Do you really need a coaching designation to be a successful coach?

One of the questions people ask us most frequently is: Do I really need a coaching designation? This article will try to answer this question for you.

First, let’s make sure that you understand the different types of designations out there. There are three broad categories, and the Center for Executive Coaching can get you all of them:

First, we offer our own certifications. When you join any of our programs, you are eligible to get our Certified Executive Coach certification, as well as either our Certified Career Coach or Certified Business Coach certifications (depending on where you want to take your practice). In addition, we offer you the opportunity to get any number of specialty certifications in specific niches, such as Healthcare Executive Coach, Government Executive Coach, or CIO Executive Coach. The process to get these specialty certifications is really valuable, because it gives you a chance to interview decision makers and leaders in your niche and develop coaching frameworks based on your research. The specialty niche certifications are also included at no additional charge, as an added value for our members.

Second, the International Coach Federation (ICF) offers three designations: ACC, PCC, and MCC. Most people in the USA get the PCC. The ICF has established itself as the leading coach professional association, with chapters around the world, conferences, research, and advocacy about coaching. They also have developed a recognized set of core coaching competencies and code of ethics for coaches. Thousands of coaches have received an ICF designation. The ICF requires a certain number of live training hours (completed by teleclass/webinar and/or seminar including 10 hours of mentor coaching) plus a certain number of documented hours coaching clients, depending on the designation you seek. With the Center for Executive Coaching ICF program, you can start by getting the ACC and then upgrade to the PCC at no additional cost. Also, you can choose to get the ICF designation later on after you join our regular distance learning or in-person seminar option; you don’t have to decide now. Many of our members start with our distance learning program or in-person seminar, build their practice a bit, and then decide to upgrade to the ICF program later on. That’s really important and should take the pressure off! Because it takes time to get the ICF designation, and because everything you do with us counts towards it anyway, relax! You can decide later as you build your practice and learn what the market wants.

Third, for professionals with a Master’s Degree or higher, the Board Certified Coach (BCC) certification is a great option. The BCC is an easier bar to meet, because it gives credit to those with higher education. All of our programs offer the training you need for the BCC at no additional cost.

So, do you need any of the above or not to succeed as a coach?

The answer has changed over the past two decades. Twenty years ago, almost anyone could have hung a shingle and called themselves a coach, and lots of people did.  There were no clear competencies or standards. Precisely because of this, and the chaos that this situation caused, organizations like the ICF came about to define what it meant to be an effective and competent coach. They did a good job marketing and advocating for the coaching profession.

Today, like it or not, there is an established language and process for what it means to be a coach. You should have training in the core competencies, because clients expect you to know what you are doing and to be able to talk the language of coaching. The days of hanging a shingle with no training are over. I know this for a fact, because every week I get calls from former executives who have tried to launch a coaching practice with no training and have failed. Their former high-status title or company name wasn’t enough. They realize they need to get formal training — in both coaching and business development — in order to make it in the market today. In fact, this weekend I received a call from a very wealthy retired executive with an impressive resume. He has spent lots of money on a website advertising his executive coaching services, even though he has no formal coach training. He shared to me that after six months he has exactly zero clients. He has now realized that he has to get some formal training and learn how to set up coaching engagements, learn the coaching competencies and how to get results, and position himself properly in the marketplace.

Based on my own practice and discussions with dozens of coaches, I would estimate that about 50-60% of Global 2000 companies expect executive coaches to have a coaching credential. Also, if you want to be a coach to government leaders, especially the federal government, you will almost certainly be required to hold a coaching credential. In Canada, Europe, and Asia, where companies are more credential-conscious than in the USA, the numbers are even higher. Other organizational that tend to be credential-conscious, like healthcare systems and universities, also want to see coaching credentials.

In the above case, you can start with the Center for Executive Coaching certification. That’s because we are accredited with the ICF, teach the ICF core competencies, and all of your training counts towards the ICF credential. Then, once you complete your full ICF training with us and get your ICF designation, you are all set. It takes 5-6 months. Even still, our members tend to be highly seasoned and get clients after they start our program and while they works toward the ICF designation.

Alternatively, you can take a wait-and-see approach while you complete your training with us. Let the market tell you. If you get resistance from prospective clients who want you to have an ICF designation, that tells you that your target market wants you to have that designation. With our program it is easy to add the ICF component to your training whenever you want. As noted earlier, this should take the pressure off. As long as you get started with your training and learn the core competencies and how to get clients, you can make a formal decision about getting an ICF decision later.

If you are coaching in the small- to mid-sized company space, as well as non-profits, things get a bit murkier. Many in Human Resources at these organizations know about coaching designations and expect you to have one. However, if you go through the decision maker (C-level executive), they might not know about the ICF or coaching designations; of course, you will need some way to demonstrate that you are credible if you don’t have a coaching credential and are representing yourself as a coach.

Many in our program take a hybrid approach. They coach, facilitate, train, and consult. They offer comprehensive solutions to clients, depending on the client’s needs. In this case, when the coach works directly with the decision maker and end user, they are often not asked about a formal coaching credential. However, to be able to do this work, it is essential to have substantive solutions (which the Center for Executive Coaching provides) and a track record of success.

Even still, having a coaching credential will never hurt you. It will open doors by telling prospective clients that you know what you are doing.

Now, here is the flip side: A coaching designation in any of the above scenarios is not enough. You can’t walk into an organization with a piece of paper and tell them to hire you. That doesn’t work with an ICF designation any more than it works with a PhD or an MBA. You need more than a credential, because lots of people have the same credentials. You need substance. You need coaching methodologies that are practical, proven and get results. You need to speak the language of your clients, understand their top challenges, and show them how you can deliver value. You need to position yourself in the market so that people see you as credible. You need to stand out.

That’s where the Center for Executive Coaching excels. No other program out there gives you the practical, powerful tools, ongoing support, and guidance you need to succeed and get results for your clients and for your practice — whether as an internal or external coach. There is no fluff. There is no academic theory, although everything we do is grounded in best practices in psychology, neuroscience, emotional intelligence, and leadership research. We give you everything you need, from the tools and the practice to the conversations you need to engage prospective clients and then get results for them when they contract with you.

So yes, you should have a designation. That will open doors. However, to really succeed, you need more, much more really — and that extra substance is what ultimately makes the difference. We provide that while other programs pretty much stop at the ICF core competencies plus maybe a few pieces of advice about marketing. Then they wish you well and say farewell. In other words, in our opinion, other programs don’t come close.

[Addendum: After writing this article, here is what one internal coach wrote to share: At our organization, which is a small healthcare provider, all internal leadership coaches must be and are ICF program certified. For executives we use external coaches. They must be ICF program certified too. It is the future.]

Take a look at our website and then contact us anytime to discuss whether we are a good fit for you. You can contact us at or at 941-539-9623. Please be sure to tell us a bit about your background, goals, and timing to join our program. We are delighted to set up time to speak!

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