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Why Tony Robbins Can't Pass ICF or IAC Life Coach Certification

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Tony Robbins Life Coach CertificationThe other day I had a conversation with one of my coaching students about why Anthony Robbins wouldn't pass IAC life coach certification.

On further reflection I realized that he wouldn't pass ICF coach credentialing, either. Why is that? Because he engages in some huge life coaching no-no's. I'll explain in a moment...

Maybe it isn't fair to measure what Tony Robbins does by standardized life-coaching models. After all, he calls himself a 'Strategic Interventionist', not a life coach.

Then again, he does have a coaching page on his website that claims he is the "Father of the Coaching Industry". Hmm, that flies in the face of what tens of thousands of coaches say, that Thomas Leonard is the 'Founder of Professional Coaching'.

For instance, Thomas Leonard founded both the ICF and the IAC. But...

And I'm just guessing here, but this is a really BIG BUT: There are quite a few overlaps between Thomas Leonard's approach to coaching (I studied at both his schools, where I received several coach certifications and I was Lead Certifier for the Thomas Leonard Coaching School) and Tony Robbins' approach, which I've studied informally.

I'm a huge Thomas Leonard fan, BUT...It times out that Leonard may have stolen (ahem, borrowed) many of his ideas from Robbins. I'm just speculating, but Tony Robbins' most popular book, Awaken the Giant Within, in which Robbins calls himself a coach, was based on his work with thousands of people over twenty years and was published in 1991. Thomas Leonard founded his first coaching school (the first life coaching school in the world), Coach University, in 1992, with an awful lot of the very same ideas (though there are some key differences).

Not that I think Tony Robbins invented all of his own ideas. Like many entrepreneurs, he seems to have repackaged, renamed and reorganized ideas that were already out there; some new; some ancient.

A few folks trace these ideas back to Jim Rohn, EST, or Landmark. Others trace their early development to the 19th Century American Transcendentalists. But you can find their roots in the words of Jesus Christ and the Buddha, and in even earlier writings and oral traditions from around the world. (This is one of the many reasons why a degree in psychology or social work, even a PhD, won't make you a life coach.)

But back to Tony Robbins and why he can't pass life coach certification...

REASON #1: Robbins often coaches people who are suicidal. One of the biggest no-no's in coaching is that coaches don't coach people who are mentally ill. And you'd have to be mentally ill to consider suicide, right?

Both the IAC and ICF warn against using coaching as a therapeutic tool. The main reason for this rule is that an unskilled coach could actually harm the client. An additional reason is that the coach may expose him/herself to a lawsuit for practicing psychotherapy without a license.

I would not encourage a coach to coach anyone who is in tremendous psychic pain, but I personally have coached clients who had some big issues. In many cases I required them to see a therapist while they worked with me. But they often told me that coaching helped them more than therapy. For some clients, those who are willing to take responsibility for their issues, the tools of coaching are far more empowering than psychotherapy.

Robbins claims he's never lost anyone. If that's true then maybe his strategic interventions aren't as fool hearty as they would be for some coaches. And maybe he's actually saved thousands of lives. In that case, what he does is courageous and extremely valuable.

REASON #2: Sometimes Robbins does most of the talking. This is one of the basic rules of life coaching: Let the client do most of the talking. But Robbins frequently doesn't follow this rule.

I've seen him coach people when he did almost all of the talking. And it appears to work. Why? He reads body language extraordinarily well and he has a keen understanding of human nature. Isn't that true of other coaches, as well? I think it is, but Robbins has decades more experience than most coaches and he's worked with thousands of people. Most coaches can't scratch the surface of what Robbins  has already accomplished and their skill levels reflect that.

Still, talk too much in a coaching session and both the IAC and ICF will fail you. In most coaching sessions, I think they are right. But there may be exceptions...

REASON #3: Robbins makes rude jokes about his clients, often when they are deeply suffering. As one of my colleagues said, 'I just thought he did that because he was an a**hole!' Apparently he does it because it jolts the client out of a stuck brain state just long enough for him to shift them into a more empowering thought pattern. And it seems to work!

The IAC and ICF both recognize that shifting the client's thinking is an important part of good coaching, but using a sledge hammer to do it? That's a great way to lose the client's trust. In most cases, it's better to respect and empathize with the client, especially when they're struggling. Then again, if you have only a short time to coach someone who is in deep trouble, maybe the gloves need to come off...

REASON #4: Robbins doesn't have any coach-specific training. Actually, this is only a problem for the ICF. The IAC recognizes that there are good coaches who, like Robbins, have thousands of hours of experience and have been learning for decades everything they can about how to facilitate enormous personal growth and development in others, but who may not have attended an ICF approved coach training school.

