Being a career & life coach, naturally, I am chuffed that coaching has become so popular. It is no longer a service reserved for CEOs and celebrities.
Just like personal training, personal coaching has become accessible and valued by a growing number of people across all sections of life. And in the same way as personal training helps us become more effective at hitting our fitness goals, personal coaching helps us with other goals in our careers and in life.
Yet the number of coaches is growing rapidly and I appreciate that it can be tough finding the right one for you. The best way to start is with a recommendation from someone you trust. If you don’t have a recommendation, you can Google or search for coaches in online directories. You will be spoiled for choice, though. So how do you choose?
Here are a few tips for finding the right coach for you:
First things first: Is life coaching right for you?
Before you start looking for a coach, it’s worth considering whether life coaching is right for you. Let’s compare it with some alternative processes:
Coaching: Coaching empowers you to gain greater clarity and develop new strategies for your goals and challenges. It’s a collaborative process created jointly with your coach. It focuses on the future and is typically solutions-orientated. Sometimes your coach may invite you to visit your past for learning, but the main focus is to take action and move you forward.
Therapy/counseling: If you want to explore emotional issues in your life, therapy or counseling may be a better fit. They both focus on understanding emotions and relationships. You will be doing most of the talking and much of this will be about your past. Good examples where this approach may be more suitable than coaching are emotional traumas, bereavement and significant levels of depression.
Therapy and counseling will also be more appropriate if you are not yet ready to embrace change. Maybe you just want someone to listen. I once had a client who signed up to a coaching package, but then canceled the next day because she was too scared of change. She decided that talking therapy was a better step for her at that time in her life.
Mentoring: A mentor is someone you go to for advice. Typically, it’s someone who has already been successful in an area you want to grow in and who agrees to share her experiences with you. Maybe she is working in the same industry as you, but is more senior. Most mentors don’t charge for their services. They provide support to junior colleagues or acquaintances alongside their main job, to “give back” to others. Mentoring can include coaching elements, but it’s quite likely that your mentor will not have had formal training in either mentoring or coaching.
Consulting: A consultant is hired to deliver a specific solution or professional advice. You benefit from his technical expertise and get answers very quickly. Yet a consultant will not empower you to grow in the same way as a coach. A good example of consulting is if you were looking for solid marketing advice. Rather than having a coach help you create your own marketing strategy, you may just want someone to tell you what to do, or even do it for you.
Training: The purpose of training is to pass knowledge on to you. It normally follows a pre-defined structure and is often delivered to several people at the same time. Sometimes people think my coaching is a training course, where they can be passive and simply follow my lead. But that’s not coaching. Whilst many coaches use models and processes, each session is bespoke and co-created between the coach and the coachee.
What type of coach should you go for?
If you feel coaching is the best way forward for you, the next step is to decide what type of coach you would like to work with:
- Career Coach: A career coach will be specialized in assisting you with career-related issues, such as a career change. He will work with you to clarify what you want from your career and how to get there. As part of this process, you may be reviewing your CV and LinkedIn profile with him and upgrading some of your skills. In most cases, clients pay for their career coaching privately, although sometimes career coaching is paid by the employer as part of a redundancy package or compromise agreement.
- Executive Coach: An executive coach works mainly with business owners or corporate employees from middle management to CEO level. The focus of executive coaching is typically on work-related issues such as leadership, people management, conflicts, and performance. It’s often procured and paid for by the employer of the coachee. It’s worth checking whether coaching is offered at your workplace or whether you are entitled to an annual development budget that you can spend on hiring your own coach.
- Life Coach: If someone calls themselves a life coach, it often means that he or she does not have a particular specialization and coaches on a wide range of personal issues, such as life balance, life planning, confidence, happiness, relationships, finances or spirituality. Life coaching will rarely be paid for by your employer.
