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

How to increase employee engagement? New science for practitioners

Recently I was asked to speak at the Human Resource conference for the State of Tennessee.  They wanted four sessions on “How to increase employee engagement.”

The content and videos are located here.

Here is the session description:

Studies continue to show that employee engagement in the workplace remains low- around the 30% range.  Low levels of employee engagement have a negative impact on achieving organizational goals, and create a workplace that does not encourage high performance.  During this session, we will answer the three key questions of employee engagement:  1) What do we know from evidence-based science?  2) How can I apply that science to increase my personal level of engagement?   3) How can I improve the engagement levels of others?  This course introduces a new model based on positive psychology practices, called the AD-FIT%TM model, that you can apply immediately.

This course provides leaders at all levels with an introduction into the science and practice of employee engagement.  Any manager or leader with a growth mindset can apply this course content to lead individual, group or organizational change in your business.  This content has been distributed to thousands of leaders in governments, private and nonprofit organizations, as well as individuals.

The content of this course is gleaned from thousands of our leadership consulting clients since 1997, and the presenter’s dissertation research on positive psychology.

The goal of this course is to introduce leaders like you to world-class techniques so that you gain competitive advantage.

Learning objectives:

  • Recognize key variables that influence employee engagement
  • Discover how to measure employee engagement
  • Identify how to increase individual employee engagement
  • Identify how to develop organizational employee engagement

Please contact us for the handout before viewing the video section of this course.

The content and videos are located here.

Action leads to learning.  What are you waiting for?

To contact Doug Gray, CEO, PCC, call 615.236.1892 or contact us here.  Today.

What is Action Learning?

Action Learning is a behavioral change process model that works 1) for groups and 2) for individuals.


For groups, Action Learning occurs when stakeholders use real problems to acquire learning and implement system-wide solutions.

For individuals, Action Learning is a behavioral coaching methodology that applies the same 4 steps.  


The Action Learning change process model includes four steps:

1) decide what breakthrough requires you to invest resources,

2) act with a talented, cross-functional team and executive endorsement,

3) reflect on steps achieved, and

4) connect or expand the results across business or functional lines, to new markets or clients.

We have facilitated organizational Action Learning change using both virtual and direct processes:


1. Technology processes: SharePoint, Action Item task lists, virtual teams, e-coaching and e-consulting, digital consulting and short implementation teams.

2: Direct meeting processes: assessments, facilitation in a series of workshops, coaching and consulting, project initiatives, leadership off-site retreats, strategic reorganization

For a summary of consulting fees and investment levels for organizations click here, and for individuals click here.  


Our Services typically include:

Assessments  (e.g. individual, group, organizational, strategic)

        Qualitative or Quantitative 360 assessments

        Organizational Culture Assessments

        Leadership competency assessments

Leadership consulting and behavioral coaching (e.g. individual, team or group levels)

Strategic planning and organizational redesign


Shadow Coaching

Facilitation, training, retreats or workshops


The result is that the Action Learning process helps individuals and groups become true learning organizations.

What are you waiting for?

Download this list of services and investment levels now:

Please contact us or call immediately at 704.995.6647 or schedule your initial consultation here.

Corporate Coaching ROI

Whether public or privately held, most buying agents (managers and leaders) ask about Return on Investment (ROI). You need to. Some coaches duck the question by stating that coaching is a “soft skill” that cannot be measured. We disagree.  ROI can be measured and must be measured.


Every client uses metrics to define their success. Typically these metrics are connected to key practices for that group. Here are two examples.



Coaching 101: the FAQs

What is executive coaching?

And how is coaching different from consulting, therapy, or chatting with a good friend?


Coaching is an emerging field with roots in organizational development and the human potential movement. Executive coaching may be defined as contract for behavioral outcomes.  Note the hard facts implied in this definition:  1.  a business agreement 2) with expectation and measurement of 3) behavioral outcomes.  There is nothing vague about executive coaching.


The process may be internal to an organization, for instance a large organization may development a coaching program to develop specific competencies in individuals that align with its vision or a business need.   Mangers are now required to “coach” their direct reports, which is an inherent ethical conflict.  The messy results may appear in the next performance review for both the manager and the direct report.


