and if you have any questions, please email us or call.
What is Coaching?
Professional Coaching is a partnership between a qualified Coach and an individual or team (client). The partnership supports the client’s achievement of extraordinary results based on goals set by them. The process of coaching focuses the client on the skills and actions needed to successfully produce their relevant results. The client chooses the focus; the Coach listens, contributes observations, challenges assumptions, and questions concepts and principles to help generate possibilities and identify actions and solutions. Coaching accelerates the client’s progress by providing greater focus and awareness of possibilities and leading to more effective choices.
Coaching starts where the client is now and with what he/she is willing to do to get where they want to be in the future. ICF Certified Coaches recognize results are a combined effort of the client’s intentions, choices, and actions, supported by the Coach’s efforts and application of coaching skills, approaches, and methods.
An additional benefit of coaching is the client often discovers unrealized, unused, forgotten, or new skills and strengths as a result of the coaching process.
What is a Professional Coach?
The simple answer is a Professional Coach is a skilled, trained, and accredited professional who works to help clients reach a specific goal, or set of goals, in their personal or professional development. Coaching’s intent is to be a creative and thought-provoking process enabling clients to maximize their potential in specific areas most important to them.
That’s a long-winded way of saying a Professional Coach is trained to listen to clients and work with them to achieve the results they want using customized solutions created by the partnership between the Coach and client.
Think of coaching this way (and I thank one of my early clients for the analogy): Imagine Jiminy Cricket sitting on your shoulder. Remember what Jiminy did for Pinocchio? His job was to keep Pinocchio on the straight and narrow – being his conscience.
Now put a pair of army boots on Jiminy.
A Coach’s job is like Jiminy’s. Though we don’t act as your conscience, we do guide you in your choices and actions and keep your focus on the end goal. And, yes, when you need a little ‘encouragement‘ to get moving, those army boots can come in real handy.
Why Hire a Coach
We all have blind spots. We all have our own set of beliefs; things we believe are absolutely true that may not be true at all. Working with a trained Coach, someone with expertise in listening for subtleties, nuances, and the message behind the words being said, has tremendous value. Here’s why:
A Coach can make it easier for you to create a sense of what you really want. Are the choices you’re making really yours or based on what somebody else wants for me. Creating your own vision, or expectations for yourself, can bring more passion to your life and give you a more compelling foundation for your choices.
We all have questions we’re either reluctant to answer or are afraid to even ask ourselves. Working with a trained Coach in a safe environment, someone who’s an effective communicator, can very often help you answer those questions that are really important and are too uncomfortable or difficult for you to answer on our own.
A trained Coach gives you sounding board and reality check to explore possibilities, get beyond what you know, and explore your assumptions that may not be accurate. With the asking of a simple question, a Coach can get you to look at where your assumptions are getting in your way so you get past it.
Working with a trained Coach, a Professional Coach, you have someone in your corner who doesn’t have an agenda and is focused exclusively on what’s right for you, the client. No hidden agendas. No expectation of benefit to themselves.
A Coach will challenge you to be your best – to take some risk where you might not on your own. Your Coach will get you to stop talking and start doing to get the results you want.
Here are some examples of the results clients have gotten working with a Professional Coach:
- Overcame a fear of networking to grow a business
- Learned skills for establishing stronger boundaries with family for more harmonious family gatherings
- Effectively transitioning from military service into civilian life
- Creating a balance between work, family, and personal time that made sense
- Help design a strategic plan for the sale of a business resulting in grossing 2 ½ times the original sale amount
- Improving management skills for a more productive department
- Creating and managing staff training programs to reduce turnover and improve employee satisfaction
- Got professional counseling to resolve marital discord
- Gaining control over a To Do list to get more done and set priorities for daily and future tasks
A client came from a long line of men who all died at very early ages. He believed his life would follow the same pattern so he lived his life in a rush, trying to accomplish a lot, thinking he could die any day. With coaching, challenging of assumptions, delving into values and other areas of his life and his beliefs, be began to realize his fast lifestyle meant he wasn’t focusing on things really important to him, and he did many things in a haphazard way without thinking things through and knowing what he really wanted to accomplish.
