Five Things To Consider When Choosing A Coach
READ TIME: 5m
I still think, and probably always will, in academic years and carry a (currently very tatty) academic year diary. So this time of year is my end of year review time, as well as when I think about what I want to achieve next year. A good time to talk to a coach! If working with a coach is something you’ve been contemplating too, here are some things to consider as you prepare to do that.
First off, I’d be a little wary of employing a coach who doesn’t use a coach themselves.
When I work with a coach, I think more deeply and creatively than I do alone. I step back, slow down and see things more clearly and with wider perspective. I think in as more focused and productive way. I order my thoughts in ways I can act on and make the changes I want to make. I find solutions. I accept the things I can’t change and take responsibility for the things I can. I turn blame and excuses into curiosity, compassion, taking responsibility and taking action. I expand my perception of what’s possible and my belief that I can do it. A coach gives me space to think and take responsibility where there is no judgement, and no agenda for me other than the one I set for myself.
I also laugh a lot- I'm a great believer that working hard and doing work that has depth and significance can have a lightness to it too. I sometimes cry - and that’s cool too - tears might be of sadness, and they are also a way the body processes a shift or change, so I’m very happy to have a bit of a weep as anyone i’ve worked with will testify to! What else? I get out of my own head. I get out of my own way. I say things out loud that I already knew, but in saying them, I actually hear them and work out how to do something about them. I am challenged to see myself and/or others differently. I am supported to be kinder to myself. I understand that I might not be right (imagine!) in what I am telling myself about others, or myself, and I am more compassionate and kind to myself and others. And in doing that, I am not inappropriately soft, in fact the opposite – I go towards the challenging and difficult conversations, decisions and actions I have been avoiding because I am clear on the importance of them and have some ways to go about them. I acknowledge and build on what I do well. I extract the learning from the things that haven’t gone well. I get what I want to get done faster and better because I’ve worked out how to get there for myself.
It is a genuine privilege to be a coach and partner with people to create the space to do this kind of work – as they define it. And because I do this for a living, you’d be forgiven for thinking I could do this for myself. And yes, I can do some good quality thinking on my own and most of the time that, like you, is what I do. But my best and most efficient thinking, and my best conversion of my thought into action, comes from working with someone else.
I can highly recommend it!
If you are thinking about working with a coach, here are some things to consider as you assess whether coaching is right for you, and choose your coach.
1. UNDERSTAND WHAT COACHING IS AND IF IT’S RIGHT FOR THE WORK YOU WANT TO DO
Coaching is a thought-provoking and creative partnership that inspires clients to maximize their personal and professional potential, often unlocking previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.
- International Coach Federation’s definition of coaching
Your coach will partner with you to get clear what you want to be better at. This could be a tangible business goal, or a development as a leader, or a way you choose to think about yourself or others or anything you want. The key is that the first part of the work with your coach is that you clearly define something you want to be different in the future. Once you know what that is, you work with your coach to explore the possible ways you could get there, and commit to actions that will take you there. The breadth and depth of the work you do in the course of that will be significant, and will be different for everyone.
It can be useful to remind yourself in deciding whether coaching is what you want, that it is not mentoring, in which experience is shared and you might expect to receive advice, opinion, suggestion and guidance. It is not counselling, which seeks to heal through talking.
One is not better than the other, by the way. I have worked with a counsellor and a coach for different reasons and whilst it is a simplification, the best way I can put it is that I saw a counsellor to look to the past and heal and to cope better with some things I found traumatic; I see my coach to work on the changes I want to make in the future. Often, I work in coaching on what I want to do with something I learned through counselling. For me, the difference is the direction I’m looking in. (I’ve provided links to useful organisations at the bottom of this post.) Similarly, many of my clients use their mentor to support the work they are doing in coaching by getting really clear what they want to ask of their mentor and how they want to use the advice and experience of their mentor whilst retaining their ownership of their choices and application of that advice.
2. BE READY AND WILLING TO WORK
It may sound obvious, but as in all things, the more you give the more you will get.
Be prepared to get started– know (or at least have started to think through) what you want to be coached on and where you want to get to.
