He was an early beneficiary of what is now referred to as the democratization of coaching. As a young professional in an accounting firm, his employer refused him a promotion to a managerial position. However, his boss thought he had more potential than he had shown and took the unusual step of assigning him a professional coach. The trainer interviewed him, played the video recording and then asked what he thought of it.
“I was shocked. The picture of me seemed disinterested, and I hadn’t experienced it like that at all! And I must have had these habits for years. Looking back now, it’s no wonder my teaching career got off to a bad start, and I feel really lucky to have gotten the job as a professional service provider in the first place.”
where the path led
The words above are from Sam Isaacson, and the experience ignited more than just the coveted promotion next time. He also approached his work with renewed awareness, specializing in risk assessment of financial services technologies, and then took over the “Culture and Coaching” and “Innovation Assurance” service lines to promote effective communication between his clients. He has also acquired and completed a coaching qualification himself.
His likeable manager left the company, and Isaacson decided it was time to break new ground. He joined another accounting firm which encouraged him to develop his coaching interests. Based on his own experience, he made sure to look out for idiosyncratic behaviors in his clients that could likely impact their future success, as he describes below.
“There was a young man from London who had an extremely heavy accent because of the friends he made in the area where he grew up. If you heard him in a radio play, you could typecast him as a member of a street gang. However, he was very academically gifted and I helped him moderate his speaking to make the right first impression.”
“A woman from a minority family would just get one job at a time and move when she felt like doing something different. She began to see things differently and to be more accountable to the stakeholders she dealt with. She got the message so well that she later started her own company and communicated very clearly that she would deliver for her clients.”
A new opportunity
As Isaacson became more involved with his new employer, he found a new opportunity. The UK Institute For Apprenticeships funds ‘Trailblazer Groups’ to set up and develop apprenticeships in new VET programmes. One such group had been formed to achieve professional coaching qualifications, and Isaacson was invited to join them. (Britain, like the US, has introduced apprenticeship pathways that bypass any college degree requirements. Many of these programs are funded by tithes collected by participating companies in an industry. The US Department of Labor is also active in apprenticeship training, but has not authority to collect tithing.)
The leader of the pioneering group resigned to move to another country, after which Isaacson volunteered to take the job and was unanimously confirmed. He has now been in this position for four years. The Professional Coaching training has been recognized by all three major professional bodies – the International Coaching Federation, the European Mentoring and Coaching Council – Global and the Association for Coaching – as well as by over 100 employer representatives. As an extension of this work, he has recently authored two books on ‘digital coaching’, ie the use of a wide range of online tools to support the coaching process. Along the way, he was described as “the first person to coach a client in virtual reality.”
Isaacson was recently recruited by one of his Pioneer group associates to become Global Director of Consulting at digital coaching company CoachHub. In this role, he is part of the executive team of the company’s Digital Coaching Lab, which is described as delivering “the latest research in behavioral science and positive psychology.” This means supporting a group of around 50 professionals from different departments and around the world and “flying the flag” for their achievements.
A future for professional coaching
Isaacson projects a real passion for the work he does – matching good coaches with eager coachees on the one hand – and supporting their work together.
He wants coaching to spread through the ranks of employer organizations.
“Professional coaching is uniquely helpful for executives. There is almost no other forum where someone in a senior leadership position can get a truly independent challenge and work one on one in a non-directive way. But coaching is also a great tool to support people from less privileged backgrounds, people who never knew how to present themselves when entering the corporate world. I think coaching is extremely powerful for this type of person to increase self-awareness and improve understanding of how systems and individuals work.”
He also has great respect for the professional trainers he interacts with.
“Pretty much every coach I meet is driven by kindness more than anything. I cannot stress enough the privilege I now feel of contributing to the work of these people I admire so much. I am so grateful to be collaborating with some of the world’s leading coaches in their ongoing commitment to a more inclusive profession.”
In summary, the above story demonstrates how the learning and subsequent practice of professional coaching connected one individual to others with influence throughout the industry. In turn, he has savored the opportunity to champion something so central to his values – namely, a rapid, global movement toward the democratization of coaching.