This client was able to slow down, begin making choices and taking actions not based in his fear of dying. His quality of life was raised dramatically, his relationships were deeper, and his business life was more productive and fulfilling. It didn’t happen overnight for him, but it did happen.
When is the Best Time to Hire a Coach
There are a number of factors to consider about the timing of hiring a Coach.
You must have the time and/or be willing to find the time needed for coaching sessions. You need to be focused, uninterrupted, and undisturbed. You also need the time to work and focus on what you’ve talked about in your coaching sessions and to take the actions that need to be taken.
The questions or thoughts you have can be an indicator that the time is right to work with a Coach. “I’m not sure my life (or my business or my relationship) is going in the direction I want it to go in,” or “I have questions and I’m not sure who to ask to help me get clarification to find the answers,” are both perfect opportunities for you to benefit from working with a Coach.
You may be getting in your own way with attitudes and beliefs holding you back, or procrastinating about taking actions. When you’re tired of the status quo and know there’s something more for you in your life, you’re ready for a coaching.
Financially you must be in a position to afford a Coach. Paying for your Coach cannot create a hardship for you or cause you to not pay other obligations.
Mindset is also a critical factor for you. Are you willing to let go of some of your ego and admit you don’t have all the answers? Are you afraid to ask for help or does your ego prevent you from reaching out and getting the help you want and need? You have to be willing to reach out and have a partner – someone who’s on your side, and with whom you’re willing to be open and vulnerable.
Coaching can be beneficial to almost anybody. The key is you must be ready to make some changes and those are not always going to be comfortable or fun.
But that’s why you hire a Coach – to get you doing the things you don’t want to do so you can get to where you want to be.
People hire a coach to work on finances, relationships, career changes, life transitions…. The bottom line is you can hire a coach for almost any situation you’re stuck on or just don’t want to face alone, to accelerate progress toward a specific goal, or to generally upgrade your life or business. Possibilities are endless.
While everyone might be able to benefit from coaching, if the timing isn’t right, don’t hire a Coach until it is. You can use the Coachability Index in the appendix of this Guide to check your own readiness.
What Coaching Is NOT
Coaching is Not Therapy: Therapy deals with healing pain, dysfunction, and conflict within an individual or in a relationship between two or more individuals. The focus is often on resolving difficulties arising from the past which get in the way of a person’s emotional functioning in the present. Therapy helps improve overall psychological functioning, and dealing with present life and work circumstances in more emotionally healthy ways. Therapy outcomes often include improved emotional/feeling states.
Coaching, on the other hand, is forward moving and future focused. It supports personal and professional development based on client-centered goals and outcomes. While positive feelings and emotions may be (and often are) a natural outcome of coaching, the primary focus is on creating actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in the client’s work or personal life. The emphasis in a coaching relationship is on action, accountability, and follow-through.
While some therapists now offer coaching in addition to therapy, it’s typically not appropriate to work with one person using both modalities at the same time. Some people do choose to work with a Coach and therapist at the same time but they are two different professionals.
Coaching is not Consulting: Consultants are usually retained for their specialized expertise. While consulting approaches vary widely, there is often an assumption that the consultant will diagnose problems then prescribe, and sometimes implement, solutions. Solutions are based on the consultant’s background and expertise. Consultants often have pre-packaged answers.
The Coach comes to the relationship believing their clients are capable of generating their own, “fits me perfectly” solutions with the Coach supplying supportive, discovery-based approaches and frameworks. Coaches offer questions to find customized, individual solutions. While consultants often focus on fixing the problem, Coaches work on also understanding the people involved.
Coaching is not Mentoring: Mentoring is guiding or sharing from experience in a specific area of industry or career development. Although some Coaches provide mentoring as part of their coaching, such as in mentor coaching for new Coaches, Coaches are not typically mentors to those they coach. It’s not necessary for a Coach to have specific industry expertise. In fact, sometimes not having industry specific knowledge allows for greater exploration of limiting beliefs and assumptions.