The ICF on the other hand, recognizes that quality coach training speeds up the coach's development, so s/he can coach competently within a year or so, instead of within ten years, which is what it often takes, for the self-taught. The ICF believes so strongly in coach-specific training that they recently announced that they won't even accept untrained coaches for membership in their organization.

Robbins started his journey as a coach while he was still in high school - long before coach training existed. He not only coached his classmates, he claims he read 750 books and attended every seminar on personal growth that he could afford (sometimes attending the best ones several times, so he could master the material). Then he went on to coach thousands of people for decades.

Tony Robbins exemplifies what Malcolm Gladwell says in his book, Outliers: That extreme mastery is the result of about 10,000 hours of experience, rather than the result of extreme talent. Talent is nice, but an obsessive commitment to 'take massive action', as Robbins would say, matters more.

Let's face it, Anthony Robbins really doesn't need life coach certification.

He is famous and his results speak for themselves. He gets away with an awful lot, because his clients already know his reputation and trust him, immensely.

So does life coach certification even matter, when it doesn't recognize the skills that such a well-known master coach uses so successfully? It does, but maybe not for the reasons you would think...

Both IAC and ICF certification processes are more rigorous to achieve than most coaches realize. They virtually force coaches to get thousands of hours of coach training and practice in order to pass. They won't turn you into Tony Robbins, but they will make you a much better coach.

Think of life coach certification as a supportive structure that helps you become the kind of professional coach you'd want to work with.

But take everything certifiers say about coaching with a touch of humor. Because both of these highly-respected certifying organizations miss a wide range of possible master coaching techniques, regardless of what they say about inter-rater reliability. That just means the certifiers agree with each other; it doesn't mean that their criteria include every form of master coaching.

If they fail you, remember, they'd fail Tony, too.

Don't use either passing or failing life coach certification as an excuse to quit your coaching development. Use it as a challenge to keep going and become the kind of coach who can turn around a client's life in minutes.

By the way, Tony Robbins probably is the Father of the Coaching Industry. But Thomas Leonard is the coach who began turning coaching into a profession. Both have made enormously important contributions.

Thomas started the IAC because he was frustrated that ICF life coach certification was leaving out some great coaches. I later started School of Coaching Mastery's coach certification, because I became frustrated that IAC life coach certification is also leaving out some great coaches.

At SCM, we're upfront about life and business coach certification. We don't pretend that we know everything. We don't even pretend to be objective. Life coach certification is never objective. We use three certifiers to grade each session and only two out of the three have to agree that a session passes.

We use a simple numerical grading system, but every certifier is allowed to overturn her own grading and recommend a coach for certification, even if the coach didn't demonstrate all of our master coaching skills. Why?

  • Research shows that when people who are highly knowledgeable in a field (such as coach certifiers), get sufficient information (by listening closely to a coaching session), their 'gut' (a.k.a. intuition) is more reliably accurate than their analytical evaluations.

  • This approach allows certifiers to use the whole brain, just like coaches do, instead of just half the brain, the left side, to quantitatively measure something that is essentially not quantifiable. In short, the certifiers can grade from a coaching brain state, instead of a judgmental brain state. In other words, they think like coaches while they are evaluating coaching.

  • The biggest reason: Because we can override our own grading, this certification allows for coaches who use techniques we're unfamiliar with and who may not use the techniques we're looking for. In short, we most want to certify coaches who can teach us something new.

I'd certify Anthony Robbins.

I've definitely learned some new things from him. And I've seen evidence that what he does is highly effective. I've even learned how to use techniques that Thomas Leonard cautioned against.

What do you think? Do you agree that Tony Robbins wouldn't pass ICF or IAC life coach certification? Or am I totally full of cr*p?

