The Professionals?

Today’s blog post is in response to a challenge by David Goddin (@changecontinuum on twitter). He is an excellent and thought provoking coach and so it’s no surprise that his question should have exercised my mind so much. David asked me to “write about how coaching is or isn’t a profession and how mentoring is or isn’t a profession? If the answer to each is quite different could you suggest why?”

I wondered whether this was a case of linguistics so I went to the ever trusty and here in reverse order is what they said.

So, in at number 5the declaration of belief in or acceptance of religion or a faith: the profession of Christianity. Well neither coaching or mentoring are religions – though bearing in mind some of the evangelising you hear you’d be forgiven for thinking that.

At number 4… the act of professing; avowal; a declaration, whether true or false: professions of dedication. Many coaches and mentors make declarations around what they do, even though those declarations are so often different to the experience for the client. Feels like we’re getting closer though.

To kick off the the top 3… the body of persons engaged in an occupation or calling: to be respected by the medical profession. Well coaches and mentors are definitely in an occupation and I think for many it’s a calling. Certainly many of the best practitioners I have encountered are drawn to it through a sense of purpose or wanting to “pay forward” with their knowledge and experience. Unfortunately I’m not always sure how respected it is by organisations who commission it. Perhaps there is something in that for us to understand and change?

At number 2… any vocation or business. Yep bit of a red herring here because hey, that means everyone could be a professional doesn’t it? Oh but hang on, wouldn’t it be great if everyone from the postman to the prime minister was a little more professional. Maybe I could find a coach or a mentor who could help with that……..but I digress

Which leaves, still at number 1, what we’ve all been hoping for… a vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science: the profession of teaching.

This, I would guess, is how many coaches and mentors see themselves. There is certainly some learning involved whether it’s on a course with exams or just in the good old University of Life. I don’t have a degree in coaching and whilst some do I’m not sure it’s the right approach for everyone (and could exclude many talented people from considering coaching and mentoring as their career). Are either of these disciplines a science? Well increasingly people are seeking to systematise personal development (forgetting that the operative word is personal). Yet making it a science doesn’t really allow for the magic that can happen in a good coaching or mentoring relationship.

Where does that leave David’s question? Well I find my most instructive parallel is with the legal profession. Coaching and mentoring have codes of ethics and behaviour which vary from country to country though there are certain international agreements, just like law. They also have a basis of custom and practice, specific recognised models which to me seem similar to the principles of common law. Perhaps the most telling comparison to me is the difference between the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law”. I feel that the very best coaching and mentoring has a sound basis in the “letter” but allows for the “spirit”, that indefinable something extra. So yes David, I believe we are both “professionals” and it is up to us to help others define these professions as lawyers have helped create and then defend the rule of law.

So, if you’re keen to help David and myself (and many others) define what coaching and mentoring are then consider popping along to the European Mentoring & Coaching Council event in London on 29th February or at any of their other networks around the country.

4 thoughts on “The Professionals?

  1. David Goddin (@ChangeContinuum) Reply

    Thanks for picking up the challenge and providing a uniquely different perspective!

    I love the “letter of the law” & “spirit of the law” analogy. Personally, I think it feels as though coaching as a profession is generally coming too much from the perspective of “letter of the law” and the “spirit” is getting lost… I wonder if mentoring lacks this issue as it generally follows the “spirit of the law”… A conclusion could be that coaching lacks that “indefinable something extra” and it shows to its detriment. Lots to think about… thanks!

    • Project Libero - coaching, musing and exploring Reply

      Hi David

      Thanks for the challenge in the first place. I think you’re right about coaching being increasingly about the letter rather than the spirit. I wouldn’t say mentoring lacks this issue (I was trained by Clutterbuck Associates on a formal corporate programme after all) but it still seems to be much more informal in its set up. The idea of the “wise elder” that we have discussed in person. However I don’t feel that coaching necessarily lacks the “something extra”, just that it’s perhaps not as highly appreciated as you or I might like it to be? I think it’s a debate that coaches need to have, with clients, with organisations but most importantly with each other.


  2. AP Reply

    I get the analogy, but don’t think (or see) that there is a clear distinction between ‘letter’ and ‘spirit’. Indeed I feel there should be some overlap or ‘grey areas’ between them, and that they are inter-twined. Also, there is reference to lawyers, but what about solicitors or indeed Clerks of the Court? -they all deal with the law in some form or another, just in different ways. Yes, that’s it, different ‘ways’.

    • Project Libero - coaching, musing and exploring Reply

      Hi Andy, thanks for your comments. I think for many people there is a clear distinction between the rules, the strict application of the law and the compassionate use of it. What I’m trying to drive at is the fact that some coaches and mentors are very much like machines, they have set processes and sometimes the breakthrough comes from a client when something unusual or a little different is used.

      Your point around different practitioners of the law is well made and in many ways mirrors the fact that coaches, mentors and other change practitioners (for want of a better term) use many techniques interchangeably, borrowing from each other and operating – as you say – in different “ways”

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