It’s “Back-to-School Season” for Coaches

By Brian Underhill, Ph.D., CEO, CoachSource

This year, I celebrate 19 years as an executive coach.  But I’m going back to school.  And so are many other coaches.  Why?

I was just about to take off for a recent business trip when the thought came to me.  I grabbed my phone and thumbed out a request to my assistant: “Hey Patty, since I seem to speak at various ICF events, I probably should actually become a member.  Can you go sign me up?  Use my corporate credit card.  See you next week.”

I reloaded my mailbox upon landing at my destination.  Fully expecting to see an automatic credit card receipt for my new membership, I was instead surprised to read Patty’s response:  “Ummm, membership is not quite as simple as that.  You need to go to 60 hours of training first.  Let me know what you’d like to do.”

What??  Me?? Go to basic training?  I’m pretty sure I could teach that training.  In fact, I have taught coach training.  I’m the head of the world’s largest coaching firm…I have a Ph.D… I’ve written a book on coaching!  Do they not know who I am!?

Once my obviously over-inflated ego had a chance to calm down, I embarked on a multi-year deliberation process.  And you might be surprised at the result. 

The History

My first coaching experience came when joining Marshall Goldsmith’s organization in January 1997.  With little training beyond my organizational psychology degree, we had to figure it out on the fly.  Few coaching schools existed, the ICF was merely a baby (and not on our radar screen), also anything that was available was aimed at life coaches.  Ultimately, we collectively developed our own executive coaching methodology, and eventually a Goldsmith coaching training program emerged.

This methodology has served many of us ever since - helping thousands upon thousands of executives make measurable improvements in their leadership effectiveness over the last 15-20 years.  Life was good.

In 2005, we conducted one of the most ambitious research projects within the executive coaching industry.  We asked organizations about their selection criteria for choosing a coach.  “Certification” scored last out of 8 choices.  In the 2012 repeat study, certification came in 2nd to last out of 13 choices.  [See what executives DID want – here]

For years, I’d tell coaches at lunch, “I can count on one hand the number of times we have been asked to specifically provide certified coaches for a client”.  Those of you who have followed my writings and speeches have probably known that I’ve (more politely) said the same thing repeatedly - even at ICF events in which I was a keynote speaker and my book was being sold in the lobby.

“Coach Training is Like Going Back to Kindergarten”

On a recent trip to Asia, I spent some time with two long-term ICF PCC executive coaches.  Both said they were letting their memberships lapse.  What?  Why?   “ICF is all entry level stuff.  To me it’s like going back to Kindergarten after you are working on PhD level stuff.”

Unfortunately, this indeed matched my perception for years.  My “$500 lunch” is what I call my experience at one day of a Fort Worth conference, where the only value I got was the lunch I ate.  None of the material presented was useful in my work as an executive coach - life coaching, maybe?  Countless sessions over the years attended only by “starter coaches”, a heavy life coaching focus, and the cardinal sin against ever giving advice in coaching has led to my negatively tainted my view.  “The ICF is good for life coaching,” I’d say, “but probably isn’t the right organization for us executive coaches.”

The Market is Changing: 3 Major RFPs

However, the past few years have seen a shift in the industry.  ICF conferences have greatly increased their coverage of executive coaching topics.  The past few Board chairs (and many Board members) have been CoachSource coaches.  Our latest estimate is about 400 of our 1000 coaches now hold a certification.  A few years ago, our client, Microsoft, won a Washington State Prism Award and we were honored to accept the award with them.

We predicted in 2007’s Executive Coaching for Results: “…if corporations demand more certified coaches, the market will respond.”  In February of this year, we received executive coach RFP/tender inquiries from 3 major multinational organizations.  What did all 3 have in common? “Coaches should possess certification with the International Coach Federation or similar body”.  This is on top of other organizations increasingly requesting certified coaches on a lesser scale.

In our 2012 research, we did notice that 59% of organizations said they’d be more likely to use a certified coach, up from 29% in 2005.  In addition, increasingly the person in charge of managing coaching at a major corporation is him/herself now a certified coach.  This will mean they would increasingly prefer a certified coach.  Add to that the great rise in the use of internal coaches (who are MUCH more likely to be certified than an external) - 62% of internals told us that executives were more likely to use a certified coach.  The market is changing.

Back-To-School Season Begins in June

In October of this year, ICF is changing the ability to retroactively apply one’s many years of coaching experience toward one’s certification.  One can only count hours after training has occurred.  So I would lose 19 years of coaching experience.  If there was ever a time to get my PCC, it would be now!

Therefore, this June, nearly 50 very seasoned CoachSource coaches - including myself and our Chief Coaching Officer, Kimcee McAnally, are all starting our ACTP 125 hour training.  Teaching us will be former ICF Board Chair (and CoachSource coach) Dr. Damian Goldvarg, who is customizing the training specifically for very senior coaches (less like Kindergarten).

We must be on to something, the training sold out in less than a week.  Wish me luck!

(PS - While our training is sold out, CoachSource coaches ONLY may attend another training by emailing by June 15th.)


I am glowing, having just completed the first half of the classroom work! It was a surprisingly awesome class. Based on the real-time feedback my colleagues and I delivered, it sounds as if it exceeded most of our expectations and the learning will make a positive impact on our coaching. Thanks for making it avaialable!

Hello Brian; This made me smile.  I remember our introductory meeting many years ago.  You were so clear that my MCC crediential would not be useful with CoachSource Clients.  Learning is good.  Hope you enjoy the work.  Best to you.

Thanks for making the class available to us (CoachSource Coaches).  The first week of training, though draining, was very helpful and informative.  The best part was the new friendships with a great network of coaches around the world.  Can't wait to get back together in August to complete the training. 

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