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I think that Tony Roberts could pass both - If he wanted to.. 
I really think it's great that he's created his own "category" of coach by doing what he does. And really, I think that he's got more things to worry about in his life other than if he's certified or not with the IAC or ICF. Certainly his clients don't seem to mind either. What coaching clients want most is simple - Results. His clients get those results, and they pay him lots of money - precisely because of that. 
Einstein never finished high school. Does that make him less of a genius? Tony Robins probably will never be certified by the IAC or ICF. Does that make him less of a coach? 
As a generalization, I believe that certifying bodies, whether they be schools, non-profit institutions, national organizations, etc - use certification in an attempt to narrow the field of competition, and if misused, create many "turf-wars" within a profession. This doesn't protect the consumer. This protects the certifying body and all of the organizations and schools that link to the certification model. 
It's like saying "The Dali Lama could NEVER be a 'real Christian' because he doesn't pray the same way we do."  
But he's on a totally different wavelength in the Universe, and that "outside the boxes of convention" paradigm not only produces great results - it can shift the world forward in a way that folks could never dream (because they are too busy trying to compare him to their own created "box" or philosophy). 
Thomas Leonard wasn't certified by the IAC - he CREATED IT - and moved people forward. 
Compared to the experience of life, paradigm shifts, growth, change, creation, co-creation, results, and human kind's rise to shift, change, be, and 'become' - I think that the word 'certification' is mighty small.
Posted @ Wednesday, July 06, 2011 4:11 AM by Scott Schumacher
Hey Scott - Thanks for weighing in!  
You may be right, Tony Robbins might pass, if he wanted to. Extremely skilled coaches can shift their coaching styles to match the expectations of certifiers and pass - even if they normally coach differently. 
Can you do that? If not, it points to some important areas of growth for you.  
Because IAC and ICF coaching standards actually are very good; they just don't hold the final word on coaching. 
That's why I do support the process of coach certifications, because they give the coach benchmarks and clear guidance on where their coaching is strong and where it is weak. It's the coach's growth that really matters. 
I remember a coach long ago who said, 'I launched my coaching business on a jet stream of ego, but now I know there is so much more to learn.' That's what certifications do best: they make us humble enough to keep learning. 
And let's face it: our egos are the biggest impediments to great coaching. 
Here's something I disagree with you on: that certifications only exist to protect coaches and organizations. Certifications protect consumers by weeding out the worst of the worst, either because they can't pass, or they are too arrogant to try. 
Everybody claims great results, but I've seen the horror of what can happen with terrible coaching and the coaches involved were some of the most famous. They aren't great coaches. They are just great marketers. 
I used to side with you on certification, because I believe in freedom, creativity and innovation; but I've learned that certification doesn't squash that; it actually facilitates it. 
I've moved over to the professionalism side of the 'professional vs entrepreneur' duality, because from my perspective, that's where the most real growth is happening in coaching.  
To coaches who get defensive and claim they don't need coach certification, I say, prove it.
Posted @ Wednesday, July 06, 2011 9:44 AM by Julia Stewart
Great response Julia! One of the things I admire about you is your adherence to your values, and that you provide challenging questions! It's a reason I chose to study with SCM and do the Coach 100 program! It think that every coach needs great training in order to succeed and serve their clients well. You and the SCM stood out to me! 
And while we may differ in our values on certification, I think it's fair to say that in any industry, profession, education system, institution, etc - that there are "outliers" who are on a different path that they've either chosen, or they are being pulled toward. They learn differently, and they are labeled as "crazy", "rogue", or "too unconventional" by many. They are on the fringe. They think differenty, and we have a choice to either ridicule them or see them as gifts to the world - as equal and worthy as we are. 
Could I pass IAC certification? Perhaps. But I'm not about to try without training or engaging in my own self-development process until I'm confident to do so. Right now however, this certification isn't what I'm being pulled toward, and I won't measure my "arrival" into professional coaching by having it or not. 
My questions for you though -  
Could you encourage an "outlier" who chose an alternate path for themselves that fit their core values?  
Might your encouragement assist them in becoming the next Tony Robins (or better)? (I believe it could.) 
Or would you always be skeptical?
Posted @ Wednesday, July 06, 2011 3:36 PM by Scott Schumacher
Hi Scott - Great response. Coach 100 is, itself, a coach-training program that encourages coaches to coach a lot, learn from each client and get a certification - if you want it. 
In answer to your questions: 
'Could you encourage an "outlier" who chose an alternate path for themselves that fit their core values?  
Might your encouragement assist them in becoming the next Tony Robins (or better)? (I believe it could.)  
Or would you always be skeptical?'  
If you look at the structure of SCM's certification, which I referred to in the blog post above, it's actually designed to allow for the outliers who are great coaches, or even pioneers, but who may not be able to get certified anywhere else. 
I don't just encourage the mavericks, I seek them out and learn from them. They're usually curious enough to learn from me, as well. 
But for every outlier, there are hundreds of coach wannabes who think they already know 'enough' and haven't even scratched the surface.  
The so-called pioneers of coaching can add to our knowledge base, but so can the synthesizers, teachers and certifiers. In the end, you only get to be one of these, if you're constantly learning. Same goes for a coach. 
That said, in answer to your question on whether I'll always be skeptical: YES!! 
Call me a curious skeptic.
Posted @ Thursday, July 07, 2011 8:48 AM by Julia Stewart
Hi Julia - Thoughtful, as always.  
I'd love to hear you say more about an idea you used in your response to Scott: 
"I've moved over to the professionalism side of the 'professional vs entrepreneur' duality, because from my perspective, that's where the most real growth is happening in coaching." It created a big insight for me about something that's been troubling me about coaching for some time.  
Thanks - Cheers - Sue
Posted @ Friday, July 15, 2011 8:05 PM by Sue Johnston
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