Okay, you have decided you want to be an executive coach. You have business experience, and you have the behavioral skills that are necessary for successful coaching. Where do you go to build your coaching skills? I will briefly describe several ways to learn about executive coaching. These include academic institutions, coach certification programs, online programs, local coaching peer groups, reading, and executive peer advisory companies that train coaches/facilitators.
Academic Programs: Very few academic programs exist that will prepare you for a career in coaching. Only a scattering of MBA courses in executive coaching have been created and taught. The problem in academia is that very few faculty members have the experience or skills to teach executive coaching.
Coach Certification Programs: A few coach certification programs are taught in academic-like settings. The College of Executive Coaching has an impressive roster of coaching faculty and offers a program of training and mentoring by a master coach. Another top-rated program is the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, or iPEC. Both The College of Executive Coaching and iPEC offer programs in several urban locations. The Fielding Institute, in Santa Barbara, California, offers courses that will prepare professionals for executive coaching. There are certification programs like those offered by the International Coaching Federation that require many hours of supervised experience with a master coach in order to be accredited as a coach. Other institutes, like the Gestalt Institute, of Cleveland, Ohio, help coaching students adopt a holistic approach to working with coaching clients. These programs profess to be rigorous, and they require many hours of training. However, the verdict is still out on whether these programs truly prepare executive coaches who deeply understand the coaching process.
Online Programs: As in so many other areas today, coaching certification programs and coaching associations are becoming increasingly internet-based. While these types of online programs are probably emerging to meet the growing demand for the services of the coaching profession, many experienced coaches have serious doubts about the efficacy of these programs. A “one-size-fits-all” commodity approach to executive coaching is a recipe for disappointment. An executive coaching certification program is an intensive, interpersonal developmental process requiring face-to-face mentoring from a master coach; it simply cannot be achieved over the internet.
Coaching Groups: One way to learn more about coaching is through interacting with other executive coaches. In joining a coaching group, try to seek out coaches who really understand what coaching is all about. Several years ago, I founded a group of executive coaches who met monthly and explored different approaches to coaching. Some coaches went through Gestalt training; another worked on deep change techniques using brain research as the basis for her approach to coaching. Still others were graduates of academic programs that taught courses in leadership, communication, and change. One was an experienced executive who was self-taught as a coach. Being part of a professional network of colleagues who engage in effective coaching will enhance continued learning about the coaching process.
Reading: A great deal of knowledge about coaching can be acquired through reading. Dozens of books and articles have been written about coaching. However, the quality of these publications varies greatly. I have a personal bias toward coaching books that are based on a change model. After all, change is what coaching is all about. Readings that have change at their core are rare. Here are a few recommended readings: Leading Change, by John P. Kotter; Deep Change, by Robert E. Quinn; Grow Your Own Leaders: How to Identify, Develop and Retain Leadership Talent, by William C. Byham, Audrey Smith, and Matthew J. Paese; Profiles in Coaching, edited by Howard Morgan, Phil Harkens, and Marshall Goldsmith; and Leading with Soul, by Lee G. Bolman and Terrance E. Deal, which is a parable with an excellent example of a coach and a coachee as they experience the process of coaching.
Peer Advisory Programs: Companies exist that train coaches in support of their mission to help their executive clients succeed. I have been associated with one such company for over 20 years. Vistage International (formerly TEC) recruits former top executives with a high aptitude for coaching and behavioral professionals with significant business experience to be chairs. Vistage trains its chairs to be group facilitators and executive coaches. It creates groups of 12 to 18 non-competing business leaders to provide a forum for learning, group problem-solving, and individual coaching. The chair/coach is responsible for executive education and facilitating group problem-solving sessions. Between monthly group meetings, chairs engage in a one-on-one coaching session with each of their members, keeping them focused on growing their companies and their leadership skills.
Vistage training for chairs is very intense and utilizes many of the coaching methods discussed in my book and blogs. Vistage has over 18,000 CEO members and over 800 chairs/coaches. More can be learned about becoming a Vistage chair by visiting its website at www.vistage.com.
There is no clear pathway or program to becoming an executive coach. A few programs offer extensive training in coaching. Others do not. Many of the paths lack in-depth understanding of behavioral change or a comprehensive development of the skills needed to become an effective coach. If you are serious about becoming an executive coach, seek a program designed around the change process and strong mentoring to help you develop your coaching skills.