- Specialized Coaches: There are also coaches who specialize in certain areas, such as stress management, confidence, relationships, mindfulness or energy. They will mention this specialization on their business cards, websites or online profiles. Other coaches specialize in supporting a particular demographic group; for example, working mums, lawyers, young people, and so on.
Is coaching regulated?
Coaching is not regulated and there is no official standard that tells you what to expect. Coaching can therefore mean a lot of different things and coaches often develop their own unique styles.
There are a few industry bodies that have developed coaching standards. Those organisations accredit coach training and individual coaches against those standards. That’s the closest thing to regulation in the coaching industry. The best-known coaching organisation is called the International Coach Federation (ICF).
If your coach is accredited by the ICF, then you will know that he has been properly trained and has demonstrated experience in coaching. It will probably say so on his website (check for the ICF logo) or you can ask him directly.
What type of life coaching process do you want?
Since there are so many different coaching styles, I recommend that you ask your coach to explain how he works before you hire him. Here are a few basic distinctions:
- Performance coaching: This is the original coaching style which originates from sports coaching. The coach helps you explore options and strategies for getting from where you are to where you want to be. The focus is on achieving goals and improving performance. Its impact has limitations, though, and most coaches now appreciate that personal transformation often requires much deeper work.
- Transformational coaching: Here the focus is on personal transformation and the coach can work with you at a much deeper level than in performance coaching. For example, he may explore with you who you need to be to reach your goals. Transformational coaches often use a wide range of tools and methodologies from various branches of coaching and psychology. This is my preferred coaching style.
- Exploratory coaching: This minimalist coaching methodology is closer to therapy, in that it allows you to talk and explore your issues with minimal intervention and guidance by the coach. Your coach will probably use very little or even no tools or models.
- Neuro-Linguistic-Programming (NLP): NLP is the name given to a range of processes designed to change the way you think, feel and behave. You will talk much less about the stories behind your issues than in coaching or therapy. Instead, your practitioner will take you through specific exercises. Strictly speaking, this is not coaching, but NLP is often offered as an alternative or add-on service to coaching. I include NLP tools as part of my coaching technique.
Options for working with your coach
There are also different ways of working with your coach:
Face-to-face: Most commonly, coaching takes place with both you and the coach in the same room, either at their or your location. Most of my clients prefer this method (at least to start with). With good reason. There is nothing to beat face-to-face contact. There is a better quality of energy in the room. There are also certain coaching tools that require both persons to be in the room
Video coaching: This is becoming increasingly popular. Here coaching takes place via a video platform such as Skype or Zoom. Many of my clients who tried it, never want to go back to face-to-face afterward. They find that video coaching works well for them and they love saving the travel time at either end of the session. It’s a great choice for busy people. I receive most of my own coaching via video. A note of warning though: You need to have a good wifi connection and a place where you are undisturbed.
Telephone coaching: Some coaches also offer telephone coaching. Not for everybody because it can feel strange for some to open up to a coach you can’t see. Yet some people report that telephone coaching really helps them to focus on the words and to dive into the subject matter even deeper. What you can’t do though is show things, like diagrams, unless you email them.
Group coaching: This can be a right for you if you learn better in group settings. When I run workshops attendees often tell me that they value sharing experiences with others. Group coaching is also a more cost-effective way of buying coaching.
How can I know whether my coach is any good?
Whether you are after a life coach, career coach or executive coach, I recommend checking the following points before you hire him or her:
- Qualification: Does he hold a diploma or other coaching qualification which is accredited by the ICF? This ensures that your coach is properly trained.
- Accreditation: Is he also personally accredited by the ICF? This means that your coach is established in his profession. He has passed a quality check by the ICF and evidenced experience from coaching a significant number of clients.
- Testimonials: Does she have testimonials from satisfied customers? Look for testimonials on her website, LinkedIn profile, Google Business or coaching directories. You can also ask to speak to some of her previous clients.
- Coaching Experience: For how long has she been in the coaching business? The longer in business, the more experience she will bring to the table.
- Specialization: Can he demonstrate a specialization in the area in which you want to be coached?
