[Article] Should Professional Coaches be Required to Have a Certification?

This is a controversial topic.

Many people think all professional coaches *should* have a certification from a recognized coach training school, such as the International Coach Federation.  Most of the time, in my experience anyway, those people are the recognized training institutions themselves, or their graduates.  =)

Other people like the fact that anyone can hang their “PROFESSIONAL COACH” shingle outside their door and open up shop.

Here’s my humble opinion…

We have to start with the purpose of coaching.  At its core, coaching is about helping people better their lives in some way.  Extremely valuable and noble cause.

If somebody wants to pay for that, who’s to say they shouldn’t be able to, or that the coach shouldn’t be able to accept the payment?  We’re talking about the freedom of investment here.  (Isn’t that in the Bill of Rights?)

Anyway, if you have a leaky faucet and you want somebody to fix it, shouldn’t you be able to pay your un-certified, non-board-recognized neighbor, assuming he knows how to get the result you want?

On the other hand…

We could argue that professional life and business coaching is much more meaningful, since we’re dealing with someone’s LIFE, not their faucet.  Different ball of wax.

And since the “job” at hand can be very sensitive, where you’re opening up people’s emotions and giving them advice to put into action, there should be a standard that all coaches have to live by.  A hoop of proficiency we all must jump through.

After all, we definitely don’t want a bunch of incompetent “coaches” giving irresponsible advice and harming people or giving the industry a bad name, do we?

Honestly, I get both points.  As a coach, I certainly take pride in my craft and want the industry to have a standard of excellence.

The challenge, however, is where do you draw the line?  And who’s going to enforce it?  And which company or collection of organizations will be giving out this recognized certification?  What makes them qualified?

Are the state governments going to have to get involved?  If so, which issues are they going to take off the table so they can invest time and a lot of money deciding who gets to open a coaching business?


I think this debate is a lot of energy misspent.  And did you notice over the last several paragraphs that I haven’t mentioned, and you haven’t thought about, the essence of coaching, which is to help people?

All the arguing pulls us in the wrong direction.  If you want to help people, help people.  If you want to charge people, charge people.  If they want to pay you, accept it.

If you had a bleeding splinter in your thumb and I had tweezers,
would you really ask me if I was certified to use them?

In my 7 years as a professional coach, I’ve been asked less than 5 times by prospective clients if I have a certification.  (I do)  But before answering, I always ask why they want to know.  I usually either hear crickets or some form of backpedaling into “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway.”

At the end of the day, people care less about what’s hanging on your wall, and more about what you can help them overcome.

I will say this though – the most important skill as a coach is the 100% certainty behind KNOWING you can help somebody change their lives.  That knowingness is attractive and without it, you’ll fail.

For most people, that level of certainty requires a lot of artful skills.  And at the end of the seminar where they teach those skills, you usually walk away with a certification.

But the power isn’t in the piece of paper.  The power is in your ability to change lives.

I’ve often asked people, “Do you want a drivers license, or do you want to know how to drive?”  There are plenty of people out there with recognized, certified drivers licenses whom I would NOT let drive my children around!

So, do I think you should have a certification?  YES.

Not because I have one.  And not because I think you need to be recognized by a board to get into my fraternity.  You should be certified because you’ll become a better coach with more confidence in the process of certification.

Then, you can go help the people who are desperately seeking your knowledge.

~ Sean




4 thoughts on “[Article] Should Professional Coaches be Required to Have a Certification?

  1. Sara

    I totally agree with what you’re saying here Sean! People deserve to get paid for what they’re good at, and having the ability to help transform someone’s life is a TALENT to say the very least. Having a certification can only help enhance that talent, give you more certainty, and give your skills more life! Awesome! Thanks

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