Coaching is not Training: Training programs, by definition, are based on participants learning certain objectives as defined by the trainer or instructor. It also assumes a linear learning path which coincides with an established curriculum. Though objectives are clarified in the coaching process, they’re set by the client with guidance provided by the Coach. Coaching is fluid and has no set curriculum or plan. (Coaching can be a great way to follow-up, solidify, and help implement what is learned through training.)
Coaching is not like Sports Coaching: Sports metaphors are often used to describe coaching but Professional Coaching is very different from the traditional Sports Coach. The Sports Coach is seen as an expert whose job is to guide and direct the behavior of athletes and teams based on his greater experience and knowledge. Focus is often on improving behaviors that are being executed poorly or incorrectly. Sports Coaches are VERY attached to the outcomes – winning is the name of the game. AND Sports Coaches often expect to be very visible to the public.
Professional Coaches have the same qualities as sports coaches, but it’s the experience and knowledge of the client that determines the direction. Additionally, focus is on identifying opportunity for development based on individual strengths and capabilities. And Professional Coaches have no attachment to outcomes but are, instead, VERY focused on what’s best for the client … clients define their own game and the rules they will follow. Any public attention is focused on the client, not the Coach.
What Makes Credentialing Important
The coaching profession is one of the few that is not regulated and also has a low barrier to entry. Anyone can call themselves a coach without any basis for the claim – there is no background or educational requirement. Yet these are people who claim they can help you be more successful, make better decisions, make more money, and have a better life.
There are people who call themselves coaches who are really just salespeople, technicians, or trainers. One bank advertises that it has financial coaches on staff. When you talk with them, it quickly becomes apparent that they’re doing some kind of financial consulting and trying to sell you investments or insurance.
There are also many schools or coaching programs claiming to be able to teach you how to become a coach in as little as 3 days. They often call you a Certified Coach once you’ve completed their program.
Let us be very clear, here. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO BECOME A SKILLED AND QUALIFIED COACH IN 3 DAYS (or in 3 months, for that matter).
So it’s not only important for you to know whether your potential coach is certified, but also where the certification came from.
Here are 3 things you can pay attention to in your Coach selection process:
- Look for a Coach who holds a Certification from the International Coach Federation (ICF). This is a certification independent of any training program and is the benchmark of the coaching profession. ICF Certified Coaches have demonstrated their skills to coach through having completed specific coach training, documenting coaching experience hours, and demonstrating their coaching skills through written and oral examination. All ICF Certified Coaches agree to adhere to the Code of Ethics as outlined by the ICF. (See Below)
- Ask where the coach was trained, then check the ICF website to see if the school is accredited. Many of the Coach Training Schools that have been through the ICF’s rigorous accreditation process offer Graduate Certifications of some kind. While not the same as ICF Certification, accredited schools adhere to ICF standards so their Certified Coaches are both trained and have demonstrated their coaching skills.
- Many Universities now offer Coach Training Programs. Many of these institutions are not accredited by the ICF, BUT if a Coach is trained through a University program, do some research to determine the source of their accreditation. Usually, these programs do train high-quality Professional Coaches.
One other word of caution: There are other independent organizations offering coaching certifications. Some of these require only that you complete a form and pay a fee. There is no training or testing of coaching skills. BE WARY!
ICF Code of Ethics
The ICF Code of Ethics is an extensive document that defines the standards of behavior for Coaches certified by the organization. The body of the document includes:
- ICF Definition of Coaching
- ICF Standard of Ethical Conduct For Professional Coaches at Large
- Conflicts of Interest
- Professional Conduct With Clients
- Confidentiality and Privacy
One of the requirements for Certification by the ICF is for the Coach to agree with, and adhere to, the current ICF Philosophy and Definition of Coaching, Pledge of Ethics, and Standards of Ethical Conduct. An ICF Certified Coach who violates this pledge can face sanctions, including the loss of their credential. (For the entire document, visit the ICF website at ICF Pledge of Ethics)
What Should I Ask a Coach Before I Hire One?
