The other day I came across an article debunking myths about franchise coaches. I didn’t even know there was such a thing but they apparently do exist. The writer, Rick Bisio, certainly appears to have the chops for it, having spent years in the franchise industry and written a popular book on the subject. Unfortunately, that’s a rarity.

I’m afraid that Bisio, who also has an MBA, is being far to kind when he says, “It’s no secret that some franchise coaches are better than others,” but he goes on to ask a pointed question that anyone considering hiring a coach of any kind should ask, “Is the [coach] truly an expert in his or her area of self-proclaimed expertise?”

I don’t think Bisio was so much exploding a myth as he was pointing out the elephant in the room: that anyone can walk in off the street and say “Hi, I’m a coach.” And by the looks of things, millions and millions of people are doing just that. Don’t look now, folks; we’re being overrun by coaches.

There are executive coaches, business coaches, performance coaches, leadership coaches, strengths coaches, career coaches and funding coaches. There are real estate coaches, health and fitness coaches, personal coaches, happiness coaches, family coaches, financial coaches and holistic coaches. And of course, there are life coaches.

There are even coaches who train people to become coaches. If you think that’s confusing, try wrapping your head around this: The big thing now is franchises for coaching businesses. Which means there are franchise coaches who will coach you on how to start a coaching franchise. I know; that gave me a headache too.

Near as I can tell from an entire hour of research on the subject, all this insanity is the fault of one man, Werner Hans Erhard, who founded Erhard Seminars Training, better known as EST, in the 70s.

One of Ernhard’s disciples, Thomas Leonard, is largely credited with turning coaching into something of a profession. Well, sort of. Leonard founded a number of organizations to help legitimize the trade including the International Coach Federation (ICF), International Association of Coaching, Coach U and CoachVille.

There appears to be a ridiculously large number of certification programs from all sorts of institutions with varying degrees of legitimacy. I hear the ICF is sort of the benchmark for independent certification of training programs, but I wouldn’t stake my reputation on that. Truth is, the field is entirely unregulated in most states.

What does that mean exactly? It means that pretty much anyone can hang up a shingle and call herself a coach. If you want to call yourself a professional certified coach (PCC), a certified professional coach (CPC), a certified professional co-active coach (CPCC) or some other permutation thereof, you might have to spend a couple of bucks and jump through some hoops, but there isn’t much too it. A PhD in theoretical physics it’s not.

At this point, I should probably distinguish a few real coaches and programs from the exploding underclass of pseudo-professionals and dubious institutions.

Marshall Goldsmith, for example, has an MBA and a PhD, worked with the father of modern management, Peter Drucker, has coached a who’s who of CEOs, is a best-selling author and teaches at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. I don’t know the guy but, as executive coaches go, I think it’s safe to say he’s the real deal.

Vistage International has a fairly involved program whereby former executives and business leaders train to become Chairs of small groups of CEOs and business owners that meet periodically to discuss and resolve challenges. It’s apparently prestigious and reputable, if not a bit overly structured for my taste.

Personally, I think every current and aspiring executive and business leader needs an occasional mentor or advisor to bounce important problems off of. Most CEOs and directors I’ve worked with befriend and advise each other. Some hire management consultants. A few bring in coaches for specific issues. It’s sort of a mixed bag.

Now that I think about it, it wouldn’t be right to wrap this up and call it a day without addressing the real elephant in the room: life coaches.

Here’s the thing. I can barely deal with my own life, let alone help anyone else with theirs. Judging from the life coaches I’ve come across, that probably explains why they do it. After all, there’s nothing more cathartic than learning the truth about humanity: that everyone else is just as screwed up as you are.

Think you need a life coach? Don’t be silly; see a shrink instead.

Image credit Randy Stewart via Flickr

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