What Makes for a True Coaching Professional?

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In this current time when anybody can call themselves a coach, how can you trust and know you have identified a professional coach? How do you know who has earned the right, just as in any professional field such as medicine, law, engineering etc, to present themselves as a qualified coach?

This is a hot topic of much passion and interest for Dr Susie Linder-Pelz. Having had more than 20 years as a research academic and 17 years pioneering as one of Australia’s very first professional coaches, specialising in career coaching, Susie has a unique vantage-point from which to view the emerging profession of coaching, including its opportunities, the threats to the field and most importantly how this impacts individuals and organisations buying coaching services.

Susie’s first response to the question “what makes for a true coaching professional?”, is to quote a piano tuner who recently told the Sydney Morning Herald, that it seems to be fairly easy for someone to say “I’m a piano tuner” and go into someone’s house and make an awful mess. This threat of unqualified piano tuners has resulted in the first ever formal piano-tuning course now being established in Australia.

“All the more reason”, Susie emphatically says, “that when it comes to the extensive impact a coach can have on a person’s life and on an entire organisation, a true professional must have solid qualifications. Coaches need to have rigorous training and formal credentials. They also need to commit to ethical practice by belonging to a professional body with standards and regulations.”

Susie likes Dr Tony Grant’s (U. Sydney) definition of a professional coach as “someone who offers coaching that is evidence-based, collaborative, solution-focused, results oriented, systematic and facilitative of performance, life experience, self-directed learning and purposive growth”.

“Evidence-based” coaching means, first, the coach understands and can articulate the theoretical premises and principles underlying their approach to coaching.Their coaching practice is grounded in established psychological theory and research. Second, a truly professional coach seeks empirical evidence that her/his coaching works (i.e. gets clients the outcomes they came to coaching for).

Susie suggests that when an individual or an organisation is exploring coaching of any kind that they should be asking the potential coach to articulate the theoretical premises and the empirical evidence that their coaching methodology works.

When asking Susie how she has gathered this critical data, it has been through doing systematic research on her clients’ outcomes including:

Comparing outcome state with presenting state
Checking with the client whether outcomes were reached
Assessing qualitatively using detailed client notes
Researching quantitatively using her detailed client notes.

Through this research and documentation Susie has evidence that 92% of her career coaching clients reached the outcomes they stated they wanted. Compared with other studies of the effectiveness of coaching, this finding suggests that Susie’s approach is even more effective. Interesting for Susie and her clients!

Susie is also able to state, from analyzing unsolicited feedback from clients over a 10 year period, she has found three recurring themes:

  1. Clients experienced positive outcomes
  2. Clients could see and reflect on motives, feelings, desires.
  3. They got tools and strategies to make positive changes.

Late last year (2005) Susie presented at the Second Australian Evidence Based Coaching Conference at Sydney University. Her paper, written with Dr L. Michael Hall, documented in considerable detail the foundations of the Meta-Coaching methodology and its theoretical origins that underpin much of Susie’s work as coach.

“And of course”, Susie says, “it helps a coach’s credibility if this research is published in peer-reviewed journals or books.” Susie has published her qualitative research in the book “From Fear to Courage” and the paper written with Dr Hall will appear in a text on evidence-based coaching in 2006.

Susie says, “We live in a consumer society and age where people want to compare services and want value for money, and of course want to get the outcomes or results they are paying for. This is especially poignant at a time when there is a new and emerging profession such as coaching. There is a lot of discussion and concern out there that there are people who do not have the skill to really help clients get what they want.”

When asked about these people who are claiming that they have more skills and qualifications than they really have, Susie sighs, “It is misleading and is not good for the profession. Mud sticks. Coaches must have standards, and professional coaches do. We are able to say what we are offering and give the evidence that this is the case. Our potential clients are far too cluey and critical for us to be slack on this”.

Susie assesses, “there is currently a big sorting out process and we are close to half way to defining the field of coaching and carving out a true profession.” And what typifies a profession? “There is an essential body of knowledge that everybody in that profession and beyond agrees is essential for somebody practising in this field. There will be industry-wide agreed benchmarks and standards.

“Australia is recognised as a pioneer in leading the field to a profession, through Sydney University’s postgraduate degree in coaching psychology, the Meta-Coach Foundation (MCF) and their 26 benchmarked coaching skills, seven coaching specific models and, of course, the ongoing ethical work of the International Coach Federation (ICF).”

With Susie’s unique background, her personal intent is to be a bridge between practitioners at the coalface of coaching and academics verifying coaching models through qualitative and quantitative research.

Susie’s final words to buyers of coaching; “Use the same criteria you would in making any significant purchase for yourself or your organisation. Ask the questions I have suggested of your potential coach, and if they cannot answer them, they simply are not a true coaching professional”.

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