The coaching relationship is a very personal one. In many cases, a client will tell their Coach things they’d never share with anyone else. One of the reasons is the Coach creates a very safe environment for open communication and sharing. The Coach comes to sessions with no agenda and no judgment. Sessions are all about the client.
That said, there are still things you want to pay attention to when interviewing Coaches. First make sure you feel good with the coach, ie, do you click? Not every Coach can work with every client. Personalities do play a part in your selection but that’s not enough.
Next, ask some questions. Here are some you may want to consider:
How long have they been coaching? Generally speaking, the longer a Coach as been in the field, the more clients they’ve coached and the more experience they have. That’s not to say a newer Coach won’t be effective for you, just less experienced.
What training do they have? Have they had any training as a Coach? Are they currently in a training program? Is the training program accredited by the ICF? If not, did they get training in the skills and competencies standard in the coaching profession?
What credentials do they have? ICF credentials are currently granted at 3 levels:
Credentials granted by specific training organizations may have limited value as there is no standard to judge the requirements fulfilled by the coach. For example, a Certification for a 3-day or 3-month coach training program only means the coach paid their fee and completed whatever course work was required. You have no way of knowing whether that coach can actually deliver the service of coaching to you.
What is their format? Do they coach in person or by phone? How many times per month will you work together? How long are the coaching sessions? Do they require a minimum commitment for the number of months? What is their fee?
How would they define their style of coaching? How will they adapt their style to yours? Coaching is very personal and every Coach has a unique style. Some Coaches may be too ‘soft’ for you, others too ‘rigid’. Once you begin work with a Coach, if you find their style doesn’t fit for you, you can end that relationship and find another Coach more suited to you and your personality. A Professional Coach will be able and willing to provide you with the names of other coaches who may be more suited to you.
What is their background? If you want a Coach to work with you on your business, you want one who can model that. If you want to live with more balance, you want a Coach who lives that way. Do they have experience working with clients like you? What kinds of successes have their clients had? You wouldn’t go to a divorce lawyer to file a bankruptcy. Why would you hire a Coach to work with you on your business who specializes in working with stay-at-home moms and life balance?
What do they do for continuing education? How do they upgrade their skills and stay fresh with their coaching?
Do they have a Coach of their own? There is no Coach we respect who does not have a Coach of their own. It only makes sense – Coaches are telling clients everyone can benefit from coaching. When asked if they have a Coach, if their response is, “No”, they’re really saying, “You need one. I don’t”. There’s an integrity issue here and one that would make me question the value of coaching with this coach.
How do they see starting their work with you? Will they start with an assessment of some kind or do they have a specific process they follow? Is there something they require from you (pre-work) before you begin coaching?
Top 11 Red Flags for Spotting a Counterfeit Coach
- Unbelievably Low Price – Currently, Life Coaches charge between $150 and $500 per month, while Business Coaches charge between $250 and $750 per month. While most Coaches charge by the month, 20% charge by the hour, and 13% by the project.
Newer Coaches tend to charge fees on the low end of the scale but if they are trained and qualified, they will not “give it away.” You’ve heard the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Pay attention to it.
- Guaranteed Results – No Coach can guarantee results. Clients must be motivated and willing to work with the Coach and results will be dependent on the client’s efforts. It’s the Coach’s job to keep the client moving in the direction of their goals. It’s the client’s job to take the actions to achieve their goals.
- Unsupported Claims – Trained Coaches who adhere to ethical guidelines of a professional organization will not make promises for results they can’t deliver — they will under-promise and over deliver. Professional Coaches will never share the names of clients unless those clients have given their consent to do so. Confidentiality is foundational to the coaching relationship.
- Standardized Programs – Like those offered at seminars, these programs are not coaching, they are training or mentoring in a specific discipline or skill. They follow a defined agenda to teach the material provided. Coaching is all about the agenda of the Client, is very fluid, and does not follow a linear path.