- Professional Background: Does she have any professional experience outside coaching that could be useful in the coaching relationship? For example, if you need to hire an executive coach, you probably want a coach who has experience working in corporate jobs.
- Charges: Does he charge a decent fee for his services? If he charges less than you pay for a massage or a haircut, chances are that he doubts his own value or lacks experience.
- Continued Development: Does he have his own coach? If your coach has never invested in his own coaching, I would query how much he really believes in the product. If he has had coaching himself, did he do free or cheap peer-to-peer coaching or invest in coaching by industry leaders?
- Supervision: Does she have her own coaching supervision? Supervision is an important self-maintenance tool that ensures that someone comments on the quality of our work so that we can continue to grow and maintain best industry standards. This done while fully maintaining the confidentiality of the clients, of course. You don’t give their names in a supervision session and the supervisor is bound by strict duties of confidentiality.
- Case Studies: Does he have case studies of clients with similar goals and challenges to you?
Test drive your coach!
Most coaches will offer packages of coaching sessions that typically start with something like six sessions, but they can be as much as a full year of coaching. Before you commit to buying a package, I recommend having a trial session with the coach. This should be a proper coaching session rather than just a chat over a coffee. You want to have a real experience of what it is like to be coached by that person. If you work with an established coach, he may well charge you for this session.
Only commit to working with the coach if you received value out of this trial session, if you trust the person and the chemistry between the two of you is right.
During the trial session watch out for the following, which indicate good-quality coaching:
- Setting the scene: He explains the process and agrees with your rules and goals for your work together.
- Giving attention: She gives you full and undivided attention. She listens more than speaks. You want a coach, not a preacher!
- Non-directional: He allows you to find your own solutions rather than leading you into a direction that he thinks is right for you.
- Unbiased: She does not show any judgment or bias to anything you tell her.
- Keeping it pure: He reflects back to you what he heard without adding his own interpretation.
- Effective closing: She wraps up the session by allowing you to reflect on your insights and discussing next steps.
I love coaching so much that I still have my own coach. In fact, I sometimes use several coaches in parallel for different topics.
I have worked with many coaches over the course of the last decade and found them all without any recommendations. I just “knew” that they were a good fit after I spoke to them, and indeed that gut feeling may be a much better guide for you than any of my tips above!
What about you? Are you the perfect coachee?
It takes two to tango: no matter how amazing your coach is, you won’t create good results with him if you do not do your part. You need to be “coachable”.
Here’s what makes a fantastic coachee:
- You feel passionate about your personal and professional growth.
- You do not become defensive when challenged constructively.
- You are more interested in learning and growing than in proving that you are “right” or in looking “good” in front of your coach
- You are willing to step out of your comfort zone and try something different.
- You are ready to take action rather than talk about your problems.
- You are prepared to dedicate a few hours per week for your personal and professional development
- You are willing to challenge your perception of yourself and the world around you.
- You are prepared to be open and honest with your coach.
- You are willing to explore your part in any situation, for example when your team does not perform well.
- You are willing to work on creating better relationships with the people around you.
- You see coaching as an investment in yourself.
- You are ready to make a total commitment to make coaching successful.
When you are not coachable
On the other hand, if your answer is no to several of the above questions, coaching may not be right for you. One of the most common obstacles I have encountered is that clients are not ready to change. They have complaints, but subconsciously they still prefer the comfort of their current discomfort. The “pain” of their current situation is not enough to make them want to change.
I once had an unemployed client in his forties who complained about the “hell” of living with his parents. He described in vivid terms how the situation at home drove him mad. Yet he did almost nothing to change this situation. He sat through his career coaching sessions with me, but then did not follow up on the actions we agreed. I reflected back to him how he was stuck in a victim mode. He received more benefits than drawbacks from his situation at home. As painful as that situation was, it was not painful enough to get him out of the house to look for jobs each and every day.
Previously published here and reprinted with the author’s permission.
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