Four Types of Life and Business Coaches

There are at least four types of life and business coaches.

We are now half way into the second decade of the modern coaching profession. Many new developments that have taken place over these years. The landscape for professional coaching looks quite different from what it did in the early days of Thomas Leonard, considered by most to be the grand daddy of the profession.

The most noticeable difference is the sheer number of those who advertise their services as a coach and the areas of society into which they provide those services.

There is a coach for almost everything and from almost every background. Life coaching can be segmented to relationship coaching, marriage coaching, teen coaching, career, transition, ADD, weight … you name it and there is a coach for it. Business is just about the same. You can find a coach for the upwardly mobile, the downwardly mobile, family firms, corporate internal and external, boards, mergers, solo-preneur, marketing, business plans … again, you name it and there is a coach.

Since coaching is not a regulated industry, training can vary significantly.

I’ve identified four types of individuals who promote themselves as coaches. It is not the purpose of this article to tell you one is better than the other if you are trying to solve a problem and move forward by bringing in someone to assist you. But I will say that you need to do your homework and ask the questions of your potential coach that YOU think are important to ask. There are differences.

Formally Trained Coaches – These are coaches who have taken specific training from an organization that specializes in such. There are many of these private organizations around. More and more colleges and universities have jumped on the bandwagon and many courses are available around the world. Additionally over the last few years, private ‘mom and pop’ training organizations have sprung up like mushrooms. With each of these, courses can be quite focused or specialized in one area. Other courses are more comprehensive, setting a solid foundation and building the knowledge and skills for later specialization and professionalism. The actual formal training spans from a few sessions to multi-module, self-paced programs.

Self-Declared Coaches – These coaches have no formal coach specific training, but based on personal experience and topical knowledge and riding on the wave of the popularity and acceptance of coaching and their own personal desire to help people, have tossed their hat in the ring. Often their people skills suit them well as coaches. They develop their own methodology for coaching clients, many times based on reading books and personal determination or on the professional training they have in some other profession which they feel applicable to coaching. They simply modify and overlay the template from a former profession like counselling or consulting for instance, on to their new role as coach.

Designated Coaches – These coaches are appointed or designated ‘the coach’ by their business unit, church, non-profit or some authoritative body. They were probably noted for their good people skills and ability to help people change and move forward before they were asked to assume the mantle of coaching. They may fit the preconceived idea the governing body had of what coaching is. They may have no formal coach specific training or only a few hours or days of a coaching course for which they were sponsored. Many of these coaches find themselves eager to learn more and go on to get formal training.

Theme Trained Coaches – These coaches have been given training around a body of work, an individual or a specific set of beliefs. Increasingly public speakers now refer to one strand of their work as coaching and train independent providers from their body of literature or programs and send them out as coaches. This more widely disseminates their message and provides support as the public implements their teachings. Well known motivational speakers have taken this approach and carry a cohort of coaches with them. Some internet entrepreneurs use the same approach, providing products and programs that address very specific problems or opportunities and provide coaching as a back-end to help implement their particular solution. Other very clearly identified groups sponsor their own coaches to work with their specific constituency.

Over time, hybrids of all four types of coaches have emerged. Is the public well served by this? Probably, maybe and maybe not. There is no guarantee that a coach with a string of initials behind their name will help you achieve anything more than someone self-taught but brilliant at asking penetrating questions and turning good wishes into actionable steps. And there is no guarantee that some well-meaning individual who has no initials and no formal coaching skills can take you anywhere but through nice conversations.

Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. The first one who had better ask the penetrating questions is the one who will be putting their money down for the service.

Gary Wood
Executive Coach and Director of Christian Coaches Network

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