- Evasive – A Coach who refuses to share their background, coach training, or certifications is likely counterfeit.
- High-Pressure Sales Techniques – There is NOTHING high pressure about coaching. A Professional Coach will share information about coaching with you, answer your questions, and give you what you need to make your choice.
- Long-Term Commitments – While most Coaches ask for a three to six-month commitment, it’s not a contract that can’t be broken. The time they ask for is because when you hire a Coach, you’re inviting change and change takes time. In the course of your coaching, if you find the coaching isn’t working for you, no Professional Coach will make you stay in the relationship. A counterfeit coach might hold you to it.
- Advertising Coaching as a Solution to Therapy Issues – Coaching IS NOT therapy and you should run as fast as you can from a coach who crosses that line. We’ve seen some coaches’ web sites that advertise the coach will work with people around:
When you see something like this you know you’ve found a counterfeit coach.
- They Got Into Coaching Because They’re a “People Person” – The coaching conversation is unlike any other conversation. A Coach isn’t a friend or parent. The focus of coaching isn’t just to have a nice conversation. A coaching conversation leads to action that leads to results and a Professional Coach is trained in the skills of creating powerful conversations.
- The Dabbler – This is the person who offers lots of products and services that are unrelated. They have no focus: They’re a Jack-of-all-trades, master of none. We run into people here all the time and each time we meet them they offer us a different business card with a new venture they’re involved in. Many of them have included coaching in their many offerings. If they become your coach, how would they be able to focus you if they can’t even focus themselves? And you can bet they have no coach of their own!
- Bait and Switch – You hire them to be your coach and they can’t wait to sell you other products and services for substantial fees. Beware the upsell.
Top 6 Myths About Coaching
- All coaches are professionals who can help you achieve your goals. Wrong! All coaches are NOT equal. Training and experience differentiate the Professional Coach from the counterfeits. Even with Professional Coaches, not all are equally suited to coach you. Use our guidelines to find the best coach for you.
- The only reason to hire a Coach is vanity. If vanity is your motivation, save your money. You hire a Coach because you want something more in your life or your business: money, profits, quality of life, time, better communication, the list is endless. You hire a Coach to smooth the road to change.
- I can get coached by a friend and save a lot of money. Friends are blessings in our lives, but is your friend a trained professional you can trust to coach you without bias on the most important aspects of your life or business? Will they hold you accountable to your goals, desires, and aspirations? Do you really want to burden your friendship with that responsibility? Better to keep your friends separate from your Coach. Friends and family, even when well intentioned, usually have some kind of agenda of their own for you. Most people discover the money they spend on coaching is a bargain for the return they get back.
- Life Coaches are for personal goals and Business Coaches are for business goals. Here’s the bottom line: Coaching is coaching is coaching. A trained professional can work with clients in either their personal lives or their business. Some Coaches may choose to focus on one area or another, but they have the skills to coach both. And when it comes down to it, even when Coaches work with clients on their business, they are still coaching the person, and people have personal stuff come up even in a business setting.
- Coaching takes too much time. We’ve seen change happen in a matter of minutes. We’ve seen clients achieve remarkable results with as little as 1 hour of coaching a month. There’s a wide variety of ways coaching can be delivered – some Coaches prefer face-to-face meetings while most Coaches elect phone sessions for working with clients. While each Coach defines the structure their coaching takes, most Coaches and clients prefer 2-3 sessions per month for 30-45 minutes each and all delivered by phone. It’s a small investment of time for the results that are possible.
- A coach will tell you what to do. A Professional Coach is not a consultant or sports coach. They don’t tell you what to do. They work with you to find options so you can make the best choices for yourself. Coaches believe people are more motivated to complete tasks they choose for themselves than tasks assigned by someone else. Only a counterfeit coach will tell you what to do.
