Coaches Need Accreditation, but Who Accredits the Accrediting Organizations?

Since I’ve had my coaching business for 20 years and my Master Coach Credential from the ICF (International Coach Federation) for over 15 years, I’m often asked for advice or guidance from coaches who know they need or want accreditation but mistakenly believe that the ICF is the only game in town.  While I support the professional standard of excellence that accreditation should stand for, for years I’ve been uncomfortable with the ICF telling its coach members as well as the market that the ICF credential is the only  credible option.  It’s an integrity question for me.  The issue is complete lack of any external, objective, third-party entity involved.  Who accredited the ICF to grant credentials?  The ICF themselves.  The volunteer coach members who wanted credentials created and then refined the system by which credentials are granted. (Full disclosure: I was one of the founding members of the ICF as well as one of the very first executive coaches granted the Master Coach Credential and served on the very first ICF Application Review Committee when the credentialing process began.)   How about the multitude of coach training programs that offer credentials…who accredited them?  Unless they are part of an accredited University, they, too, simply accredited themselves. Doesn’t this strike you as odd?  Look at “real” accreditation…academic or professional, and you’ll see that there is an external checks and balances system in place so that those who provide credentials have been, in essence, credentialed to do so by a reputable external source.
Here’s the core of the conundrum:  without credentials, with no specific training or coach-specific skills, any Tom, Dick and Harry can hang out a shingle and start taking on clients as a coach.  This can be very dangerous for the clients and their organizations, but great for the wannabe coaches who can (in the currently largely unregulated environment) wake up one morning and simply say, “Now I’m a coach.”   I do believe in credentialing for coaches if only to separate (and help the market to separate) the wheat from the chaff.  My own credential and it’s multiple renewals are one way I demonstrate my commitment to a standard of excellence for our profession.  Yet I’m conscious that it’s a breakdown in the system that I’m credentialed by my peers who self-nominated and self-declared the power to credential their peers.
The profession needs a wake up call about integrity.  Once the market figures out that we’re just credentialing ourselves, will they take it seriously as a reputable indicator of professionalism, quality, or excellence?
If you are a coach wondering if you should go for your credential, and you’ve been hearing that you HAVE to have a credential and it HAS to be from the ICF, just consider the inherent conflicts and choose what will really make the difference for you in your business. Be super clear about why you think you need a credential and what you hope it will do for you, and then explore your options beyond the ICF so that you can make an informed decision.
Rey Carr, publisher of Peer Resources Bulletin, wrote an article in the latest issue about Is Accreditation in the Coaching Industry Credible? I’d encourage you to read that article as well although he compares three “associations” that offer credentialing:  The ICF, the IAC (International Association of Coaching), and the WABC (Worldwide Association of Business Coaches, which belongs to one individual).  One point of distinction for those considering a credential is that the ICF and the IAC are structured like actual associations and although they’ve accredited themselves to bestow credentials, at least they are not a solely-owned, for-profit business belonging to one person like the WABC.
Bottom line:  Do you need a credential to get business as a coach? No.  Do your clients know what your credential means?  Not likely. Will you lose clients if you don’t have a credential?  No.  Do you believe a credential will enhance your credibility?  Do you want one in order to make a statement about your professionalism or standard of excellence?  What will really serve you best?

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