Recently, there was an article in the New York Times that came out regarding executive coaching (specifically relating to entrepreneurs). It shared the many opinions surrounding this seemingly nebulous field, from the skeptics turned believers, to the die-hard naysayers that found no value in the field at all.
As someone who has worked with six different executive coaches in my career, including Marshall Goldsmith, the touted six-figure-an-engagement executive coach named in the article, I thought I’d weigh in on the discussion. (Re: Goldsmith – I was lucky to receive some coaching sessions from him gratis after attending his leadership seminar, which was hosted by one of our corporate funders. At the time, I was CEO of a non-profit, so I was grateful I got to work with him.) Here is some advice from the field on coaching, including my perspective on how to go about finding one that is the right fit for you.
But before I delve into the tips, I’d like you to know two things:
When I actually hired my first coach, I was totally skeptical about it, and a bit annoyed to be spending money on it out of the organization’s budget. I was financially very careful, and here we were hiring someone with an hourly rate that surpassed any staff or other contractors we were working with at the time. I also had no proof I was going to get tangible results. Months down the road, I found myself writing a testimonial for this coach about how she had made the single biggest impact on our organization at the time. What had she done? Well, I couldn’t quite articulate it, but she asked me a ton of questions the impact of which made me clear, organized, and strategic within an extremely demanding leadership position. I embraced coaching and through the years worked with other coaches along the way.
The second thing is that out of the six coaches I’ve had throughout my career, there were only three I felt ever really made a significant difference for me, my organization or my leadership. Well, that’s a 50% success rate. Due to the lack of regulation of coaching as an industry, there is a fair amount of due diligence on the part of the consumer to find and land quality coaches. So, from a personal experience, I can relate to both sides of the argument presented in the New York Times article. Coaches can be incredibly life transforming to some people; they can also fall completely short for others. Why is this so?
What this tells me is that there is a lot of weeding out to do when trying to find a coach, and perhaps even some trial and error or calibrating to figure out who would be the best coach for you. It also tells me how you approach coaching matters greatly, and that chemistry can determine whether a coaching relationship is going to work. So, I thought I’d share some tips from the field on the best way to go about the process if you are thinking of hiring a coach for the first time (or if you had a negative experience the first time and want to try again).
1. Know what you really want - coaching, mentoring, consulting or therapy.
The big difference between coaching and something like therapy, mentoring or consulting is that coaching, first and foremost, is about enabling a client to make discoveries and decisions in service to their own life through a process that elicits both self-reflection, discovery and action. In the philosophy of coaching in which I am trained, the client is the expert of his or her own life. Coaching is about what’s happening in the present – the NOW - and what’s possible in the future. If you are focused on dealing with the now and on moving forward from your learnings, coaching is likely a good fit for you.
- Therapy, more often than not, looks back and tries to make sense of your past and why you are the way you are.
- Consulting is more focused on problem solving for clients where the consultant is the expert and is hired to provide technical solutions to problems.
- Mentoring is generally when someone has had experience in a field or profession and they simply give you advice and guidance based on their experiences.
What is it you really want? Knowing this is key in the search for a good coach. If you feel the need to dissect your past, or are held back by it, therapy might be the right option. If you are used to hiring people to tell you what to do and giving you technical advice, consulting might be what you are looking for. However, coaches often have a certain expertise area that they are able to combine with their coaching, so you may end up killing two birds with one stone. There are plenty of therapists who are also trained as coaches, and plenty of consultants who are coaches, too.
More information on the differences in approaches can be found in the ICF FAQs here
2. Coaches come in all shapes and sizes. Find one that matches an area in which you need expertise.
Coaching is a growing field, and it is also unregulated. (However, there are a number of amazing training and certification programs out there that produce quality coaches.) There is generally a coach out there for every area of expertise you can imagine, from coaches who specialize in grief management, to coaches who specialize in working with people grappling with the psychosocial impact of having herpes. Yes, I said herpes. Like I said, there is something out there for everyone.
For example, my first coach specialized in executive leadership and communications. She was exactly what our organization needed, and helped me work through improving my communications and my relationship with my employees and co-leaders. She made me see that I was overworking myself and the team a lot, and challenged me to change my behaviors towards a healthier direction.
I then worked with a coach that had extensive HR expertise. I chose to work with her due to the stress managing HR issues and difficult employee situations (though truth be told I found her more valuable as a consultant/advisor than as a transformational coach).
Years later, when I started my coaching practice, I made sure I found a coach who had a successful practice, because I needed the coaching as well as the consulting know-how for the industry I was venturing into.
Figure out what you specifically need and what is going to be of most value to you, and then narrow down your search. In a lot of instances, you may land coaching along with specific consulting in an area of expertise.
