What is the best certification or methodology for executive coaching?

Recently I was asked this question by someone who desperately wanted to be certified as an “executive coach.”

Be careful.  Here are the facts.

There is not one “best coaching certification or methodology for those who work with executives,” for several reasons.

1. Executive coaching is a new approach with a short history (about 20 years) within psychology (about 100 years). The protocols that would be “certifiable” have not yet been well defined.  There is no external board or established practices, as in other professions such as healthcare, finance or law. I often ask, “Who certifies the certifiers?” (And I have been certified by several coaching providers for decades.)  One example of certification based on my dissertation research with global professional coaches is here.

2. The coach training industry is estimated at 53,500 global coach practitioners and over $7B in annual revenue, with 115 accredited coach training programs (ICF, 2016). The reality is that coaching certifications and silly acronyms abound.  I co-developed one back in 1999, when there were only about 20 ICF accredited coach training programs.

3. There is market confusion about definitions and coaching outcomes. The result is that vendors have responded to the market confusion. A gap exists between theory and practice because executive coaching lacks rigorous measurement, evidence-based protocols and standard processes. The largest organization, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) stated “the top future obstacles for coaching are (a) untrained individuals and (b) marketplace confusion (ICF, 2016).” That survey understates the confusion. Your question illustrates the desire by many to “get certified.”

4. In any marketplace vacuum, competitors emerge. Countless colleges and universities will declare that their certification programs define standards. Be careful. That archaic model presumes that academics know best, and we are increasingly aware of disruption in the marketplace. I like academics. My dissertation explored the competitive advantage of coaching protocols, using global professional coaches. As the “coaching profession” develops momentum, I encourage you to study the practical market demands for coaching protocols. You may want to be cautious. “The top future opportunities for coaching are (a) increased awareness of the benefits of coaching, and (b) credible data on ROI/ROE/outcomes (ICF, 2016)”. In short, we need to define protocols for outcome-based coaching, including useful certification programs.

5. Certification programs exist. I favor the ROI methodology described at the ROI Institute, and a 2-level executive coaching certification process. Last week the co-founder, Patti Phillips, and I discussed certification programs that moved beyond knowledge to practical demonstrations of mastery. She encouraged me to focus on practical applications. (Disclosure: I trademarked the AD-FIT coaching protocol when some F500 clients asked “How do you operationalize what works?” Those details are at Products Archive – Action Learning ( and throughout this website. The fact is that “Many professional consultants or coaches do not adhere to evidence-based protocols (Foster & Auerbach, 2015; MacKie, 2014. Citation sources available upon request.)

6. Organizational clients may design their own executive coaching certification programs. They are cost-effective and foster cultural expectations. (Disclosure: I also serve as an engagement manager and executive coach at CoachSource | Executive Coaching Excellence (, the largest global provider of executive coaching.)  Those internal coaching certification programs are customized internally, with expertise from coaches like me, for specific business outcomes that are proprietary.

Bottom line: Certification for executive coaching implies a mature profession with protocols that satisfy a market demand.

If useful, please contact me here. I’d love to discuss your interest in executive coaching certification programs.

All the best, Doug

My coaching guarantee

Since 1997, I have provided an unconditional guarantee on coaching services from Action Learning Associates.

There is no “fine print.”

If you are not happy, then I do not want your money.

With many clients, I offer a coaching for results guarantee.  If we agree to work together, and you do the work, then you can pay me at any time.  I guarantee high value.  To date, after hundreds of clients, 100% of them have paid for their coaching services.  Some agreed to pay a lesser amount than we had expected.  Some agreed to pay more.  Virtually 100% found the coaching to be valuable.

Here is why I provide that guarantee.  When I was in high school I had two paper routes.  And I worked at a warehouse after school.  And I cleaned windows and did lawns in the neighborhood.  One neighbor wanted the windows cleaned.  I said, “Yes of course.”  It took about two days.  Imagine sweaty grimy paper towels and windex.  Three stories of filthy windows.  Midsummer heat.  I was tired… but I did my best to do the job.  When the neighbor asked how much to pay me, I countered with, “Let me ask you two questions and then we will likely agree on a number.”

The first question was, “Were you delighted with the service I provided and would you hire me or refer me if the need arose again?”  She said yes.

The second question was,  “What was the value of this service for you?”  She said a number that was higher than what I expected.  I said thank you.

That was in 1981 or so… and I have used that process ever since.

Recently I learned that Marshall Goldsmith, a premier executive coach, uses a similar model when coaching for results.  Here is that model:



Our coaching tracks the proven eight-step process:

  1. Select the appropriate coach
  2. Measure baseline performance
  3. Identify areas for skills development
  4. Formulate a custom training regimen
  5. Secure stakeholder buy-in
  6. Implement the training regimen
  7. Follow up with stakeholders
  8. Measure results
I like this model and this list.  There are no “fine details.”  All about coaching for results.
So, are you ready to work together?  Give me a call now.


Goal Setting in 30 seconds

Bryan Tracy is famous for the “30-Second Goal Setting Test.”  Here you go:

1.  Think about your goals.

2.  Write them down in the next 30 seconds.

[pause and write…]

Virtually everyone would lump their goals into 3 categories:  1.  relationship goals  (family, work…), 2.  financial goals (money, career…) and 3.  health goals (diet, exercise…)

So, why do you think you are so different?

Possible takeaway:  Write your goals.  Work with a coach or accountability partner daily.  Re-write your top 10 goals on a new sheet of paper every day for 30 days.  Then go back and study whatever you wrote.


Reason #9. Why I care about safety.

Reason #9.  Rock climbing.

I love to lead climb.

In my 20s I spent several months rock climbing the best cliffs in the United States.  For 3 months I lived in a car with several friends, and we travelled to Boulder, CO and Devils Tower, WY.  We ate granola.  And macaroni and cheese.  While studying guidebooks.  Or talking with lanky climbers from all over the world.

Boulder Canyon and Eldorado Canyons were meccas for serious climbers.  As a lead climber, my partner and I started on the bottom and climbed all day, until we summited on a ledge.  Then we rappelled back down, or hiked down.  Every afternoon the thunderstorms terrified us.  Every climb had terrifying sections.  At Devils Tower we did overhanging aid climbs that required swinging traverses.  Just like James Bond on the Eiger in Switzerland.  We learned to mitigate risks.

When moving on vertical rock, you have 4 potential points of contact.  If two feet and one hand are enough, then you can move the other hand.  Climbers learn to distribute weight evenly.  To select resting places.  To control energy exertion.  To keep your hands below your heart to reduce fatigue.  To ignore fear.

After days or weeks, your hands develop callouses.  After many first ascents, your confidence increases.  So you try something harder.

And then you fall.

My most terrifying fall was about 40′ late one afternoon.  I had felt invincible.  Then the crack thinned out.  I could not find any placement.  My legs shook.  I could not climb back down.  And my last piece of protection (climbing hardware) was about 20′ below me.  Because I had felt so confident… I had climbed higher than I should have.

I recall pausing.  There was a choice.  And I chose to fall.  I still recall that instant, some 30+ years later.

So I tumbled 20′ to the climbing hardware, then another 20′ below that, until my partner saved my life.  We were hundreds of feet above the canyon floor.

That instant of choice reminds me that we can choose to be safe, or not.

Just like adults on a job site.  Or adults sorting through career choices.  Or adults considering a risky move.

What are some reasons why you care about safety?