According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a life coach is a person who assists people in making decisions, setting and reaching goals, and dealing with various problems. However, this definition is quite simplistic, because life coaching entails much more. Most people who have worked with an ICF coach will tell you the experience dramatically changed their lives. For instance, in the corporate world, executive coaching—a niche-specific form of life coaching—will help enhance an individual’s leadership skills while improving his or her general outlook on life. A better definition of life coaching is the one given by the International Coach Federation. According to the ICF, life coaching is a process of:
“…partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential even in the face of growing complexity and uncertainty which is common in many workplaces today that are struggling with the war for talent.”
What Is ICF?
The International Coach Federation (ICF) is a global organization founded in 1995 with the aim of setting global coaching standards and guidelines. ICF is now the gold standard in the life coaching industry. According to the ICF’s latest annual report (2018), the ICF has 33,645 members, of which 27,142 are credential holders. What makes these statistics impressive is the fact that ICF members can be found in more than145 different countries! These life coaches look to the ICF for networking, exceptional education, and the latest trends in the life coaching fraternity.
ICF is also a coaching program credentialing organization for those such as Aim Higher that wish to teach and train others to become life coaches. Every year, thousands of life coaching programs are sent to the ICF for their rigorous review and approval. This has helped to enhance professionalism in the widely unregulated life coaching business. The ICF spends a tremendous amount of resources on research every year, with an aim of keeping its members abreast of the most important trends in life coaching. This helps individuals and organizations stay on the cutting edge of their business.
What ICF Coaching Is Not
Before we get deeper into the ICF coaching details, it is important to make a few distinctions. Life coaching is often misconstrued for other professions that are deemed closely related. The average person may use terms like consulting, mentoring, counseling, and training interchangeably with life coaching. But life coaching is not comparable to any of these. Here is why:
Why life coaching is not mentoring
Contrary to common belief, life coaching and mentoring are not the same. Mentoring entails offering guidance based on an individual’s personal experience in a specific field. For instance, a professional in personal finance can mentor others who are struggling in this area by sharing his or her time-tested tips. Conversely, life coaching is not based on the personal experience of the life coach. With the client’s permission, a life coach can share his or her life experiences, but overall the coaching sessions focus on the client and not on the life coach.
Why life coaching is not consulting
Organizations usually hire a consultant because of his or her expertise in a given area. The consultant’s role is to assess the company practices, then offer recommendations that can help a company improve its output. The success of the company, therefore, relies on how well versed the consultant is and how willing the company is to implement recommended solutions.
Life coaching, however, is more of a discovery-based process where the onus is on the client to come up with his or her own solutions, with the life coach acting as an accountability partner. This approach empowers individuals to devise creative solutions as opposed to relying on someone else’s experiences and recommendations, which are not always easy to extrapolate. Simply put, life coaching equips clients with decision-making skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.
Why life coaching is not training
With a training program, predetermined learning objectives are outlined in the curriculum. On the other hand, coaching is never based on a set curriculum. Life coaching is customized, depending on the needs of the client. This is why an ICF report states, “If you asked 100 ICF coaches for their experience, you will get 100 totally different stories.” Even though life coaching has objectives, these objectives are usually set by the clients with guidance from their life coaches.
Why life coaching is not counseling
Counseling and therapy often focus on past hurts and how they affect the present. A good counselor will explore issues from the past that might be affecting the ability of his or her clients to lead productive lives. The goal of therapy is to deal with the pain of the past and, therefore, to provide healing for any emotional woundedness. This, however, is the direct opposite of life coaching, as life coaching is more “future based.” Instead of looking into the past, life coaching focuses on the present and creates a roadmap into the future. Individuals who are looking for counseling must be aware of how it differs from life coaching.
What Makes ICF Coaching so Effective?
Coca-Cola, Nike, IBM, and Verizon are some of the many global organizations that have achieved and maintained their success partly due to the benefits reaped from life coaching. Companies such as these show that ICF coaching is ushering in a new corporate culture. Life coaching is helping staff to deal with the complexities that come with working in a dynamic corporate environment that can have job shifts, travel requirements, excessive stress, and many other change-based issues.
Because times are becoming more complex, companies are continually cost-cutting in order to maximize their profits. Employees are constantly bombarded with new standards and demands they are required to meet with very limited resources. Workloads are increasing, responsibilities are becoming more complex, and resources are limited. This type of pressure can easily paralyze employees, and this is where ICF coaching becomes invaluable—it empowers employees to manage changes without compromising the service delivered to clients.
This new coaching culture is transforming the business process by creating a corporate culture that improves productivity by changing it from “control and command” to “creativity and collaboration.” Life coaching is helping to facilitate executive training and education that can help integrate technology and innovation into the corporate learning cycle. It is helping to close the gap between the various generations that work together. The heightened engagement between millennials is beneficial for their companies because it helps them to embrace and utilize emerging trends such as social media marketing. In addition, coaches often have a vast network and can help in creating connections to likeminded individuals for the betterment of their companies.
ICF coaching can dramatically improve the leadership skills of managers within an organization. Coaching will help managers and other employees to improve their communication and public speaking skills through empowering them to be more self-aware and confident. ICF coaching can help clients to fine-tune their active listening skills while being able to learn how to graciously accept feedback and criticism from their supervisors and peers. This will help to foster a more cordial working environment, which will bolster the performance of employees and increase the profitability of their company.
Professional life coaching will help an organization to maximize its potential. The core of life coaching is the thought-provoking creative process that endeavors to support clients to be confident in their pursuits of alternative solutions and new ideas with gusto. Most organizations are dealing with workforce challenges. Every time they are forced to downsize, it affects the morale of the remaining employees. Life coaching can help to restore the self-confidence of these employees, leading to improved work performance.
Does Life Coaching Really Work?
Some people hold the view that life coaching is the newest fad sweeping through society. However, this is not the case. Life coaching has been around for decades, and it is growing in leaps and bounds throughout the world. The ICF was founded in 1995 and now has a presence in over 145 different countries. Life coaching is not a fad, and perhaps the most interesting proof is in the numbers. An ICF global coaching client study reveals that 86 percent of companies that used ICF coaching reported a huge Return on Investment.
Indeed, 1 out of 5 said their ROI was 50 times greater than their investment.
And it is not just the companies that benefit from ICF coaching; the same report also reveals interesting results from individuals. 99 percent of all individuals polled said they were satisfied with their life coaching program, and 96 percent were so happy with the results that they would happily repeat the process if given a chance to start over. Very few programs, or even products, have this type of feedback and confidence levels from their users, a testament that ICF coaching actually works!
Finding a Good Life Coach
When hiring a life coach, it is highly advisable to look for one that is ICF certified. As noted, coaching is not a regulated industry, and anyone can set up a life coaching business without any training or experience. This opens the door for those who should not be in the life coaching business. To avoid disappointment, it is best to work with ICF credentialed coaches.
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The ICF provides many tools that can facilitate searching for and hiring the best life coach. For instance, the ICF has made it possible to search any ICF credentialled coach through an online directory. The ICF Coach Referral Service (ICF CRS) can also help individuals to narrow their search. CRS is a free-to-use resource that allows you to filter your searches to find life coaches that are qualified in your specific niche, e.g. based on the professional direction or coaching method you prefer. These tools and more can be accessed at coachfederation.org.