How well are you doing in your career?
Your title, your package, and your performance reviews may be good reference points, but there’s one marker that’s a better indicator than most — when your organisation offers you access to a professional coach.
Coaching is a great benefit for high-performing or high-potential professionals in their 40s, having spent 20 years honing their skills and progressing the corporate ladder.
And organisations believe there’s good reason to be selective about who gets coached and when. Coaching is a skilled profession — getting credentialed takes time, energy, and money. The value a great professional coach brings isn’t in dispute; what is, though, is the point in someone’s career at which that financial investment gets unlocked.
Now two professional International Coaching Federation (ICF) coaches are uniting to challenge the traditional coaching model. It is, they argue, a social injustice for coaching to remain the preserve of the pockets of people who have the privilege to access it.
In a unique coaching collaboration, Professional Certified Coach Susan Room and former ICF Global Chair and Master Certified Coach Tracy Sinclair are working to flip the coaching model on its head by making coaching skills accessible to young people before they even enter the workplace through a new initiative called Coachsters.
What’s more, they want the support of business, executives, politicians, educators, young people, and the coaching community to scale things up so coaching can do what it has the potential to do if made readily available — totally transform personal wellbeing, leadership, and society at large.
Does this raise questions about whether access to professional coaching is a human right? Should it be part of a fit-for-purpose, non-discriminatory 21st-century education? Alex Duff speaks with the campaigning coaches about their unusual coaching collaboration for young people and what’s driving them to democratise coaching.
“Coaching’s a very powerful way of working, communicating, and being. It has the potential to significantly impact people’s lives in very positive ways,” says Tracy. “There’s absolutely no reason someone should have to wait 30 years to be coached. Indeed, I feel cross that this kind of development isn’t usually available to people until they are in their 40s. Considering the recent difficulties the world’s been experiencing, not making those skills widely available seems absurd and hugely misses the point.”
It was the pandemic’s disproportionate impacts that initially led Susan to switch her coaching focus towards young people. She’d been delivering her successful Make Your Mark group coaching programme to corporate executives for years. Many of the strategies she shared for thriving in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world felt particularly pertinent to young people. For it is young people who have seen their studies disrupted, their employment opportunities stunted, and their confidence disappearing faster than a magician’s rabbit.
“Whether you are a student or a seasoned manager, a lot of the areas of difficulty seem to be very much the same. I would cite the inner critic, managing boundaries and having confidence. It almost seems like these are lifelong challenges and opportunities, yet there’s very little input offered to young people to deal with them or take advantage of them,” says Susan.
Wanting to ‘try and make things better’, Susan adapted her Make Your Mark programme, delivering her first pro bono student program in the summer of 2020. She describes the response as ‘phenomenal’.
“It’s always great to get feedback, but there’s something special about hearing a young person say: ‘Because of coaching, something important has shifted for me. I’ve been able to step up and apply or try something that I wouldn’t have otherwise’”, Susan says.
So, Susan ran another program over the winter holidays, this time inviting a curious senior corporate HR professional from her network to join her. Her input provided value that led Susan to evolve the student program into something special that brings together professionals and her programme’s young participants. Ultimately this then morphed into the coaching collaboration between Susan and Tracy.
Tracy had also been working with young people and nurturing an offer to bring coaching skills to university students. When she and Susan heard what each other was doing, they knew there was an opportunity to come together to give students a broader offering.
“There was almost a chronology to how our work fit together, but rather than Susan do her thing and me do mine, we thought: Why don’t we come together and make this a seamless package?” says Tracy. Which is exactly what they’ve done.
Young participants aged between 18-25 get to experience coaching. The 10-hour group programme helps its young participants better understand themselves and taps into how they think, sound, and look. It catapults their confidence by providing tools to excel in their transition into the world of work.
Having completed the programme, participants can then apply to become programme Ambassadors. Those who are successful commit to helping make the following year’s pro bono programme be an even bigger success. In exchange, these Ambassadors get continued coaching and development support. That support is made available to them free of charge and enables them to experience 121 coaching and develop coaching skills.
