26 May 2020

Kathy Tracey: what is coaching and how to choose a coach?

BAM! And it hits you sideways – that sudden realisation that you have the power to change what’s happening by changing something in yourself. Feels awesome, then feels embarrassing (shouldn’t I have worked that out ages ago?), then feels motivating and surprise, surprise – actually works! That’s the experience of coaching.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines the work that professional coaches do like this:

Coaching is a thought-provoking and creative partnership that inspires clients to maximize their personal and professional potential, often unlocking previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.

When I returned to Aotearoa, nearly 5 years ago now, I was amazed (and frustrated) by the number of people calling themselves executive coaches who were actually consulting or giving business advice and had no coach-specific training. I don’t have a problem with business advisors or consultants (far from it as I also used to do that work myself), but coaching is different. It’s not about telling people what to do, it’s about exploring, co-creating and deepening understanding so people can gain clarity about their own unique situations.

In New Zealand it felt like there was a lot of work to do to get coaching recognised as a particular range of interventions with a particular set of skills. There are some fabulous coaches across New Zealand, but it took me time to find them and I know what I’m looking for – which got me thinking – how on earth does a potential client figure all this out?

So, here’s some tips that I’ve shamelessly lifted from our ICF website – so the links are still intact:

When looking to hire a coach, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Do your homework. Educate yourself about what coaching is, what it isn’t and what the coaching process entails. More than 2,000 articles, case studies and reports about coaching and related topics are easily accessible at the ICF Research Portal.
  • Reflect on your goals and objectives. Summarize what you expect to accomplish by partnering with a coach. With a clear idea of your desired outcomes, you can better choose a coach practitioner who is well-equipped to help you develop a strategy for achieving them.
  • Interview at least three coaches. Ask each coach about his or her experience, skills and qualifications, and request at least two references. Coaching is an important relationship, so look for a personal connection between you and the coach you choose.
  • Confirm credibility. Research each coach’s training, professional memberships and credentials.


Ask the following questions when you interview a prospective coach:

  • What is your coaching experience (number of individuals coached, years of experience, types of coaching situations, etc.)?
  • What is your coach-specific training (an ICF-accredited training program, other coach-specific training, etc.)?
  • What is your coaching specialty or areas in which you most often work?
  • What types of organisations do you work with most often? And, at what levels (executives, upper management, middle management, etc.)?
  • What types of assessments are you certified to deliver?
  • What are some of your coaching success stories (specific examples of clients who have succeeded as a result of coaching)?
  • Are you an ICF Member? Do you hold an ICF Credential?


Now that might seem like a lot to do – but even if you take a few of these questions, and talk to two coaches you will get a sense of whether you think the coach is a good fit for you. A professional coach is an investment, don’t just throw your money at the nearest or cheapest, think about what’s important to you.

Professional coaches will usually take a ‘Chemistry Meeting’ if you ask for one. This is a free ‘let’s see if we fit’ meeting which helps both parties to ascertain whether they can work well together. And don’t be afraid to ask for what you need – this will enable the coach to serve you well and to guide you to another coach if the fit doesn’t seem right.

The videos on the ICF website show some great examples of what coaching is about.

There are a number of Professional Coaching bodies around the world, and when I lived in the UK I belonged to the EMCC, here in New Zealand I’ve affiliated with the ICF as it felt more relevant. I’m a passionate believer and supporter of professional bodies, they hold us to a code of ethics and help us hold ourselves to high standards of practice. I’m not saying there aren’t some awesome coaches out there who don’t have qualifications and credentials, but ask the same questions of them… you will still get a sense of whether they are right for you.

In my time as a Collective Intelligence facilitator I also had the chance to directly coach some members during team meetings (with of course their express permission and the groups’ agreement for going into a particularly deep dive into personal space). Using a systemic team coaching approach, we asked for the ‘client’ to watch as we built a living map of their focus issue using the team members as representatives.

In one very powerful example, a team member explored an issue that she had never disclosed before. All of the team were affected in some way and the extraordinary power of this type of work was brought to the groups’ awareness:

“You made a grown man cry – I was not expecting that! It wasn’t supposed to be about me but when I represented her father I had a huge jolt about my own fathering of my children.”


What is extraordinary about Collective Intelligence members is their willingness to give things a go, even when it’s far, far outside their comfort zone. The facilitators and the group members are always pushing each other to go further, to explore and challenge each other’s thinking and behaviour.

In the coaching context one of my clients put it this way, “You make me get to the crux of shit”. And of course that’s what Collective Intelligence is all about too!

Kathy Tracey is a Master Credentialed Coach, the highest level awarded by the International Coaching Federation. She is the President Elect for the Australasian ICF Chapter and begins her term as President in September this year.

Kathy runs a coach training business specialising in systemic coaching, and a coaching practice which, as of September, will include bespoke business coaching retreats for couples who run their own businesses. The retreat is currently being constructed in Castlepoint.

Kathy has worked with Collective Intelligence groups since 2017 and now offers Collective Intelligence members individual and team coaching.

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