3. Referrals/word of mouth is still your best bet.
Referrals and word of mouth is the name of the game. Great coaches have reputations that precede them, and the nature of coaching is such that it’s a really hard service to sell. It’s often something you have to experience with a person. Some of the best coaches have absolutely no website or web presence. The market is flooded with coaches claiming to be the best at this and do the best at that, but often, you’ll get your best coaches from referrals of trusted sources.
If you haven’t had any rave reviews of coaches coming your way, then you should start to research. Start with your networks. Put a message out on LinkedIn to your groups detailing exactly what you are looking for.
Go to the ICF (International Coach Federation) site where you can find a quality list of coaches in your geographic location via the site’s coach finder tool. They allow you to search via area of expertise as well. The ICF site is good because you are likely going to be dealing with trained, credentialed coaches.
Other ways to find coaches are to use sites like Yelp.com and do a search for “coaches.” You’ll find real reviews from clients in your geographic area who have used services of coaches. There are also sites like Noomii.com that allow you to network and view different coaches who have been rated by their clients.
If you don’t have money for coaching, connect with coach training and accreditation programs like The Coaches Training Institute, New Ventures West and Center for Right Relationship. Often the people going through these programs are looking for people to practice coach, as is the case with coaches certified through CTI, and will do so at very low cost (kind of like the same concept as going to someone for a discount haircut who is currently in beauty school).
4. Don’t be afraid to change coaches.
We are human and are constantly evolving, learning, changing and growing. Having a particular kind of coach may have been appropriate for you at one time in your life or leadership but may not be appropriate for you now. Or, if you are in the case where you chose a coach and do not feel you are getting value out of the relationship, try working with someone else. As I mentioned above, I worked with six different coaches throughout my career. I chose them according to the stage of leadership and career/life I was in. I got value out of some, and not so much out of others.
Let it be known that some people stay with one coach for years. They come back to them as they are needed, and probably do so because that coach already knows them so well and they have a good rapport. It is all about personal preference. I tend to like coaches who can offer something more than just basic coaching – who have experience in a certain field, industry or area of expertise.
5. Attend webinars and read blogs.
We live in a content-driven world, and now more than ever there is a plethora of writings, blogs and e-books that coaches publish on a regular basis. There are so many opportunities now to get to know them before you jump into any kind of formal relationship. This was not the case when I started working with coaches. Attending a webinar or reading their written content is a great way to get to know coaches and determine if they can give you value. Consider signing up for some free webinars or newsletters, and see if you get some value from their approach and content. Purchase one of their inexpensive e-books. Afterwards, ask yourself these questions:
- Did I get value from that webinar?
- Am I curious for more?
- Would I get along well with this coach?
- Did I instinctively feel I could trust this coach?
5. Do a consult before committing.
Chemistry is everything in coaching. If it’s not there, and if your coach cannot champion or support you in an authentic and genuine way, the relationship will not be successful. Set up a consultation to talk with a coach to see how you both connect. Most coaches do this anyway. Be prepared to ask them questions about their coaching and how they work. Trust your instincts as well. I had a coach who once told me she would know within the first 5 minutes of talking with someone if she would be a good match for them.
6. Assess credentials.
I’ve naturally been coaching since I was in my teens. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I decided to go into it as a profession and received training from a renowned coaching school (The Coaches Training Institute – the school that all of my favorite coaches graduated from FYI).
I wasn’t convinced completely of the value of coach certification. I must say, however, that my coaching skills definitely strengthened from going through the certification process. It’s one thing to get trained, but with certification comes more oversight, scrutiny and courageous skill building for coaches. So if you ask me if there’s a difference between a non-credentialed and credentialed coach’s quality, I’d be inclined to say yes there is.
There are a few different designations given by the ICF such as MCC, a Master Certified Coach. Basically, this is someone with a lot of hours under their belt – at least 2,500 client coaching hours. Other designations include ACC (Associate Certified Coach) and PCC (Professional Certified Coach). Someone without these designations is by no means an ineffective coach, but this is just a way the industry standardizes accreditations of coaches. You can look to see if any coach has had formal coach training and if they went through a professional certification process.
And yes, there are outliers in this field - those people that just have a God-given talent and intuition for this stuff without any training at all. I’ve never coached with one, but have heard about them. But you won’t know until you try, will you? (Or unless you get that magic referral.)
7. Be ready!
Find a coach when you are truly ready to deal with whatever challenge you are facing, or whatever pain is in your life. For the naysayers, coaching definitely is not for everyone; it is fair to say that some people just might not be good candidates for it. The best coaching, in my opinion, happens when someone really wants to explore a change, they are willing to commit and put in the time and effort, AND they are matched with someone who has a good combination of real world experience in an area coupled with quality, (preferably credentialed) coach training. And even still, you can have all the credentials in the world, and still not be that effective. It ultimately comes down to how well your needs fit the skills, capability and chemistry of that particular coach.
How did you find your coach? What do you think is the best approach? Do you have anything to add to the above tips? We want to hear from you!