A Leader's Guide to Finding the Right Coach

A Leader's Guide to Finding the Right Coach

I remember when I was given the responsibility of managing a team for the first time. Though the overarching emotions were that of pride and gratitude, they were also accompanied by quiet apprehension and moments of self-doubt. I had a proven track record of success as an individual contributor but would I be able to keep up that streak with a team?

You don’t always know.

I like to start with this story because at the core of it all this is the reason for our existence.

In the years that followed, I was able to succeed and excel in my role as a leader not just because I was good at what I did but because I was lucky enough to have a mentor who believed I could do even better with the right guidance.

That’s exactly what the right coach does for an individual. The right coach is a facilitator who brings out the best in a learner, both professionally and personally. But this often leads to the question — how do I find the right coach for me?

According to HBR, a successful coaching relationship is made up of two things: high motivation to change and good chemistry with the coach. The first part of that sentence is something that’s in your control, but the latter is dependent on a set of factors that can be gauged to a large extent.

I’ve distilled them down to six questions that you need to ask to find the right coach for you.

Does this coach have the necessary credentials and skills to support me in my journey?

The first aspect to evaluate in a coach is whether they have the credentials to prove their expertise. While certification isn’t necessary for coaches to start practising, it acts as a good starting point to evaluate competency. Organizations like ICF, GALLUP, CPCC offer certification programs that are considered the best in the industry.

Apart from these credentials, there are some additional questions that you can ask to evaluate coaches at this stage.

  • How did you become interested in coaching?
  • What qualifications and certifications do you have in the field of coaching?
  • What is your approach and philosophy?

What does this coach specialize in? Are they good at helping me in my areas of improvement?

Good coaches specialize.

Coaches believe in dedicating their time to solving key problem areas. Over time, their dedication and expertise lead them to identify their own strengths. So while some focus on career planning, others do organization and time management, or digital transition and strategy. A good evaluation tactic is to identify a coach who has a proven track record and specializes in solving the specific problems that you’re trying to solve.

Some questions you can ask at this stage are:

  • What areas do you specialize in?
  • Who is your ideal client?
  • What are you best at and how did you arrive at that specialization?

Is there a comfort: competency fit?

Once the technicalities are out of the way, we’re now ready to dig a little deeper. Trust and a sense of comfort are integral to a successful coaching experience. This is where a discovery or chemistry session plays a role. An initial conversation with your prospective coach will help you identify if this is someone you can be open and transparent with.

But comfort is only one part of the equation. Being comfortable with the coach doesn’t always correlate with a real, tangible impact on professional growth. It’s important to go a step further to identify if there is a comfort: competency fit.

Schedule a discovery session with the coach and check if you have good chemistry with them. Some questions that can help you evaluate coach fit are:

  • Am I comfortable with the level of confidentiality in this engagement? Are my privacy concerns taken care of?
  • Is this person competent enough to help in the areas where I want to improve?
  • Do I feel safe and comfortable with this person?

What’s your method and what can I expect in a typical coaching session?

Do you remember what you enjoyed about learning when you were a kid? Some of us enjoyed reading our lessons out loud, others preferred discussing topics in class, or enjoyed coming up with mnemonic devices to remember key points.

We’re not very different now — just older with not enough nap time. Over time, we all develop a distinct way of working. There’s a style that suits us best and we’re more likely to succeed in an environment that supports our working and learning method. This doesn’t mean that you should be looking for a textbook method to success right at the beginning. But feeling a sense of comfort while being excited and inspired to find out more is a great start.

Here are some questions you can ask to determine whether your coach is a good fit for you:

  • How do you typically get started with a coaching engagement?
  • Do you follow a preferred method or do you keep it fluid?
  • How regularly do you assess improvements or intervene in the process with check-ins?

Does their philosophy align with my method of measuring change or progress?

The value of any learning or coaching program is significantly higher when you’re able to measure its outcome or result in some shape or form. While the ROI of coaching has traditionally been considered fairly elusive, there are many scientific assessment methods and strategies that can objectively define, track, and measure progress. And the truth is that anything that can be documented, tracked, and monitored can be measured.

One way of looking at this would be to zero in on your North Star metric and work backward from there. A good coach will be able to break this down into:

Vision → Goals → Strategies

The vision here is your North Star metric. Goals derived from your vision are measurable, time-bound achievement markers on the way to realizing your vision. Finally, the third part of the equation is the strategy. Coaches can break down goals to suggest, strategies or methods to achieve these goals.

This method of breaking down a larger vision into smaller goals and strategies might work for me, but you could have a different method of gauging progress. What ultimately matters is to identify whether your philosophy is in alignment with that of your coach. This gives a sense of direction but also establishes confidence in the process.

Some questions that you can ask at this stage are:

  • How do you define and measure success?
  • What are some of the metrics or signs of progress that you look for in an engagement?
  • What is your process of check-ins and feedback?

How do they invest in their own personal growth?

More often than not, coaches choose their path because of their own transformation story. Lean in and listen to their story to evaluate if it resonates with you. This doesn’t necessarily mean they should have done the exact same thing or faced similar challenges, but look for cues that tell you how clued in they are to their own personal growth. Learning is a continual process and a good coach will be more than willing to share how they invest in their own growth.

Some questions you can ask during your initial discovery or chemistry sessions are:

  • What keeps you motivated and grounded to do what you do?
  • Have you authored any publications or articles in your area of interest?
  • How do you think you have grown as a coach?

Coaching is an inside and outside job

The important thing to remember is to set realistic expectations while acknowledging the fact that each one of us has an inner coach and an inner critic that pushes and questions us to do better. Having a coach who understands you and your goals acts as that external accountability partner to keep you honest, and sometimes even just give that much-deserved pat on the back.

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