The business of coaching is growing rapidly and there are a mass of people out there calling themselves coaches. It can be very confusing for someone looking for a coach to find the right one for them.
A quick search will find lots of different titles: life coach, business coach, executive coach, personal coach, career coach, health coach, conflict coach, dating coach, sports coach victimisation coach, leadership coach, performance coach, and so on. These people vary from the totally unqualified to the highly professional; and from one-man-bands, through to companies employing dozens of coaches, up to international franchise operations.
How do you pick a good coach, who is right for you? What can you look out for to help you select a coach who understands you and can help you to move forward?
What characteristics make a good coach?
In the pages that follow, you will find five important questions that you can pose to any prospective coach to ensure that you get the results that you want and that your investment gives you a good return.
This paper focuses on leadership coaching. A leadership coach aims to maximise the performance of leaders, or aspiring leaders, as individuals and as groups. Leaders may be business owners, directors, senior managers or more junior managers who are moving up the ladder. The common feature is the need to address the challenges they face as business leaders and the need to solve business challenges and see bottom line improvements through personal or team performance improvements. The issues that come up are complex and the individual challenges may be significant, therefore the choice of leadership coach is critical.
1. How will you work with my company and my team?
The first point to consider is whether the coach will fit in with you and your business. There has to be a ‘fit’ with the personality, style and background of the coach and the culture of the business and the personality of the team that is being coached.
This fit does not need to be too cosy. Coaching will be challenging and there are times when coaches need to be stretched or confronted with uncomfortable truths. Therefore it may be better to think of ‘fit’ as being one more of mutual respect and understanding.
Therefore ask the question, listen to the answer and hear what your gut instinct, or inner voice, says. If you sense that the coach will fit in, engender respect and has the edge to work firmly but sensitively and empathetically with your most difficult team member, then you are off to a good start.
2. What is your background and how does it apply to my business?
These are key questions to ask – especially the applicability of the coach’s background. The challenge though is in deciding just what the right answer is.
A good coach will intelligently employ a process to help a client get through to the right results for them and their particular challenge. This means that in some senses, any good coach, regardless of background, can coach any client through any issue. There certainly are some life coaches and personal coaches out there that will say this. However, in the more specialist forms of coaching, coaches will bring an extensive amount of experience and training to bear that they can employ in a pure coaching process, or design a more nuanced process which blends training, mentoring and coaching to better meet the clients’ particular needs. In this way you can create an enormously powerful process which not only connects a coachee with new insights and powerful goals, but equips them with new tools, knowledge and mindsets in a way that a generalist could never hope to achieve.
You will thus need to listen to your prospective coach’s answers and see how the whole package might meet your needs and what synergies exist. However, don’t look at experience too rigidly. Your coach does not need to have done the coachees’ job before nor do they need to have reached a more senior position than them. They must though have credible and transferable knowledge and experiences and it is how the whole package is deployed in support of your business and personal goals that is important to listen out for.
3. Do you have or work from a proven system?
This is a key question but again should not be employed too rigidly. There are a number of approaches to coaching, each with a formula, process or methodology. Each has its strengths. What is important is to look for a clear methodology that is applied consistently but which has sufficient flexibility to take the client wherever they need to go. There are plenty of coaches who stick rigidly to their process and will not deviate. This is unnecessary and leads not only to poor results but an increased chance that the coachee will lose momentum.
Should you hear from a coach a completely opposite view, and that they take a freeform approach and will just take each session from a standing start and look at the issues which the coachee brings in that day, alarm bells should ring. This approach might be useful for day-to-day tactical thinking through of topical issues; however it will never address the bigger challenges that will move the coachee’s performance to the next level. That is usually what a leadership coach is employed for and should be looking to deliver. Furthermore, unstructured coaching can consume a lot of time and this, to a busy executive, can make coaching difficult to schedule. An hour or 75 minutes is more than long enough for a full session to make significant progress. So look for a proven methodology that can be applied flexibly and in a time-efficient manner.