Be prepared to work– come to each session with some areas to focus on.
Be prepared to bring your whole self - honesty, openness, response to challenge, working at judging yourself and others less and being curious more.
Believe that change is possible and that it’s what you want.
Be prepared to put the work in to make that change.
Be willing to acknowledge and work with what you do well, as well as to work on what you perceive to be weaknesses.
3. MEET MORE THAN ONE COACH AND CHOOSE THE ONE YOU BELIEVE WILL BE MOST USEFUL TO YOU
One of the skills of a great coach is not knowing! It may sound odd, but in a coach you are looking for someone who doesn’t have opinions about what you should do, and who believes that you know best for you, even if you haven’t articulated what that is yet - they will help you with that bit. Your coach will be guided by you as a client towards the most useful balance of challenge and support for you, in your context, in relation to what you want to work on.
There should be rapport and trust, without collusion.
4. COMMITMENT TO ACTION
I keep coming back to the words support and challenge and to that brilliant phrase ‘Loving Boot’ from Challenging Coaching by Blakey and Day.
When I first learned to coach I was enchanted by this space in which I was listened to so attentively, heard so fully, and was able to work out what was happening and what I wanted to do about it. I loved offering this to clients too. But I soon realised that wasn’t enough. Those early experiences (during which some assessment recordings were returned as needing further work to meet the full standards) also revealed to me that I wasn’t doing enough for my clients to ensure that exploration became action, and that it really was coaching, and not just a great chat. When I did more of that, and asked the people coaching me to do more of that and experienced it as a client, I started to really understand the relationship between support and challenge, and how crucial it is to ensuring that coaching is not only useful in the session, but beyond it.
It’s a defining feature of my work now; to support enough that you feel safe to do the work you want to do, and to ask questions and offer reflections that enable you to explore options, combined with the challenge that you identify what you want to do, and commit to when and how you will do it. You are responsible for making the coaching useful beyond the session. Choose a coach that supports and challenges you to commit to action, and to identify a way of being accountable for those actions.
Confidentiality should be a given, and that is exactly why it is easy to assume it’s there and it shouldn’t be an assumption. It’s crucial to check this out. Make sure you know what your coaches commitment to confidentiality is, and what do you want to include. For example, you may be comfortable with your coach telling other people that they are working with you (whilst of course not divulging content) or you may not. Ensure you are all clear on what that confidentiality means, and have signed up to it. Both literally in the form of a contract, and metaphorically.
If there is a sponsor involved, are you clear how that will work? (I’ll post more on this soon.)
Not all coaches are accredited, and I know a very very small number of fantastic coaches who aren’t. The vast majority of coaches I would recommend are accredited. I would recommend, unless it’s a very sound recommendation from a trusted source that you search for coaches that are accredited to one of the reputable coaching organisations (I’ve included some links below) as in doing so you are setting your expectation of certain minimum standards of training, experience and ethics that are all about you having a safe space to do the work you want to do.
It’s also sensible to ask whether your coach receives regular supervision. Supervision is where coaches explore and are held to account on their professional practice. As well as meaning that your coach is paying ongoing attention to their learning and the quality of what they can offer you, it adds another layer of safety in that you will know someone is questioning them and ensuring that they meet the ethical standards of the profession while they are coaching you.
Interestingly, from a confidentiality point of view, your coach will probably need to agree with you that the one place they can discuss their work is with their supervisor. For example, in my coaching agreements, it states that I will talk to my supervisor, but will not use individual or organisation names, and that my supervisor is bound by the same ethics and confidentiality agreements as I am.
Standards, ethics, professional qualification, experience and testimonial – you are making an investment so check all this out before you begin.
In short – make sure there is a contract. Read it. Question it. Discuss it with your coach.
Expect there to be significant work done, before you have even started the work.
In closing, as you consider whether coaching is for you, ask yourself:
Do I know what coaching is?
Do I know what I want to use coaching for?
Am I willing to be honest with myself and my coach?
Am I committed to taking action and taking responsibility for the progress I make?
Do I trust and have good rapport with my coach and do I have a clear and meaningful contract with them?