Coaching as a career amidst pandemic

The number of people exploring a new career as a professional coach has boomed during the pandemic

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‘Pandemic’ is a word that combines the Greek words ‘pan’ meaning all and ‘demos’ meaning people. The focus of the word is on the fact that an event or situation is universal, and that no one is left untouched.

In the past 16 months, COVID-19 has impacted us all and upended our lives. The threat of illness and the loss of loved ones has engendered an atmosphere of reflection. The isolation and inertia of lockdowns has given us the space to consider the way we live our lives and whether we would like to bring about change.

We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, that the number of people exploring a new career as a professional coach has boomed during this period, either by choice or necessity.

In order to understand what’s driving this move towards a career as a coach and how new entrants are breaking into the profession in these exceptional circumstances, I spoke to Virginia, who is just embarking on her journey towards becoming an ICF credentialed coach.

Anyone can call themselves a coach, but ICF Credentialed Coaches are professional coaches who have met stringent education and experience requirements. They have demonstrated a thorough understanding of the coaching competencies that set the standard in the profession. In addition, ICF Credentialed Coaches adhere to strict ethical guidelines as part of ICF’s mission to protect and serve coaching consumers.

After an accomplished career working in the design and luxury fashion industry, Virginia had moved into working as a business consultant in the sector, as well as lecturing. When the pandemic hit, that revenue stream evaporated overnight.

“I took some time to think about my work, how best to invest in the future and what my legacy would be” says Virginia. “I reflected on my career and realised that the most interesting and fulfilling area was managing people. My instinct was that if one puts humans and their professional and personal fulfilment at the heart of one’s organisation, it will ultimately feed into the success of the company”

“I believe that everyone has the potential to become their best selves, to follow and realise their dreams and aspirations but sometimes don’t reach their goal” she continues. “This can be for many reasons, but sometimes we simply need a guiding hand to help us create those opportunities for change and growth. It became clear to me that my skills and experiences should become the foundation of my own new journey and so I set my goal to train as a Life Coach”

We’re all aware of the number of ‘gurus’ offering insight and affirmations, but often people at the junction of a career-change are more cautious with their cash and want to ‘try before they buy’.

Virginia explains, “I enrolled in one of the $199 a pop online lecture courses. It was enlightening, but slightly alarming that, after listening to several hours of tutorials, I was being encouraged to try out my new ‘skills’ on an unsuspecting fellow human!

I was aware of the regulatory bodies for counselling and therapy and so explored the equivalent for Life Coaching and came across the International Coaching Federation (ICF), which I discovered also offered accreditation to organisations offering Life Coaching Courses. I chose to work towards the ICF accreditation as it seems the most rigorous. With reference books, note pads and new pens adorning my desk, I enrolled with an ICF-accredited training provider and started my training in October 2020.”

Virginia is currently working towards a Certificate in Professional Coaching Practice under the ICF Code of Ethics and Competencies, which will allow her to apply for membership of the ICF. She will then continue her learning and practical journey towards becoming a fully certified ICF Coach.

For those preparing to transition from a ‘job’ into a career, time and finances may be tight.

The flexibility of the training was a strong draw for Virginia. “The attraction of scheduled live learning sessions was massively important,” she says. “I was juggling my life; trying to earn a living with two jobs, supporting myself, friends and family through the pandemic and joked about all the different hats I had to wear so it was valuable to have set times, when I had to stop and focus totally on the training.”

Interacting virtually has become part of the process of continuing our personal and professional lives during the pandemic and has made off-site learning less of an obstacle to those wanting to become coaches.

“It’s been exciting to meet virtually and interact with peers across the globe and it was surprising that deep connections could be made during our training sessions despite the barrier of the screen,” continues Virginia. “The one disappointment was missing out on socialising at the end of the study days, which can prove so interesting and beneficial. To compensate, we’ve set up peer-to-peer check-in groups and we meet online monthly to catch up with each other.”

Coaching is a multi-disciplined, non-hierarchical practice and embraces personal or life coaching, corporate or executive coaching, team or performance coaching to name a few. However, ultimately, the goal of coaching is universal; to support and empower the client to unlock their goals, leverage their strengths and realise their full potential.

Whilst it may be of benefit to have professional experience within a sector if that’s where one is going to pitch one’s coaching business, personal skills and qualities are more powerful.

Successful coaches have a strong belief in human potential, a high level of integrity, can connect to their intuition, are objective, intelligent, focused, flexible, enquiring and non-judgemental with a wiliness to go on their own coaching journey.

“The most important attribute for me is that the coaches adopt a committed approach to a coaching mindset not only in their practice but in their life and that they coach under regulated and controlled guidelines,” comments Virginia.

There’s no doubt that the enforced changes to work patterns the pandemic has imposed will have lasting effects, as employers value the productivity over presenteeism.

For Virginia, the flexibility in terms of hours and location offered by a career as a life coach was an appealing aspect of embracing this path as a career. “It feels inevitable that the current situation is giving people the impetus to live a life that has more purpose,” she says.

There’s no doubt that the fallout from the pandemic has resulted in an increased need and demand for coaching. Companies have had to pivot their businesses and manage change, teams have been fractured and revaluated, people have been working under intense stress; enhanced leadership skills and support for the humans affected are key. It feels more important than ever that leaders understand the key benefits of harnessing the power from within by unlocking their potential and that of those around them.

My conversation with Virginia made it clear that individuals have also experienced unprecedented, unexpected challenges and that disruption has provoked a change of thought about where they want their life or career to go. It seems that everyone is trying to cope with more than one change, and this can be overwhelming even for the most balanced person.

Coaching provides a supported space in which the coach works in a thought-provoking way with the client to unlock and set a goal, whatever it may be, and then encourages the client to create a manageable path to achieve that goal unpicking any limiting beliefs and blocks along the way.

So, what are this beginner coach’s thoughts about a post-Covid future? “There will be a long-term effect on wellbeing within the workplace and at home, but the full effect of this will not be known for some time,” says Virginia. “Many people are living in constant ‘fight or flight’ mode which, in the long term, erodes our natural resources and leaves us emotionally and physically depleted. Coaching will have a fundamental and essential role to support people to establish a new and solid internal ground from which they can step forward.”

Professional coaching services can be found using ICF’s directory of credentialed coaches spread all over the world

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 35,000-plus members located in more than 140 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and maintaining the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching. Visit coachingfederation.org for more information.

In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi, ICF Mumbai, ICF Pune and ICF Hyderabad.

The author, Rainer Pratl has joined ICF Professional Coaches in May 2020 as the strategic development director for EMEA. Rainer develops and implements strategies that strengthen ICF’s presence and influence. He focuses on member growth and deepening member engagement with the goal of establishing and growing healthy chapter communities. Rainer has a wealth of experience working with volunteers in non-profit membership organisations. An experienced leader of international and virtual teams, he is skilled in building and leading cross-cultural teams and complex projects. Originally from Austria, Rainer has lived in London for the last 15 years. In previous roles, he worked as a corporate development manager at Walgreens Boots Alliance, and as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. Rainer has an MBA from the London Business School and a PhD in finance and accounting.

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