4. What kind of support do you have from your coaching company? How big is your network?
This question will help you to gauge the depth and breadth of knowledge, products and services your prospective leadership coach will be able to draw on in supporting you and your company. However, employing a lone coach is nothing to worry about and looking at the bigger companies is not necessary. There are a number of larger coaching schools and the graduates of the better ones will employ similar standards and techniques. I, for example, have followed an extensive training programme with Results Coaching Systems (RCS), an international school that takes assessment and certification very seriously. I am certified by them and can potentially draw on a pool of hundreds of fellow RCS graduates to use as associates. Ordinarily I would recommend and work with a small number of trusted colleagues.
5. What is your company’s track record of business experience and results?
Finally, you’ll want to see and hear about the results your prospective coach has achieved in their career, both as a coach and before. You will also want to see and hear testimonials from a range of clients. You should also be able to contact them directly to get some first-hand feedback about your coach. Don’t take slick salesmanship at face value in this market and look for real results. This is especially important with the bigger companies and franchise operations, as they may have long track records and success around the globe but when it comes to leadership coaching, it is the individual coach sat with you that is important, not the business behind him or her. You will be working with an individual and it is the knowledge, skills and tools that they use, and the rapport that exists between you, that is so important. Therefore whether you are employing a lone practitioner or a team from a big company, look carefully at each individual and test each one out. A short trial session between coach and coachee will usually be enough to tell whether the relationship is going to work or not.
After Your First Meeting. . . What Now?
After your first meeting or trial session, you can then ask yourself some additional questions to confirm your initial impressions.
1) Has the coach clearly outlined a robust, proven and flexible coaching methodology?
2) Did the coach ask powerful, useful and engaging questions?
3) Did the coach seem robust enough to hold you accountable and keep you on track?
4) Was the coach honest about the challenges ahead and clear about how their ethical guidelines would be applied?
5) Did the coach put you at ease and place your issues and need for results first?
Coaching is all about making big changes that produce big results – for you and your business. If this were easy then you would do it yourself. It isn’t and that is why you employ a coach. Your coach must place you and your needs first, but in doing this they will need to take you through a challenging process. You may find this difficult at times and a good coach will hold you accountable for the actions that you undertake to complete. Should you not accomplish these then you will need to uncover the reasons for this as there may be big and useful lessons to learn. Sometimes you will uncover uncomfortable truths and your coach will help you to confront these sympathetically and in confidence. You need to have a high degree of trust and rapport with your coach and your coach will need to combine a strength of character with a high degree of empathy. Look out for this as you answer these questions.
So, Are You Ready for Leadership Coaching?
Coaching demands a substantial investment of time, emotion, energy and finances and can deliver a massive return for you and your business. The results of leadership coaching will be seen in your levels of confidence, clarity, energy, focus, productivity, happiness and that of your team too. There will be bottom-line benefits too.
So take time to reflect on how you felt after speaking to your prospective coach, and look through their experience, achievements, methodology and the other resources that they can call on. Coaching can take you on a massive journey of change at the end of which you have made a huge step change in your performance. The key question to ask is: is this the coach to guide me and travel with me on this journey?
Your Next Step
If you are keen to make a change and think that coaching is right for you, the first step, if you haven’t already, is to book a free trial coaching session. All coaches should offer this. Typically I do these on Skype for 20 to 30 minutes, others may do them face-to-face for an hour. Whatever the format, if you like the experience and wish to sign up to a coaching programme then you can discuss that after the trial session. Even if you don’t sign up the trial session will generate some benefit for you personally.
Remember, that any top class athlete will see a sports coach as an essential part of their sporting life, teaching, guiding, inspiring, motivating them and holding them to account in their training. In the same way, if you are serious about your business or career and getting to the next level, then a leadership coach is an important part of your performance as a leader. Just think what it will be like to have your own coach, pushing you, guiding you, encouraging you, keeping you on track and celebrating your success with you. If that is what you want, then act now and see what it is really like.
Ian Adkins specialises in strategic change and motivational leadership and brings 25 years’ experience as a leader, strategist, consultant, trainer and coach to his clients. He works with them to master and apply leadership strategies and skills that deliver impact, focus, commitment and resilience to them personally and to their businesses. Improving bottom line results underpin everything that he does whether coaching, training or consulting.