“You don’t have to go on to become a coach to benefit from learning the skills needed to be a coach,” explains Tracy.
“Successful businesses already deploy these types of skills in a variety of areas — spanning customer services and sales to negotiation and leadership. So, this aspect is about how we support students to develop a coaching approach as part of their skills repertoire. Our belief is that strong coaching skills will positively inform their conversations and their relationships regardless of their career choice or the role they secure. We already know coaching creates better leaders, so why wait to develop the coaching muscle?” asks Tracy.
That ‘why wait for coaching’ question lies at the heart of this campaign and is something that’s been reinforced during their most recent Make Your Mark programme for students. In 2021, nine senior executives from a variety of different industries joined Susan and Tracy to lend their support to the programme’s young participants. Those executives were repeatedly heard to say: ‘Well, I wish I’d had this experience when I’d been starting out. What might have been different if I had?’”
And it’s the lack of access to coaching, coupled with this realisation that coaching enables people to make a larger contribution much earlier in their lives, that has driven Susan and Tracy to scale up their programme and campaign to make coaching accessible to all young people in higher education.
“I’m angry about the lack of provision for this sort of support and development for young people,” Susan shares. “There’s an assumption that education is just to get them to the top of their tree; then society expects them to get a top job. There’s so little to hold and support them through that transition. Is it then surprising that a lot of them enter the workplace and crash and burn?
“Tracy and I have joined forces because we share this passion and want to do something about it. Our skills as coaches are very complementary, and our partnership enables us to amplify our impact. But we want and need to do more,” continues Susan.
Tracy states, “We’ve made a valuable gesture and contribution to young people, but running these pro bono programmes isn’t a sustainable business model, and it’s not particularly scalable. We want to change that so coaching becomes ubiquitous for students in higher education.
“We could go down the discounted model route, but that presupposes a young person is going to have to pay. Quite frankly, given where students are in their lives financially, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to afford even a discounted model, so inevitably you end up perpetuating a more privileged access.
“And while volunteering, discounts and charitable rates are supportive and come from a strong place of good intention, they will never change the world or make the difference at the scale it needs to be made at here.”
Yet neither Tracy nor Susan seems dissuaded by the challenge — indeed they describe being energised by their mission and feel a ‘sense of duty’ to help make coaching more widely accessible to young people.
“The resources to make this happen are available,” says Tracy. “It’s just a question of match-making those who have the financial resources and those who would benefit from them.”
In the short term, the pair are keen to secure financial sponsorship from individuals, trusts or organisations with access to funds to support a cohort or an individual place. In the longer term, they plan to campaign government and work with the higher education sector.
“There’s such a strong case to be made for funding these young people. They are happier, they are healthier, their mental health improves, they can contribute and add value to a business faster, be supportive of others and are less likely to be off sick,” says Susan.
And it’s not just the youngsters who get something out of participating. By bringing business professionals in to support the schools, this programme is connecting people in a meaningful way.
“The learning is reciprocal,” explains Susan. “It’s a rich dialogue with young people learning from professionals and professionals learning from young people. You really get a sense that this kind of learning is life long and that by bringing together different generations you can enhance the results of that learning. There are so many reasons why this makes sense — not just for the individuals, but for businesses and for society in general.”
Tracy agrees: “What’s being offered here is highly valuable. It is making an impact and has the potential to make a huge difference to people’s lives and careers. At the end of the day, Susan and I have started this, but we’re just the vehicles. It’s coaching that’s the magic here. It’s supporting young people to be more self aware and to find their best potential earlier through coaching. They are then able to put the skills they have learned to use and pay them forward to others.”
Susan concludes: “It feels as though we have thrown the first stone and have seen it make a positive impact. Now we’re looking to create a ripple effect, to scale up, and we’re really hoping others will come forward and join us in that.”
Learn how you can get involved! Sign up for updates and help us spread the word so we can connect even more young people with the transformational power of coaching. We are looking for sponsors to help fund this initiative and help develop tomorrow’s leaders today.