Top 9 Mistakes When Hiring a Coach
- Choosing a Coach Based on Low Price – This can be a problem in 4 ways: 1) It can be a bait-and-switch tactic where once you’ve retained the coach, you will be pressured into spending more and buying something you don’t want or need; 2) The price may cover only a single coaching issue and you could end up paying a premium price for additional services; 3) Low price may mean the coach has little or no training or experience; 4) A low-priced coach may have little confidence in their own ability to coach, and this will be reflected in the way they coach.
- Choosing a Coach Based on False Promises – There was a coach on the East Coast who advertised a promise to “Cure Depression in 3 Sessions”. Depression requires diagnoses and treatment by a qualified mental health professional, ie, a therapist. A Professional Coach will not take on a client looking for help with depression and would NEVER advertise it as being a service they offer.
- Choosing a Coach Based on A Web Site – No Professional Coach we know of will take on a client without first having some personal interaction with them. The Coach may send you to their website to learn more about them and their work, however coaching is a very personal relationship and needs a personal touch before either the Coach or client decides they want to work together. If the Coach has other Coaches working for them, be sure you can interview your potential coach.
- Choosing a Coach After a Single Interaction – If you’re interviewing coaches you’ve never met, you need to speak with more than one. Professional Coaches want you have the best “fit” possible with your Coach. They will encourage you to interview other Coaches before making your choice and will even provide you with names of other Coaches.
The exception to this is when you meet a Coach in business or social situations. You may find you have some kind of connection that’s comfortable for you with that Coach and hire them without interviewing others. (We have worked with many clients who met with us after a business introduction and hired us on the spot.) You will, of course, still want to check out their training and credentialing claims.
- Choosing a Coach Who Won’t Offer A Trial – Most Professional Coaches offer a complimentary session as a ‘taste’ of what coaching is and how it can benefit the client. It’s pretty standard in the industry. If you’ve had a lengthy conversation getting to know each other before you hire the Coach, a trial session may not be necessary. The chances are you’ve already experienced some coaching in that conversation.
- Choosing a Coach Who Holds You to a Contract – If the coaching relationship isn’t working for you, you shouldn’t stay in it. Coaching holds your best interests as primary. Make sure you get it up front that you’re not signing up for an extended period of time (and cost) no matter what the relationship turns out to be.
- Choosing a Coach Who Has No Training – Given everything we’ve already said, this seems remedial, but there are far too many people calling themselves coaches who’ve never bothered to be trained by a reputable coach training program. We can’t stress this enough: MAKE SURE YOUR COACH HAS THE TRAINING TO BE A COACH!
- Choosing a Coach Because They’re Nice – As we’ve said, you do want to feel a connection, but it’s the training and skills of the Coach that will get you results. You want to be sure your Coach is willing and able to challenge you to be your best, even when it’s uncomfortable.
- Choosing a Coach Who’s Not Certified – The best Coaches either are certified, or are working toward becoming certified by a professional body, such as the International Coach Federation (http://www.coachfederation.org) the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (www.wabccoaches.com) or the International Association of Coaches (www.certifiedcoach.org). Make sure any Coach you retain is affiliated with at least one of these professional organizations.
There is no shortage of people holding themselves out to be coaches. There may even be some counterfeit coaches who can move you to action and results. Maybe not as fast and effectively as a Professional Coach, but results none-the-less.
The problem, though, is that until you’ve invested some time and money with them, you won’t know.
Better to begin with the greater possibility of hiring a Coach who’s been trained and has the skill to get you moving to the results you want.
We think most people can benefit from having a Coach. We even have our own Coaches and have since we began our own coaching businesses in 1994.
We are militant about the coaching profession and the counterfeit coaches who cheat the public by offering services they’re not qualified to provide. Well intentioned or not, a counterfeit coach should be ‘selling’ what they do, not what they think they do. Call mentoring, training, consulting, and advice-giving what they are and leave the coaching to the Professionals.
Coaching is powerful. We know what’s possible … We want you to have the best and most productive experience with the Coach you hire.
Be an informed consumer. Hire the best … that means Beware the Counterfeit Coach!