Finding Our Way – Reflections on three decades as a coach

by Dr. Patrick Williams
Published in, and reproduced with permission from,
choice, the magazine of professional coaching choice-online.com

In 1995, I first heard a buzz about coaching outside the executive offices where I had been coaching for five years. There seemed to be an emerging conversation about coaching for a wider market and potential client base. Within a one-week period I read an article in Newsweek about coaching, saw Thomas Leonard interviewed on a news program, and heard about an upcoming coaching conference in Houston. By this time, Thomas Leonard had been training coaches since the late 1980s and other institutes had popped up as well in Europe. There is debate, of course, around who was first, but what is important is the 100th monkey effect 1 that was occurring in various places at the same time.

As an ambassador of life coaching and a ‘wise elder’ in the profession, it both excites me and worries me to see where the profession is today.

As a psychologist slowly burning out from the system of psychotherapy and the mangled care (aka managed care) of the American health insurance industry, I was ready for the coaching paradigm. I had always practiced as a coaching psychologist before I even knew such a profession would evolve that did not need to pathologize clients. Many male clients and teens preferred to think of me as a coach rather than a shrink or therapist, and I had been coaching executives 10 hours a week since 1990 for a human services consulting firm in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

I was excited to see that coaching might become a service for those who were not in need of psychotherapy and who wanted to have a partner to explore ways they could live their lives beyond mediocrity and to excel in finding meaning and purpose in their business and personal lives.

Somehow, I ended up at the first International Coach Federation (ICF) conference in Houston, having already signed up for Coach University classes. It felt a bit like the Celestine Prophecy … about 170 of us arrived for the conference with various stories of how we seemed to have been called to be there, not knowing really what the future held for this evolving profession.

I moved on to become a founding member of the ICF and went to attend 16 conferences in a row, including some European conferences. At many of these I was a speaker or trainer. The attendance grew by several hundred each year as the popularity of this coaching methodology and lifestyle was spreading worldwide.

Writing one of the early books on coaching (Therapist as Life Coach) got me hired to speak/train at various therapy conferences and also coaching conferences in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Australia over the next decade. I also founded the Institute for Life Coach Training in 1998, one of the early schools for professional coach training. These were exciting times! I went on to hold many leadership positions in the ICF and the Association of Coach Training Organizations (ACTO), and wrote more books that are still used today by many coach training organizations and educational programs.

As Pangloss said at the end of Voltaire’s Candide, “we must cultivate our garden.” As coaches and coach educators, we all need to assist the cultivation and flowering of our clients, our business, and our beloved profession.

The ICF has helped propel the profession with international recognition, while the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC), Association for Coaching and others have given their voice to influence coaching outside of North America. And yet, with many thousands of coaches, both trained and untrained, in the world today, the vast majority find it difficult to make a real living. Getting clients is tough for most.

The hope for the future is:

  1. Increased visibility of the profession to the public.
    All the organizations above need to present a public image that draws people to the value of seeking a coach and to look for one in their own vicinity.
  2. Clarity of various coach designations and specialties. One size does not fit all.
  3. Careful navigation through regulation. Care must be taken so as not to get overly dogmatic in the hoops coaches are required to jump through to become certified. Competencies today mostly seem to be good skill sets but are not necessarily proven out in research. However, they are good markers for proficiencies in quality coaching. And there is much exciting research today in the neuroscience of coaching, what works, and why.

More publicity by the various membership organizations is needed so the public knows more about coaching and who is a qualified coach for them to hire.

We practicing coaches who were there at the beginning can see the seeds that we planted growing widely. But as with all gardens, care must be given to sustained growth, avoidance of pests, and culling of weeds.

As Pangloss said at the end of Voltaire’s Candide, “we must cultivate our garden.” As coaches and coach educators, we all need to assist the cultivation and flowering of our clients, our business, and our beloved profession.

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