Barbara Ehrenreich and the cult of coaching
November 14, 2006
One of my holiday reads was Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch in which she spends a year researching America’s working poor. She goes undercover as a white collar worker looking for a job and one of the first chapters in her book is about her search for a career coach – it makes for shocking reading.
Fortunately there are about 10,000 people eager to assist me – “career coaches” – who, according to the coaching websites, can help you discover your true occupational “passion” retool your resumé, and hold your hand at every step along the way.
She meets with a variety of coaches offering watered down counselling and new age religion. Others are in need of severe coaching themselves; one in particular invites her to “design me as your best coach”. They are a sorry bunch and most of them seem to have stepped into coaching as a way of avoiding the very thing that Ehrenreich is looking for – a job.
Not all of us who coach are as disconnected from the real world as the people Ehrenreich met but I’ve met a few dodgy practitioners in my day (both as client and peer). No amount of trickery, circle of life drawings or re-engineered Ennegram frameworks can compensate for expertise about human systems and a real idea of how the world of work is constituted. Most of the people Ehrenreich met seemed to be afraid of developing a working alliance with their clients, more interested in peddling their own view of how the world should be rather than listening to what their clients needed. A working alliance is an absolute necessity for any kind of successful coaching – if it doesn’t exist then how can a coach or therapist or consultant say the challenging things at the right time in order to help a client?
I wonder about the amount of “coach training” out there – it seems to me that the people making money out of coaching are the ones running training courses. I’m unsure as to whether the coaching “industry” has a long term future – populated as it is by so many people who turn to the profession as a way of reinventing themselves and in the absence of any real kind of regulation. (There’s a touch of locking the door after the horse has bolted about most accreditation schemes I’ve examined and I’m sceptical of any accreditation scheme that can accredit people who have “trained” over and above people who have practised) – but that’s a rant for another day.