More often, coaching is an external process, especially when confidentiality is required for a leader to develop specific skills or competencies. Think of those who are the most “high potential” contributors in your organization.  That HiPo label implies that they produce some 80% of the results and require expert external leadership training from executive coaches.  They NEED an external, confidential executive coach, as a “secret weapon” to support some behavioral outcomes.  The ROI data for external executive coaching is clear, and I can provide ample white papers upon request.


The 3A Process:  Assessment, Constructive Actions, Accountability


1. The coaching process always includes an assessment phase where leaders assess their strengths.  There are some 15,000 validated and reliable psychological assessments.  I sell many of them.  I’m certified in many of them.  I developed and validated an assessment on risk-taking when in graduate school at Dartmouth College.  If you favor a certain assessment let me know- we can use it.  Coaching without assessments is sloppy and silly, like eating spaghetti without a fork.  You can do it but it is a waste of essential tools.


Once you select a coach the behavior outcomes are defined contractually. The process may include direct meetings, phone meetings, or some combination thereof.  Executive coaching typically includes meetings with other stakeholders who are close to the leader.  Services are paid by engagement.  The meeting schedule and frequency data is provided to the leader, HR business partner (HRBP), and the leader’s manager.  The content of the coaching engagement must be kept confidential.  Remember, that executive coaching is a business agreement.  Outcomes are pre-defined and renewed at least quarterly with the HRBP and manager.


2.  Constructive actions are defined by the leader’s agenda.  There are few absolutes in executive coaching- the process requires both artistry and science, content expertise and process expertise.  That fact frustrates those who are rigid or not interested in learning.    However, when a leader is newly promoted or has a specific business outcome that must be achieved, I assure you that they can move quickly.  Executive coaches provide expertise, based on years of doing similar work with hundreds of other leaders.  The best executive coaches may suggest constructive actions, or world-class solutions, upon request.  But consultative coaches (like myself) do not tell leaders what to do.  We provide customized leadership training.  Then we ask, “What are you taking away from this session that you are likely to do next?”


3. Accountability is the missing step from too many people who declare themselves “professional coaches.”   We support and document behavior change, using any resources.  We have the sacred responsibility of supporting someone’s behavioral outcome.  That fact may require me to be a cheerleader one day, and a drill sergeant the next day.  I only get paid when the leader manifests those behavioral changes.  So I give them “everything I’ve got.”  Any content from my digital library.  Any communication model.  Any proven tactic.  Each session starts with, “What is your primary agenda or focus today?”  And the leader is expected to demonstrate value from their investment.

Since 1997, 100% of my clients have stated the value of this 3A Coaching Process.  It is my guarantee.


What are the boundaries?


There are key distinctions between coaching and consulting. Coaches usually ask powerful questions such “How can you make that goal happen?” or “What would it take for you to call that person?” Then good coaches hold the client accountable, while encouraging them and offering proven techniques for their success. Consultants are hired to solve problems and provide specific information. Hence, consultants will often make statements rather than ask questions. In coaching, the client is expected to do the work. And frankly, most of the work occurs between coaching sessions.

Another key distinction should be made between coaching and therapy. Many coaches have no direct experience in the mental health profession.  Coaches should refer other specialists when needed. There is a temporal distinction that is crucial here:  the now and next vs. the past.  Coaches focus on the client’s immediate and future needs. Therapists focus on the client’s present condition and the past factors that led to that condition. Good coaches are action-oriented, helping leaders take the next steps to make their desired behavioral changes.


Next steps

So how do you determine who is a qualified coach? Start with the professional associations and make certain that any prospective coach has been trained and certified by one. The umbrella is the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and it has set the standard for ethics, professional standards, conferences, articles, etc.   Consider umbrella organizations such as CoachSource (I am one of the engagement managers there.) Then look at digital testimonials through Linked In and websites.

Selecting a good match is essential to a successful engagement.  The best analogy may be an athletic coach. When you select a tennis partner you want someone who will challenge you to work hard, improve your game, and help you move to the next level. Anything else is a waste of your time or money.

In summary:

  1.  List the behavioral outcomes (what you need to say or do) as a result of this investment
  2. Interview 2-4 executive coaches
  3. Select one who will support the outcome
  4. Get started.  There is no better investment.

Call me today to get started.  If I am not your “secret weapon guy” then I will refer you to someone great.