No experience, education, or certification necessary to be a professional life coach

Published by Peter on

You can be a life coach. Right now. Yes, you who just turned 19, haven’t taken a class since high school graduation, and still live in your parents’ house with a part time job at Shake Shack. Go ahead! All you have to do is say you’re a professional life coach. And *poof*, it’s true.

Unfortunately, this fact allows anyone who thinks they have all the answers to charge you a bundle for all their answers. Even though their answers might be all wrong for you.

Don’t look for answers, or even advice, from your coach

The world is full of successful people whose advice on how to become successful would be absolutely terrible. A lot of people who’ve had great success—myself included—often fail to see the luck, timing, and privilege that helped them achieve great things. We downplay the role others had in our successes while highlighting the role others had in our failures and stagnations.

Successful people also have a hard time understanding that there could be many pathways to the success they achieved.

How I learned that my style isn’t your style

From 2001 to 2008 at Wells Fargo I worked for a phenomenal woman, Joan McDade, who was competitive and driven to make a big change in the world. She had her vision for how things should be done, and she worked hard to get people on board with her vision. I admired her tenacity, her grit, and her stamina as well as her intelligence and savvy.

I have a very different work style. I am more casual, inclusive, affable, laid back. I prefer to co-create vision with the team and lead people rather than direct them. I learned a lot from Joan during those years, but I also wondered if I had what it would take to do the job if she moved on. I didn’t think I could do what she did.

In 2008, Joan moved on in the worst possible way. Despite my insecurity about being able to press Joan’s legacy forward, I applied and was selected for the role.

Somewhere during the time I was working for Joan, I went through Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder and came to understand that different work styles can achieve success in the same role, but in different ways.

So, over the next ten years I often asked myself, “What would Joan do” because I knew Joan’s heart, compassion, and integrity were characteristics I admired in her. I never spent any time on “How would Joan do it” though, because trying to mold myself to someone else’s leadership and management style would more likely result in frustration and confusion than in success.

And a lot of success followed over the next ten years. Thanks not only to my leadership and quality, but also to good luck, good timing, and an amazing team of people I relied on every day.

But if you’re my client, I won’t spend time telling you what I did or how I did it (unless you ask, in which case I will, gladly). What I learned in that time was how to be successful in my style, in that time, with those circumstances.

What kind of experience matters in a professional life coach?

What I also learned during that time, and the years before and since, is how to adapt, grow, and design my life to match my core values and desires. That’s the kind of thing you should look for in the life experience of a professional life coach, or even a career or executive coach.

My 30+ years across a wide range of jobs in many different types of organizations has given me a broad view of work, work styles, work relationships, organizational structures, and more. That does not mean I can tell you what to say to your difficult manager, but it does give me all the tools to help you look at your situation holistically, from many different angles, and consider things you may not have thought of. Ultimately, you have to decide what to do, but I can help you reach your own decisions.

I’m recently divorced from a 31-year marriage, and my ex and I are still good friends. We raised two amazing kids who are now young adults; one is a transgender EMT, and the other is an Eagle Scout about to start a PhD program. I’ve moved cross country and traveled all over the world. I’ve published four novels and many articles. I’ve been laid off three times, had to leave a toxic job, and have made at least four major career pivots.

What should matter to you is not whether a coach has a particular item of experience, but what wisdom and perspective they’ve gained from what they’ve done and what has happened to them. You want your coach to be able to help you look at your own life and goals and values in new ways, to build your own clarity of purpose and direction.

The best coaches set aside their personal experiences; otherwise, we could end up projecting our own biases onto your situation. Coaches should not lead you to conclusions; coaches should have enough perspective and wisdom to help you lead yourself to your own best conclusions.

What education and certification should a coach have?

That’s why I think it’s important for a professional life coach to be a member of the International Coaching Federation, and to have education from an ICF accredited program. It’s why I enrolled in the program at UC Davis, which I will graduate from this weekend.

I could have just put up this website and started charging people when I decided to start coaching.

But there is an intentional structure to coaching sessions, and a rigor to the practice of coaching that leads to much better outcomes with longer lasting results. I am really grateful I decided to go through the program at UC Davis. I’ve learned a tremendous amount which I hope has benefited the already 25+ clients I’ve worked with.

Beware people who have all the answers

What you most want in a coach is not someone who has all the right answers, but someone who has all the right questions.

If you want to explore whether coaching is for you right now, or whether I might be a good fit for what you need, hmu through my contact page.

1 Comment

Book launch! Business launch! - Gray Bear Coaching LLC · May 30, 2023 at 4:40 pm

[…] One year ago, on June 4th, I completed my coaching certificate at UC Davis. That was the first milestone on the road to creating Gray Bear Coaching. […]

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