How do I know I have the right coach?

In her latest article, leading executive and leadership coach Veronica van Nierop looks at how to choose the right coach to achieve success in your personal and professional life.

Let’s start with a little controversy, shall we? Whatever you want to achieve in your life at work and away from it, you’ll definitely have a better chance of achieving it by working with a coach. That’s a cast iron, stone-cold given. You may think you don’t need a coach, but you do. You may not engage the services of a coach, but you should. And you may be sitting there in the quiet certainty that I’m wrong about this, but I’m not. In fact, you’re the living proof that I’m right, because you’ve been coached all your life, often by choice and often – as a child – involuntarily. But whether you have recognised it for what it really is and whether you’ve consciously sought it out or not, you’ve been coached. Who were your parents or guardians, if not your earliest coaches? Who were or are your teachers, professors, sports trainers, friends, partner, allies at work, and role models, if not your coaches?

Now ask yourself this: are you a better human professionally and/or personally for having had that coaching? Have you been able to achieve more? Aspire to be more? If the answer is yes – and unless some terrible misfortune has befallen you, or you’re lousy judge of character, it should be - why would you think working with a business coach shouldn’t be equally productive and rewarding? The question is, how do you find the right coach? Here are my tips on finding someone who can really help you to unlock your true potential in life at work and beyond.

1. What type of coach do you want? Business coaches, leadership coaches, life coaches, executive coaches – we all come from different backgrounds and with a whole host of different labels and tags, but we’re all essentially trying to achieve the same thing. Whilst there are differences in the specifics of how coaches approach their work, I think we can broadly organise this space into three categories. In the first category are what I call Method Coaches. These are coaches who work under an umbrella brand and apply fixed methods to their work. Broadly speaking, this is a template approach to working with you and you will have more or less the same experience with any coach working for that brand.

The second category is home to a group that I think of as Intuitive Coaches. These are people who have had a life in real world business and developed an organic vocational interest in coaching through their own experience of managing and leading. They will probably have undergone some sort of re-training as a coach, but delivery of the coaching is largely task-based and informed by the coach’s own experience. The final category – and the one I sit in – covers coaches who have probably had a previous successful life in commerce and industry (as I have) and who use neuroscience as the basis of their work.

In very simplistic terms, neuroscience is the science of your brain and from a coaching perspective it uses scientific understanding of brain function to encourage behaviours that are most likely to deliver successful outcomes. Put another way, we help you to get inside your own head to find the magic. Your first job, then, is to decide how you want to be coached.

2. Prepare to get personal Any coaching session worth the name is based on a personal relationship that is intimate in the sense of laying bare your hopes, dreams and fears, and based on absolute trust and confidentiality. Being coached successfully shouldn’t be an always easy experience. It should take you out of your comfort zone. It will challenge and provoke you to interrogate your assumptions, prejudices and – critically – your self-delusions. There are people who claim they like to be stretched, and there are people who actually like to be stretched. If you’re going to make progress, you need to be up for some self-examination – but it’s important you choose someone you like and with whom you feel you can be completely open.

3. Always ask for an initial no-obligation conversation You’d be surprised at the number of coaches who are reluctant to talk to a would-be client without some sort of commitment or assurance of an ongoing professional arrangement, and you should steer well clear of them. A professional and reputable coach understands that it’s reasonable to invest some amount of time in a prospective client without having any guarantee of ongoing work resulting from it. Just as you wouldn’t let a builder work on your house without having some sort of meeting to get a sense of how they work and whether you can work with them, why would you entrust your career to someone who isn’t prepared to have a discovery conversation first? And that goes the other way, too - as a coach, I wouldn’t want to start a project with someone I’d never spoken to and who I might not like.

4. Silence is golden In a coaching relationship, you should be doing most of the talking. So, if your initial conversation feels a little one-sided with more silence at their end than there is at yours, that’s probably a good thing. The one attribute all coaches should have is the ability to listen. Similarly, if you find a potential coach can talk the hind legs off a donkey – especially if they’re talking about themselves rather than you – it’s probably best to take a pass.

5. Full time, all the time? Is coaching your prospective coach’s full-time job, or do they have a day job outside their coaching work? Lots of coaches hold down other work to supplement their income and this doesn’t necessarily make them bad or ineffectual, but it does give you a little bit of insight into their experience. Ask about their experience, and if they seem like someone you can see yourself working with, ask for some references or get them to outline their success stories to give you more reassurance about whether they’re going to be the right fit for what you need.

6. Process? What process? Coaching can be unstructured in terms of the discussions you have and the collective thinking that is done – but all coaching needs to have clear and measurable actions and outcomes. Talk to your would-be coach about how they approach the communication, management, assessment, and benchmarking of agreed tasks and actions to gain a clear understanding of how the relationship will work from a practical point of view.

7. Be realistic Coaching is not a silver bullet for success. As much as the right outcome relies on the skill and expertise of the coach, it also relies on you to keep your end of the bargain and do what’s agreed. You should also remember that you’re not paying for your coach’s time – you’re paying for their experience and knowledge, so take your eyes of the clock and look instead at the measurable outcomes your coach is planning to utilise. Are they realistic and achievable given the amount of time and money you have available to invest? In the end, your coach doesn’t have to be an expert in your own business or sector to be able to help you to get the outcomes you’re looking for – but they do need to understand you and what you’re trying to achieve.

Neuroscience can be a really effective part of the toolkit needed to help you unlock a new way of thinking and behaving, so if you’re ready to take the next step in your life and career, why not ring me for that free, no obligation chat I was talking about? I’d love to talk to you!

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