What to Look For in a Coach

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What to Look For in a Coach

I read with interest and am in furious agreement with Meg Myers Morgan’s recent piece detailing five requirements to participate in a successful coaching relationship (commitment, time, ‘coachability’, chemistry, and trust).   

Let’s take the last of those stated requirements, trust, and expand on it just a bit from the coaching client’s perspective, with an eye for capability that people should expect to be presented by anyone who would be their coach. There are at least two specific elements of trust that the coaching client should be looking for:

Competence – Plainly speaking, you should have good reason to believe that the coach knows what they are doing. If, for instance, they propose to help you improve your leadership skills, they should have significant paid, professional experience in a leadership role, where they’ve felt the weight of making real decisions, and uttering words like, “You’re hired, you’re unhired, here’s where we’re going, that’s not good enough, let’s try this instead, tell me what you think…”  Further, they should have the scars to prove it, and be willing to tell you very specifically about both some of their leadership successes AND failures. Also ask them to tell you about a coaching engagement that didn’t succeed and why. If they haven’t struck out a few times, how much can they really help you? Further, they should be seasoned enough as a coach to decline or refer engagements that are outside their wheelhouse rather than attempt to fake it until they make it while on your time and your dime. This is only your career we’re talkng about.

Faithful to Your Best Interest – Absent the belief that a coach is going to take the time to listen and understand what your fears, hopes, and aspirations are, and will keep them top of mind in your dealings, you likely won’t be able to leave your comfort zone enough to risk real change. Be watchful for signs that they really grasp these things, that they know and respect how important they are to you. Don’t be afraid to confirm understanding by asking them to tell you what they just heard.

In an era when professional development has become ever more a DIY proposition, coaching, whether employer sponsored or self-paid, is one of the best tools available to each of us. Yet it’s very much in our interest to be discerning in thinking thru why we’re engaging a coach, where we really want to move the needle, and then being selective in partnering with a coach. 

Keep working at it.

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