Blind Faith and False Prophets: Can You Trust Your Coaching Suppliers?

21/12/2012 11:54 GMT | Updated 19/02/2013 10:12 GMT

In psychology, the Authority Principle suggests that people are willing to do extreme things if told to do so by someone in a position of authority. The infamous Milgram experiment, carried out in 1961, found that 65% of people would be willing to administer (what they believed was) a lethal electric shock to an innocent victim if told to do so by a man dressed as a scientist. Aside from the disturbing implication that our moral compass can be so easily swayed by a white lab coat and a clipboard, the results also provide a useful lesson for businesses or consumers looking to procure products or services.

For a number of years now, the concept of thought leadership has been creeping into the business sphere. Academic credentials abound, and virtually every business now lays claim to some form of certifiable authority in their field. However, businesses sourcing suppliers would be wise to investigate the veracity of some claims. Not all that glitters is gold.

The issue of suppliers making inappropriate claims to academic credentials is endemic in the coaching industry. According to the International Coaching Federation, there are approximately 47,500 professional coaches globally. However, there is no regulatory body in the UK - this means that there are no definitive standards as to what constitutes appropriate levels of expertise. Effectively, anyone can call themselves a coach.

The Association for Coaching recommends that any training course in coaching must contain a minimum of 50 hours training in coaching skills. Only after completing such a course can someone be a qualified coach in the eyes of the association. Silent Edge recently carried out a study into coaching practices in UK organisations. The research found that 91% of people within businesses that are referred to as 'coaches' have had no more than 4 hours training. That's just half a day, and less than 1/12 of the recommended minimum.

With so many of the nominal experts seemingly under-qualified, it is no wonder that so many organisations struggle to see any tangible effects from their coaching culture initiatives. The report, Coaching and Competencies: a match made in heaven?, finds that 96% of institutions want a coaching culture. However, many organisations report issues with embedding and sustaining. The lack of adequately equipped coaches is likely a key reason for this. Many of the 91% of under-qualified internal coaches are managers or team leaders that have been put through a whirlwind training course in coaching and told to lead a coaching culture from then on. They are not guilty of trying to mislead anyone; they are simply ill-equipped to manage the highly-skilled duty of coaching. If organisations genuinely want to build a coaching culture then they must invest time and resources in developing the coaching skills of the management community to an acceptable level.

Many of the external coaching suppliers out there are highly-skilled, genuine professionals with a great deal to offer. Coaching can have a considerable impact on the success of a business - and is, without doubt, a worthy investment. However, the issue of phoney thought leadership permeates many industries. And so, to take up the mantra of the aging hippie: question authority. Do not blindly accept the claims of individuals or organisations that profess to be experts on this or that. Check credentials. Are your suppliers really as qualified as they claim to be? As an informed business or consumer, you are in a position to sort the wheat from the chaff. So next time a supplier tells you they're accredited by Harvard Law School and can turn water into wine, get sleuthing. You may just save yourself some cash - and that's a scientific fact.