Studying to become a coach for business leaders did not match what had I expected of graduate study. I hadn’t been to graduate school, but plenty of friends had told stories.
Of course, I expected to study hard, learn theories and techniques, and rely on memory and experience to synthesize ideas and see me through. But good coaches offer much more than smarts and tactics and models. In fact, the first lesson of the GCEC is learning the difference between knowledge and practice. If you’re considering a coaching ceritifcation program, you should expect that in addition to rigorous formal education, you are laying the foundation of a practice rather than simply acquiring skills and knowledge.
Education for practice
Recently a prospective student asked me whether his business and public service background would put him at a disadvantage. “I haven’t studied psychology,” he said, “and MSPP is focused on that, right?” If you haven’t read any psychology since college or before, you will encounter new theories, research, and thought leaders’ names. I was eager for more. I did a little extracurricular reading. Throughout the program, I added to a reading/learning list that I’ve been using since graduation. Most of these discoveries offer clues and answers about why people, and leaders in particular, behave as they do. Learning them has been invigorating and useful.
Learning as a habit of inquiry
But this education is not only about others. Most of the frameworks and theories you’ll encounter will prompt you to reflect on how you behave, think, learn, and present yourself. And this is a critical part of a coaching practice. Though clients buy coaching as a service, it is not only a transaction.
The work requires curiosity about others and ourselves: Who am I? How do I operate? What does that tell me about my assumptions about the world? How do I use myself to have a positive effect on clients and the world? These are the questions that leaders are not often asked in the boardroom. But they motivate most of their decisions. As their coaches, we must be able to ask the questions and be prepared to help them sort among partial answers and clues.
Expect a good coaching program to raise questions for which you uncover partial answers and clues today. This is the foundation of your practice.