How do I choose a coach?

There is a practical side to choosing a coach but the most important part is that you simply feel comfortable and confident with them.

I once coached somebody for an hour during which time I didn’t say anything at all. Literally, nothing. By the end of it they’d decided to take a three month sabbatical and get a new job. They were happily married, well-educated and with a wide circle of friends but they told me they couldn’t have had that conversation with anybody else.

Now I have no idea what actually went on there and claim no credit other than to know when to shut up. Most of the work that you do with a coach will come from you and consequently be a result of your feeling at ease with them. When you choose one, the single most important criteria is that it feels right and you trust them.

I often find myself talking to clients about important decisions. There can be complex factors to take into account and often it’s a technical decision. But at other times it’s a matter of what’s right. The Buddhists say that the greatest gift the Gods gave to men was the human heart; that we have an intuitive sense of what is right that we should value. There’s no time when this is more effective than when we assess people.

So the single most important criteria for choosing a coach is that it feels right. Meet them face to face and take a view.

Assuming that there is a good human connection you also need to be clear about what you want from a coach. Often this is quite hard to do, so a second criteria I suggest is that when you meet a coach they are able to help you clarify what it is you want from coaching.

Like most adult learning, coaching is best understood by experience rather than intellectual understanding, so if possible, have a sample session.

There may be confusion about whether you actually want coaching and some specific objectives might initially be best met with training or consultancy. But if your requirement is for a coach and given the points above about fit, I suggest that you have the following checklist:

  • What training / qualifications do they have?
    • A coach’s credentials will come from their commercial experience and their specific coaching training. The relevance of commercial experience depends lot on whether you want a coach or a mentor.
    • Coaching is a very loosely regulated profession and no formal training is required to make the claim to be a coach. It’s much better if your coach has been well trained so, so here is a list of good UK qualifications and institutions
  • What experience do they have?
    • Do they have good testimonials and recommendations from previous clients?
    • Have they worked with clients with your level of responsibility / seniority before?
    • Note that it’s not always necessary that your coach has worked within your industry before, indeed some may say it actually helps if they haven’t. Many clients default to “have you worked with someone in my position before” which isn’t a guarantor that they’ll have a successful relationship with you.
  • Is the coach doing this full time?
    • Like a waiter in a restaurant who’s a resting actor, if they also do something else, what is it? Why are they doing it? It might be good or bad – if they provide consultancy services that complement their service to you as a coach it could be a benefit. But there are more aspiring coaches than successfully practicing ones
  • What is the return on investment?
    • The potential gains of a good coaching engagement should crush the cost of it. What are the budgets spent or revenues earned by the person to be coached? What could a good coaching intervention do to these numbers?

It’s not unusual that people start with practical and functional goals, following familiar patterns of work and management. Once coaching begins, these goalposts can shift and new and more significant questions might emerge and become the focus.

But once you’ve made your choice stick to it. Coaching is a long game and you’ll only get out of it what you put in.

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