*CW - This post discusses high control groups, cults, etc.
It’s the night after Thanksgiving, and all through the house…
Everyone is full and watching tv.
With this golden moment of relaxation, what do I do? I chose to watch, none other than… a documentary about a cult.
I know… I’m quirky.
But as I watched the documentary, I noticed the term “coach” was used quite a lot. Sadly, I have seen this before in other documentaries of multi-level schemes. The term "coach" gets used far too broadly.
Knowing that we are entering a time of year when everyone will be marketing something your way, I felt compelled to offer my perspective about how to make an informed decision when choosing a coach. In my 15+ years of coaching, here are 5 questions to ask yourself when choosing a coach to help differentiate between legitimate vs. questionable.
1. What is your scope or purpose of seeking a coach? Does the person you are considering have significant certification, training, or experience in that area?
Coaching always is intended to have a direction. So what is the reason you are seeking a coach? Because coaching is different than mental health counseling, there isn’t one way to determine readiness or licensure. Instead you have to be very discerning about the purpose of your work with a coach and whether the person or group you are considering has been forthright about their credentialing and backgrounds. I would even encourage people to go a step further, and understand more about the certifications that people espouse. For example, you will often hear it said that, ICF is the “gold standard” in coaching. While their standards are rigorous in some ways, they also certify hundreds of different training programs that include a myriad of coaching orientations and modalities, including life coaching, spiritual coaching, health coaching, and more. My purpose in sharing this is not to say these areas do not have merit; quite the contrary, rather, they may not be what YOU are specifically searching for. So be sure to determine the purpose of your coaching and whether the person you are selecting has the right background for the work you seek.
My area has always been career and leadership, with a focus on people who are navigating transitions, burnout, or reflection after exiting problematic (toxic) workplace situations. Anyone you select should also be able to articulate their scope.
2. Are their claims realistic?
If you are working with coaches that make outlandish promises, it’s time to turn your eyebrow up. Sadly, some people will exploit the most vulnerable needs of being human for their own financial gain. If they are making promises for eternal well-being, perfect health, or finding your lifetime love, it may be time to question the offer. Sadly, there is no life hack for being human. Of course I believe the work of coaching can be incredibly impactful and empowering. I have received many client letters, sharing how grateful they are for the work we have done, and how much it positively impacted their lives. However, there is no way with integrity that I could say that each client is guaranteed to receive their dream job or even their dream outcome. And so make sure when you’re choosing a coach that they, too, will be honest and integrity-filled with their promises.
3. Do you retain autonomy over your decisions?
This one is nuanced. Its nuanced, because obviously engaging in a coaching relationship means that they will, on some level, be an influence in your life. However, and if at any point the coaching experience starts to resemble a controlling environment where certain behaviors are shamed and others applauded, this is some thing to look out for. Ultimately coaching should put you in the driver's seat of decision making in regards to your life. Not the other way around.
4. Is there always another way to “level up” or to pay more and become invited into the inner circle?
This question isn't a total deal breaker on its own. There are lots of subscriptions that offer more perks, the more you subscribe. (I know, I belong to a few!;) The issue I'm calling into question here is whether or not the coach's services are capitalizing on your need to belong or be accepted. Again, this is a nuanced question since belonging and acceptance are of course good things! I know several coaches I trust who run groups focused on specific shared experiences that are very connecting and effective in the best of ways for participants! But, if a coaching service is profiting off the promise of inviting you into closer and closer proximity to the leader, it may be worth another glance.
This is also an important moment to discuss boundaries. If you are continually invited into multiple levels of relationship with your coach, that can lead to unnecessary power dynamics. It’s not to say that there are never circumstances where you may have some layers of relationship, but in general, dual (or triple/quadruple) relationships are usually best avoided to create clarity and boundaries.
5. Are your own world views and spiritual/religious beliefs respected?
This one is important. A coach should always respect your cultural, religious, or world views. If a coach is consistently, calling into question these things, they may not actually be a coach; rather, they may be more of a teacher or spiritual leader. I happen to be someone who values spirituality. And I even think when humans engage in meaningful work, it can feel transcendent or sacred. BUT feeling deeply connected or aligned to one’s work is very different than claiming to BE someone’s spiritual teacher or leader. THAT is a very different thing. In most coaching settings, the coach does not center their own religious or spiritual world views. If anything, they prioritize space for you to determine how to more fully align with your own.
While this isn't a comprehensive list of questions to ask, hopefully it helps you consider your needs when looking for a coach. And... word to the wise... watch out for intense documentaries! ;)