A few days ago, a member of the Coaching for Leaders community reached out because he is thinking about hiring a coach and wanted to know what he should be looking for. As I considered a response, I realized that my thoughts might be helpful to others.
Here’s a list of his questions (I’ve also added a few of my own) and my thoughts on what I think you should be looking for when seeking a coach:
What does an effective coach do?
Vance Caesar, an executive coach and professor from my graduate school days taught me that effective coaches do six things:
- Help you clarify where you are.
- Help you determine where you want to go.
- Help you map the road to get from #1 to #2.
- Help your become accountable to yourself (not the coach) for progress.
- Provide you with good resources to help on your journey.
- Make professional introductions to others, when appropriate, who can support your success.
Listen for these six things when talking to coaches. If you don’t hear most of the above, look elsewhere.
What kind of person do I look for?
Look for these three things:
1. Professional experience
If you’re going to pay someone to help you, consider those first who have extensive professional experience in an area relative to where you want coaching. For example, if you’re looking for someone to help you improve your leadership of a small business, consider coaches who have run a successful small businesses.
Yes, you can get valuable coaching from someone who has experience in another field, but there’s a lot to be said from having been there. When I hire someone, I look to see if they’ve had experience doing what I’m trying to do. If they’ve been down a similar path, they can help me navigate my own path with more confidence.
2. Track record
Like any professional, look to people who have evidence of a solid track record. Testimonials on websites, referrals from people you trust, awards and recognition from other organizations are a plus. I also look for people who have advanced degrees or training in their fields. That shows me that they care enough about their own education and development to make a substantial investment in themselves.
Focus in on people who highlight what others say about them rather than what they say about themselves. LinkedIn and other social networks can also be a good starting points for this this, just be sure you also look at other factors than just how many connections or endorsements a person has.
3. Personal fit
Seek a coach who you feel comfortable with (and talk to a few so you can figure this out). Good coaches want you to feel comfortable with them and will refer you to other good coaches if either of you feels like it’s not the right fit.
I also like working with people who appear to have things together in their personal lives. While seemingly unrelated to why your hire a coach, the coaching process can get personal and highlight things where you want to get better as a human being. I want to get advice from someone that, while imperfect, generally has stuff together in their life so they can help me here too.
You may note that I haven’t included coaching certifications in this list. There are many excellent coaches with coaching certifications and many excellent coaches without coaching certifications.
Unlike other professional certifications (CPAs, CFPs, etc.) coaching certifications are not standardized across the industry a few people other than coaches typically understand the meaning of coaching certifications, making them essentially useless to the average consumer.
I’ve held a coaching certification for the better part of a decade, and the only time I’ve ever been asked about it is by other coaches. Good people who do coaching are in very different places on the importance of certifications, but I've never had a client or prospective client ask about my own. It's unlikely I'll renew it when it comes due again.
A coaching certification is evidence of commitment to learning and growth, but may not have any bearing on whether someone is going to be a good coach for you. There are many other indicators of a good coach than a certification (see three points above).
How do I know this person has the right skills, background or knowledge?
Like hiring any professional, you can never fully know all of this, but you can greatly increase your odds of landing a great coach through a personal referral.
Talk to people you trust in your industry who have had success getting to places where you want to go. Ask them who they recommend. Even if they don’t know a coach, they know others in the industry who would be valuable to talk with. You might even find someone who doesn’t call themselves a “coach” but provides exactly what you need.
Another tactic is to follow professionals who are are consistently active on a blog, podcast, or social media. Pay attention to the kinds of people they reference in their articles and speaking. I’ve received amazing referrals from people I’ve never met because they spoke highly of someone in a public forum.
What kind of companies are applicable here?
Most of the best coaches I know run their own firms. It’s very common for successful coaches to have 1–2 principal coaches and a list of “associates” (who themselves tend to be other coaches who are principals of their own firms).
I’m sure there are great coaches out there who work for large coaching firms. I just don’t seem to run into those people. Look for coaches who run their own firm and are well connected with other coaches. These are people who are generally well established and successfully serving their clients.
What should I watch out for?
I’ve run into coaches who lead too heavily with selling you on coaching. Some coaches even go far enough to insist that everyone has to have a coach, apparently all the time. While I’ve hired a number of coaches over the years, I don’t think it’s necessary (or cost-effective) to always have a coach.
While a coach should help you get to where you want to go faster and more effectively than you could on your own, there are many ways to be successful. Be cautious of people who insist that hiring a coach is your magic pill.
Give pause also to coaches who appear to want to work with you without a defined end point. Whenever I’ve been either a client or a coach, I have every expectation that it’s for a relatively short period of time (usually months, not years).
Finally, if your company is paying for the coach, be sure all parties are clear what's confidential between the coach and you and what's not. There are lots of right ways to do this – just be sure the expectations are clear up front.
Do you have any recommendations?
In addition to Vance, here are a few coaches I know and trust. If they can’t help, they certainly know other great coaches too:
Host of the Look & Sound of Leadership podcast, Tom is a well-established coach on the West Coast of the US and has a fabulous track record of helping executive leaders. I love Tom’s warmth and also his ability to call it like it is. He’s appeared on Coaching for Leaders episodes #107 , #164 and #190. I also highly recommend listening to his monthly podcast – a great compliment to Coaching for Leaders.
Beth is known as The Introvert Entrepreneur to a growing tribe of thousands of followers and fans. In addition to being a friend, Beth is a skilled interviewer, writer, facilitator and speaker. She’s recognized as a thought leader in the area of life and leadership coaching for introverts and has appeared on episodes #201 and #218. She is also the author of The Introvert Entrepreneur: Amplify Your Strengths and Create Success on Your Own Terms*.
Tim is a master at helping people frame productivity in a holistic way. In addition, he helps people tame technology in a way that makes it work for them, instead of complicating life and work. While Tim offers his Holistic Productivity courses* often, he also offers individual coaching. If productivity is on your radar screen for coaching, Tim should be your first call (he's also a dear friend — and someone I admire a lot).
I’ve known Donna for many years and she’s been so helpful to a number of our Dale Carnegie friends in Southern California. She’s a champion for her clients and has a passion for helping people with career direction, leadership, and running small businesses. She’s also a LinkedIn guru and has appeared on Coaching for Leaders episodes #97 and #101.
Pam Fox Rollin
If you’re near Silicon Valley, Pam is someone you should know. She’s was very helpful to me in making connections when I was working on my dissertation and appeared on Coaching for Leaders episode #98. She helps senior teams think better together and is the author of 42 Rules for Your New Leadership Role*.
Bonni and I have known and worked with Susan for years. Susan has appeared on Coaching for Leaders episodes #21, #138, and #139. She’s an expert at helping teams be successful and facilitates assessments and trainings for teams. While she doesn’t do lots of individual coaching herself, I include her since she’s a fabulous resource for senior leaders – and the Go Team program she’s assembled with David Hutchens (also a past guest) for organizations to get teams to work together is fabulous. She’s also the author of The I in TEAM*.
What else do you want to know about hiring a coach?
Post your question in the comments below.