It seems everyone has a coach…should I?

A practical guide to selecting and working with a coach for the coaching curious

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As a certified leadership coach, people often ask me, “When is the best time to work with a coach?” or, “How do I choose the right coach?” and even, “Could a coach help me with this problem?” So, if you’ve asked yourself any of these questions, this one’s for you.

Making the decision to work with a coach is a decision to invest in yourself.

Here are the basics of when, why and how you should take the plunge and work with a coach.

How do I know when it’s time to work with a coach? This is one of my personal FAQ’s, and my answer is the same for everyone: it’s always a good time. Many people take a problem-focused approach to seeking a coach when in a rut yet some of my favorite clients were doing well and sought coaching to break into next-level success or fulfillment. Working with a coach will help you gain perspective, achieve your goals, navigate change, or get unstuck. Coaching can be particularly productive when facing the following:

  • Wanting to pivot, or make a big decision – in your career or otherwise
  • Experiencing burnout
  • Seeking expansion or wanting more
  • Designing your next phase 
  • Up-leveling leadership
  • Developing confidence
  • Navigating a new role

What is coaching? In order to really understand what coaching is, and if you want to pursue it, it is helpful to create some distinctions around what coaching is not.

  • Coaching is not advice. A mentor or consultant can give you advice, but a coach is a thought partner. A coach will help you expand your thinking, but it’s YOUR thinking.
  • Coaching is not therapy. Therapy often looks backward to examine the past, heal from it, and deal with mental health. Coaching is less focused on what happened up until now and more focused on designing goals and actions from this moment forward. Therapy is the appropriate path for dealing with anxiety, depression, and trauma. Coaching is more appropriate for designing your future.
  • There are different types of coaching. It’s important to find a coach who is focused on what you want. You can find a coach for your career, health, life, communication, and finances. I am a leadership coach, so I will speak to what I know. Leadership coaching is a holistic approach to work toward your vision and goals for how you lead your life. And don’t let the term “leadership” limit you if you are not a people manager or if you’re between jobs. You are leading your life in all domains – at home, at work, and in your community. As the saying goes, “how you do one thing is how you do everything.” Coaching can produce transformational results because shifting old thought habits and behavioral patterns affects how you operate everywhere.
  • You can expect a coach to ask powerful questions designed to provoke insight, reflection, and new ways of thinking. A coach will also offer observations for your consideration, as oftentimes, we are too close to our own situation to see it clearly. You can expect to be challenged and supported by a coach and it’s helpful to consider which you respond to more when selecting a coach.

How do I choose the right coach? Other than making the decision to work with a coach, choosing who you are going to work with is the most important decision. It’s going to be a deeply personal relationship, and the decision should be a thoughtful one. Here are some steps to take when you’re ready to start looking for a coach:

Put your feelers out: Most great coaches get their clients through referrals. Start letting your network know that you’re looking for a coach and you’re likely to find a coach someone has had a good experience working with. Many organizations have relationships with coaching organizations, so consider inquiring with Human Resources. It is also becoming easier to connect with coaches from online platforms such as BetterUp. Finding coaches from online collectives, though easy, has some limitations including lower rates for coaches (which keeps many of the most talented coaches from joining the platform) and a more structured process (which can limit how much the coach can customize your engagement).

Check out qualifications: There is no barrier to entry when calling oneself a coach, so you may want to determine whether the coach has received professional training and certification. Are they certified through the International Coaching Federation which requires subscribing to a code of ethics and continuing education? Do they list training they’ve completed on their website? How about previous clients?

Consider background: Often people want their coach to have a similar background to their own. I challenge you to consider the possibility that working with someone of a different background might have. Often coaches without a similar background can challenge your thinking the most.

Go on a first date: Okay, maybe you call it a fit call or an introduction, but the premise is the same: it’s an exploratory conversation with the goal of determining if this is ‘the’ person for you. Before agreeing to work with someone, you should have at least two or three introductory calls to determine the best fit for you. These should be 30-60 minute complimentary phone calls. Pay attention to things like: the ratio of talking to listening, the difference (or similarities) in your styles and preferences. I recommend asking the following questions to gain a realistic preview of what working with them will be like:

What is your approach to coaching?

How would you describe your coaching style?

Who is your ideal client?

What will a typical coaching meeting look like?

Determine the investment of time and money you’re ready to make: The most common engagement I see includes meeting virtually for one hour every other week for 6 months. You may determine you only have time or budget to meet once each month or you may want a shorter engagement. Just remember that transformation takes time (e.g., rewiring thought patterns that have been in place for decades!) so two months of coaching likely isn’t going to result in transformation. In fact, I won’t work with a client for fewer than 4 months. While rates vary significantly, it’s normal to pay between $1000 – $4000 for 6 months of coaching as a private client and many coaches are willing to work with your budget. Many organizations will support or subsidize coaching for employees, so consider making a pitch for your organization to support coaching. 

Get clear on why you want coaching: This is a goal-based relationship that is only going to work if you are willing to put in the work. What do you want to be different in your life after working with a coach? Are you ready to get uncomfortable and ask the tough questions of yourself? Be ready to get in a beginner’s mindset which means being curious, open to learning and–at times–awkward. 

The publication Fast Company indicates “Coaching isn’t therapy. It’s product development with you as the product.” It won’t be easy, it may be uncomfortable…and the results have the potential to transform your life. 

Feel free to contact me when you’re ready; I’d be happy to help you find a coach who is right for you.

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