How to work with a coach, part 3
By Martin Vogel
Finding a coach is harder than finding a doctor, lawyer or most other kinds of professional service. Coaching is a fast growing profession, but strangely invisible and not clearly defined to its market. People often reach a coach through word of mouth; but chances are you won’t know many people who have experienced working with a coach. Alternatively, you might pick up a flyer for a coach who works in your neighbourhood; but how do you know if this person is the real deal or a quack?
If you’ve done the work of the part 2 in this series, and spent some time ascertaining your coaching needs, you will be well placed to find a coach with whom you can have a productive relationship. Instead of approaching the market with a broad and open agenda, you will have a reasonably clear idea of what you’re after and this should make your approach to finding a coach more focussed. So the first thing to understand is that you are not simply looking for a good coach. You are looking for a coach who is right for you – someone whose model of coaching is relevant to your needs, someone who inspires your trust and confidence and with whom you can imagine sharing aspects of yourself that would not normally enter other professional relationships.
Where do you find such a person? You need to seek candidates and interview two or three of them before selecting the coach that you will employ.
If you have a very specific need – such as decluttering or weight control – you might find the internet a good place to start. But these are very task-focussed examples which are on the borders of coaching and may well encompass a degree of mentoring or directive advice that coaching wouldn’t normally provide. Web searches are reasonably effective at connecting practitioners and clients for this kind of work.
More typically, coaching is one of the few areas of life in the digital age where a web search is not going to be especially helpful to begin with – although looking closely at coaches’ websites will be a significant part of the finding process later on.
If you work in a company and are considering business coaching, it’s possible that your HR department or senior management may have an arrangement in place to provide coaching. The important consideration in this situation is to keep in control of the selection process and not simply accept the first person who is offered to you. In most corporate situations, good practice is to offer you a choice of coaches and allow you to select the one who seems to offer the best fit for your needs. If this does not happen, you should insist on it: it is not for your boss, HR director nor anyone else to tell you who is the right coach for you.
If you are looking for a coach independently, your best bet is to seek recommendations from people you trust. These may include someone who has had coaching or someone who works as a coach (if you have a friend who coaches, it’s probably best not to choose this person as your coach since the boundaries between your friendship and your coaching relationship could get confused).
If your personal contacts yield no results, your next ports of call are organisations in the coaching field such as professional bodies, training schools and coaching companies. Among the professional bodies, the International Coach Federation and the Association for Coaching operate public directories of coaches which are accessible online. But these are fairly blunt instruments.
Ideally you want to speak to someone to explain what kind coaching experience you seek, so as to filter the recommendations you receive to your needs. Many training schools will be happy to put you in touch with alumni coaches (or even coaches in development who may offer free coaching in order to gain practice) and most coaching companies maintain panels of associate coaches and should be able to put you in touch with a number of people to speak to.
Armed with a few leads, the next step is to check out the websites for the people whose names you’ve obtained or the companies with which they are associated. These tell you an awful lot, and not always in the way their authors intend. You need to interrogate the websites, not passively absorb the information they present. Try to build a picture of the person who is putting him or herself forward as a coach.
In the first instance, look for obvious signs of professional credibility. These include relevant qualifications from reputable training establishments or accreditation by a professional body, membership of professional associations, subscription to a recognised code of ethics (pdf), and a commitment to ongoing development of the coach’s practice.
Next, ask yourself whether the website gives you a reasonable overview of the coach’s approach. What impression do you gain of what it would be like to experience coaching with this person? Some coaches will provide a model to explain what they do. Others, including me, blog about coaching-related subjects to give a more qualitative insight. Sometimes coaches provide resources on their websites which enable you to try out for yourself some of their techniques.
What do you learn about the theories, beliefs and perspectives that the coach brings to the task. How well do they fit or complement your own world view? If they challenge it, is this in a way that might help shift your thinking in a constructive way or is this giving you a warning sign that you could be looking at a dead end?
Step back a bit further and consider to what extent the coach’s website is in the service of your buying decision. Does it make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable? Is it written in language that is meaningful? Or does it bombard you with jargon about the coach’s credentials which make little sense to you? What is your reaction to the colours, design and style of the site? Is information provided freely or is it conditional on you submitting contact details? What do the answers to these questions tell you about the kind of relationship you might establish with this coach?
A note here about price. I know of few coaches that post pricing information on their websites. Here’s why. Most coaches operate in a variety of markets with different levels of price sensitivity. A large corporate client will expect to pay considerably more than an individual who funds the coaching from his or her own pocket. It’s quite hard to address these expectations simultaneously from a single website. But you should expect a clear and accountable answer to your questions about price once you get into a conversation with a coach. Within reason, few would want price to be a barrier to a client benefiting from coaching (indeed many coaches do a certain amount of pro bono work for causes or individuals they want to support).
The implication of this is that, if your search is price-led, you won’t get very far. In the first instance, focus on finding a coach who fits your needs and deal with the question of price later on. By this time, you shoul
d have a good idea in your head of the value you would put on coaching and how to tailor your budget accordingly. Fewer sessions with a coach who will challenge you and move you forward are better than more sessions with one whose approach is not right for you.
Your objective in comparing websites is to find a few practising coaches with whom you can have a useful conversation about your needs. An initial conversation on the phone should be enough to tell you whether this person may be a potential coach for you. If the signs are not encouraging, don’t be embarrassed to ask for recommendations for someone who might be a better fit. If the signs are encouraging, you will want to meet the person for a reasonably lengthy conversation to enable both of you to explore the kind of working relationship you might establish together.
In both your initial phone call, and your subsequent meeting if you proceed to that, you’ll want to have in mind the same kind of considerations that apply to scanning coaches’ websites. Aim to meet two or three people and think about whether the impressions you formed from looking at their sites and talking to them on the phone are borne out. Each meeting will give you a real insight into what coaching with that particular person would be like. And being able to compare your experiences of two or three different coaches will give you valuable data about which approach might best suit you at this particular time.
You need to be clear what you can expect from such an encounter and what you might want to get out of it. That is the subject of the next post in this series.
Other posts in the series, How to work with a coach: