The ‘I’m a coach’ conversation

I was speaking with a person at a networking event a little while ago and this is how the conversation went:

“What do you do?” I asked

“I’m a coach” came the reply.

“Where did you train or qualify?”

“Oh, I haven’t. I’m more of a mentor really.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I’m good at finding solutions based on my extensive experience.”

“So, how did you train as a mentor?”

“I haven’t, but I use a coaching approach.”

“What do you mean by “coaching approach”?”

“I ask lots of questions to understand the problem, before I give them my suggestions.”

This is a shortened version of the conversation, but I have remarkably similar conversations on a regular basis with people who call themselves “coaches”.

My thoughts

Let me share a few reflections on this as it seems that it would be helpful if we, as professionals, used the same, correct terminology to describe what we do. That way our customers can be clear about the type of intervention they might need and who to turn to for help.

A coach’s role is to help their client learn, develop and grow. The coachee should, through the intervention, become more self-aware, confident and resourceful. The coach should not find solutions or give advice. The coachee should find their own solutions and through the process learn and develop their ability to resolve issues and challenges themselves going forward.

So why do people call themselves a coach, when that’s not what they are? Adviser, a more appropriate title, has really fallen out of favour over the last decade, while coaching has become hot. But I am wondering how often this is a false trade description and misleading customers? Adopting a fashionable title simply serves to confuse.

When challenged around their coaching credentials, many use ‘mentoring’ as an excuse to justify why they give advice, and also to bypass their need for any training. But they miss the point that mentoring requires the same skills as a coach, and a mentor will still focus on helping the client learn, develop and grow. The main difference between coaching and mentoring is simply that the mentor has experience they may share in this process – but a good mentor does not give advice either!

Lastly, the person in the story above said that they used a coaching approach by asking questions to understand the problem. This is NOT coaching! This is problem solving, where the questions aim to diagnose the problem in order that they can then prescribe a solution.

A big business opportunity for advisers

I think there is a real opportunity for experts to call themselves advisers again. Sometimes clients don’t want or need coaching, they need somebody with expertise in a particular field to come in to quickly understand a situation, and through their expertise and experience provide a good solid solution. It would be easier for clients to choose between a coach and an adviser if both were clear about their credentials, what they do, how they help, and they use the correct terminology.

Coaches and coaching approach

There is a huge benefit for many advisers to be able to coach their clients in certain situations alongside their advisory role, but to truly coach well they need to be well trained and if they want to do it with credibility, they should be qualified.

Really good advisers with coaching skills will ‘flip’ in and out of coaching. Knowing when to coach and when not to is an important skill to master.

I don’t have a problem when people say they use a coaching approach, but only if they are aware that this means that they aim to develop and grow their client’s abilities. They then need to reflect on whether they are actually doing this and whether they have the competencies to do it well.

Professional advisers usually take great pride in their expertise and have spent countless hours if not years in building up their knowledge and experience. If they chose to call themselves a coach (or a mentor), I truly hope that they will take the same level of pride in this title and build the knowledge, skills and experience to earn it.

If you are interested in gaining a coaching qualification you may want to have a look at our Certificate in Coaching programme.

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