Much is demanded of business leaders and managers these days. They face a complex and dynamic set of expectations that emerge from external factors as well as from within an organisation. Leaders are not only asked to be the strategic visionary and make decisions, but also to have 360-degree availability and in-depth oversight on multiple or all functions of business. We want our leaders to focus on things that were not priorities, let’s say, 20 years ago.
A natural result of increased expectations is that these leaders and managers themselves start to or are encouraged to seek out support to alleviate the pressure and develop in their roles. To this end, professional coaching can be a valuable tool. The right business coach will work with you to improve your organisational and personal effectiveness and productivity.
Finding that right coach may be intimidating, however. There is clearly a demand for coaching services, and accordingly, a larger industry has grown around coaching training, education, and certification. According to the International Coaching Federation Global Coaching Studies, in 2008, we saw some 50,000 coaches worldwide; in 2019, we saw roughly 70,000 working in the field. Not only are there a lot of options, but many are running as independent businesses. In other words, the market is broad, fragmented, and opaque.
So, how do you go about finding the right coach? First, keep in mind that there is no set curriculum in coaching — the agenda will depend entirely on your individual needs, and a skilled coach will help you set goals, identify gaps, and provide guidance in moving forward towards productive change. Finding the right coach, therefore, requires an individual vetting process.
Below are factors you’ll want to consider.
1. Check “formal” criteria: qualifications
There are a lot of types of coaching qualifications, and coaching itself is not a protected brand, so in theory, anyone may call themselves a coach. Yet a reasonable starting point for your search is to have a thorough look at what qualifications a coach touts.
Practised coaches tend to provide a profile of themselves and reveal relevant information about their past business life and coaching experience. Good questions to discuss are:
- Does the coach have some business experience themselves? In which field or function?
- Did they complete intensive training and education, both on a business and psychological level?
- Do they hold an accreditation of a renowned body (e.g. ICF, EMCC, ECA, EASC, IOBC)? Do they renew their accreditation regularly?
- How does the coach address or guarantee quality assurance of their work? Do they work with a qualified (best: certified) supervisor?
2. Ask for personal recommendations
A strong lead in your search for a good coach is a recommendation! You might already know people in your company who have received coaching. You can also ask your HR or learning & development department for concrete suggestions. Here are some suitable questions to find out a bit more about a coach who was recommended to you:
- How did you learn about the coach yourself?
- What was the reason you started working with a coach?
- What did you like about the coach?
- What did you not like so much?
- What did you learn during the coaching? What has been different at the end for you?
- How did the coaching end? What is your feedback to the process in hindsight?
- What kind of feedback did you receive about your own behavior before and after the coaching?
3. Consider your individual reasons for seeking out coaching
You may have a few great leads at this point, but I want to emphasise: the coach has to be a good fit for you personally! It is worth reflecting on your own needs and desires throughout this entire process. Ask yourself:
- Who brought coaching on your radar? Was it your superior? What did they tell you about coaching and why do they think it might be beneficial for you?
- What do I want from coaching? What do I think should change? How would I know I have changed?
- At what stage am I in my career? Am I just starting to transition into leadership or do I already have experience under my belt? Depending on your personal role and trajectory in the business, you might benefit from very different coaches.
- How do I learn best? Do I like to be challenged? Or do I prefer a more supportive and reflective approach?
- How do I build trust? The coach will be very close to you and to your emotions. It is critical that you feel comfortable, supported, and that someone has your best interests at the forefront in such a close relationship.
- What gender do I prefer? Do I prefer someone more mature or younger?
Next steps after making a shortlist
Let’s say you now have two to three coaching profiles from different sources. It’s time to make some calls! Please reach out to your shortlist and agree on a “chemistry” video call of a minimum of 30 minutes. Such a call is meant to get a better understanding of the other person and see if you can imagine co-creating a supportive working partnership.
It’s a good idea to assemble a short checklist or write down notes in each chemistry call. You’ll want to limit any distractions from the conversation (or take note of it), and later reflect on what you heard, how you felt, and how it resonates with you. Please be aware that the sequence in which you talk to people might influence your selection process (the first or the last coach might outshine the others).
After speaking to all your shortlisted coaches, take time to think over your notes, observations, and research, and select an option (or continue your search). At this point, you might be thinking ahead to how long a coaching relationship lasts. From my experience, once we have established a strong working relationship, some clients do not want to give that up, but I typically contract 6-12 hours of coaching. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but receiving coaching can be an intense and demanding process.
No matter how it turns out with your coach, this exercise is a very solid basis for your decision-making, and an excellent opportunity to reflect on your career needs and wants. Best of luck in finding the best coach for you!
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