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Who Cares About Certification? by Chad Hall, PCC

Apr 5th, 2012 | By | Category: Training & Certification Guest Posts

As a coach and trainer of coaches – both in academic and corporate settings – I enjoy the questions and conversations surrounding the topic of coach certification. Through the years, I have noticed a lot of interest in the topic and how the topic elicits some strong opinions, many of which are not all that helpful.

These strong opinions probably have as much to do with one’s personality as with anything else. The opinions grow stronger the deeper one gets into coaching and often can keep the coach (or would-be coach) stuck until there is a shift, or a breakthrough, when the person loosens their opinion and welcomes in some counter-thoughts.

What are these strong opinions? I have noticed four stances toward certification that keep people stuck:

1. “Certification equals clients.”

Ginger engaged three of the coaching courses I teach at Western Seminary, and she had a difficult time releasing a type of scholastic perspective where the path to success is clearly defined and proceeds through measurable steps. This is the attitude of, “If I do X amount of work, I will get the grade I want.” When it came to coaching, Ginger believed that if she earned a certain level of certification, then she would automatically get clients. But while certification can have a bearing upon getting clients, this is not a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Ginger became frustrated as she learned that certification did not inevitably produce a queue of clients ready to benefit from her certified coaching services.

2. “Clients don’t care about certification, so why should I?”

Lack of regulation and the low cost of entry to the profession can make coaching an attractive career choice for rugged individual go-getter types. I believe any successful coach needs a heavy dose of self-starter savvy, but some coaches take this too far. I know a handful of coaches who, early in their careers, dismissed ICF certification based on their belief that ability and reputation as a coach trumped certification, that clients were not at all concerned with certification. These coaches had some early successes that only confirmed their opinion that ICF certification was unnecessary and would distract from the business of coaching…but this attitude is polluted with either/or thinking. When coaches hold too aggressively to an anti-certification stance, they create blind spots that fail to account for the many benefits of certification.

3. “I have my own certification.”

Another opinion is that while certification matters, the ICF is not the preferred certifying organization. Christian coaches can particularly fall into this line of thinking since we like to form our own “faith ghettos” for practically any field, profession, interest group, or hobby. While there is value in most any certification process, I often am curious as to why a coach avoids or resists certification from the ICF. Sometimes there is a financial reason, since the ICF process can be costly. Other coaches simply do not want to put forth the effort required by the ICF certification process. And others are so loyal to a given organization or coach training school that they feel gaining ICF certification would represent a diminishment of their loyalty. As the ICF continues to gain reputation as the professional organization for coaches, I believe those who embrace certification while resisting the ICF will be making a mistake.

4. “Certification is coaching.”

A fourth attitude I’ve encountered was well-articulated by Leon as we began a mentor coaching relationship a few years ago. He hired me to help him gain the 10 hours of mentor coaching required for ICF certification. When I asked him about his goals as a coach, he struggled to talk about coaching apart from certification. The longer we talked, the more I realized that his world of coaching was only as big as the world of certification; he seemed far more interested in gaining certification than in actually coaching clients. This is an unfortunate attitude because is misplaces the emphasis – from the client and her agenda to the coach and his identity.

As you can imagine, each of these attitudes has some valid aspects to it while also failing to take into account other powerful and important perspectives.

Coaches who get too hung up on certification (and/or ICF membership) can detach from the actual practice of coaching and let development as a coach become the overriding outcome. But when the coach’s development becomes an end in itself, the impact on clients is truncated…and the true value of being an effective coach is lost.

On the other end of the spectrum, coaches who dismiss certification do so at their own peril and the peril of their clients. Clients benefit from coaches who bring to the table more than just their undeveloped raw ability. Certification is valuable because coaches who engage this process grow their ability by stretching themselves beyond their natural skill areas and forcing themselves to develop a more well-rounded approach to coaching.

Beyond the personal growth of the coach, certification is growing increasingly important for getting new clients and retaining current clients. I see two important reasons for this:

First, clients are becoming much savvier about the field of coaching. Waning are the days when the coach could leverage client ignorance to avoid discussing credentials and certification and steer the client to value other factors more heavily when deciding who to hire.

As the profession matures, we will engage fewer and fewer potential clients who know little about coaching, including the topic of certification. Clients will search the web, learn about the field, and do their due diligence to make sure they are getting the highest value from the coaching relationship. And like any consumer, coaching clients will want the best coaching possible and the assurance that a coach will meet external standards. This is a good thing. Informed clients will push the profession forward and force coaches to sharpen their skills.

Second, your own network is only so large. As long as you have a first-degree connection (or a second-degree introduction that will become a first-degree connection) with a potential client, experience and reputation can get you very far. The best coaches can transform happy clients into referrals and grow their client pool through introductions. But there is a limit to how many potential clients a single coach can know or know about. When a connection remains second-degree, certification grows in importance.

More and more coaching relationships are being brokered. The person with the first-degree connection to an organization makes the deal and brings with him or her a stable of coaches who will provide the coaching. In this scenario, the stakeholder in the organization needs a way of vetting the coaches who are a part of the project. Certification is the clearest single way of demonstrating that an otherwise unknown coach is competent and will add value to the project. As both a broker of coaches and a coach whose services have been brokered, I can attest that certification is central to these kinds of projects. And the larger the project, the more important certification becomes.

Should you pursue certification with the ICF? It depends.

It depends on how professional a coach you want to be. I know pastors who coach only their parishioners and staff members and who do a wonderful job with the skills they have developed through sound training. When adding coaching to another primary role (such as pastor, manager, team leader, etc.), certification is less important.

It depends on how much coaching you want to do. I know of some retired men and women who coach as a way of staying active and creating a small stream of income. If a coach wants to maintain a micro-practice consisting of a handful of clients, certification likely shouldn’t be on the top of her priority list.

It depends on how defined your niche is. I went through coach training with a very experienced (and wealthy) real estate agent who decided to leverage his experience to coach other agents specializing in high-end properties. He offered a mix of coaching, mentoring, and consulting to a tightly targeted client pool. For coaches like this gentleman, I believe certification is less necessary. Certainly, he could grow as a coach through the certification process, but his services are dependant on so many other factors that the increased effectiveness or client attraction that comes from certification might not be worth the effort.

It depends on how you collaborate. Coaches who prefer to go it alone and do not want to partner with other coaches on larger projects might not face some of the market pressures that make certification more valuable. Coaches who want to gain new clients without owning the business development process will find certification very important as they rely on having their services brokered and coaching referred clients.

It depends on how you help the profession grow. The way new coaches are trained and certified is through investing targeted time with seasoned coaches. And, of course, the ICF certification process requires a candidate to work with a PCC or MCC coach. If you want to earn the right to speak into the profession, train other coaches, and be respected by your peers, certification is important. If you want to serve as an ICF-approved mentor coach for other coaches, certification is a must.

As you consider your own coach certification path and how to talk with others about the topic, keep these factors in mind. I encourage you to seek some coaching about your own blind spots or stuck perspectives related to coach certification. Do you value it too highly? Do you not value it highly enough? How is your current perspective serving you? How is it hindering you?

Chad Hall is Director of Coaching and a member of the teaching faculty at Western Seminary as well as a Founding Partner of Coach Approach Ministries.

This article is used with permission and was originally published in Christian Coaching Magazine at .

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