Are you limiting your career? Finding the Right Professional Coach for You

by Pat D’Amico

“What are you doing now?” I casually asked an old friend after they informed me that they had left their job as a property manager to start their own business. “I’m doing life and business coaching,” they replied. This might have been a surprising response a decade ago, but it is incredibly common today…maybe too common. 

The last decade has seen an explosion in the coaching industry, with some publications suggesting it is one of the top 3 growth sectors in the world. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) estimates there are currently over 53,000 coaches worldwide, with over 17,500 (33%) operating in the United States. 

The largely unregulated nature of the coaching field/profession has resulted in many professionals having a poor coaching experience themselves or knowledge of others who have. Too often, this results in a reluctance on the part of those that would benefit from coaching from seeking out this potentially impactful experience. This doesn’t have to be the case. There are many talented and qualified coaches out there. You just need to know how to find the one that’s right for you. 

Selecting a Coach

The question most often asked by those seeking or considering one-on-one professional coaching is, “How do I find and select a coach that is right for me?” Answering that question effectively will mean the difference between an investment well-made or wasted. 

What type of coaching am I looking for?

Without question, this is the starting point that will drive the search and selection process. Depending on the source, there can be more than 30 different types of coaching. For our purposes, I will discuss the three primary types of coaching I have found most individuals seek.

Coaching is not telling you what to do.

It is important first to understand that coaching is different from mentoring or advising. Those later modalities often focus on providing the client direction and advice. A well-trained and talented coach will help guide the client to understand, evaluate, and find solutions for themselves, resulting in greater self-development and long-term impact. 

A Life Coach

What they do: If you are looking for a Coach that will primarily help you manage your personal life in areas that might include health and wellness, relationships, and/or personal goals, then a life coach may be right for you. Life coaches will encourage self-discovery and personal growth, along with helping you hold yourself accountable. Be aware that life coaches are seldom professionally trained counselors or psychiatrists and, therefore, should not be engaged as such. 

What to look for: Life coaches can come from many walks of life and bring vast personal experience to the coaching relationship. At the same time, literally, anyone can call themselves a life coach as no formal training or credentials are required. Due to the variability in life coaching “credentials,” your best approach may be to first seek recommendations from others you trust. When interviewing a life coach, ask if you can speak to some professional clients (not friends or family members they may coach). Ask about formal training and certifications they possess and what they believe makes them an effective coach. A caution here is that if you get the impression the life coach you are interviewing does not, themselves, have a handle on their own life, you probably want to keep looking. 

A Business Coach.

What they do: If you are looking for a coach that will help you navigate the landscape of your business environment and/or the growth of your company, you might consider a business coach. Business coaches will often work with multiple individuals to gain a holistic view of the business to better understand the organization’s goals and objectives. 

What to look for: As you can guess, when selecting a business coach, it’s important that the individual have extensive and relevant experience in your sector. You are essentially hiring an expert in your field; in the same manner you would be evaluating an external consultant. The difference is that you are also looking for them to have business coaching experience as well. Think of the old saying, “the best players don’t always make the best coaches.” Even highly successful CEO’s may not have the training and/or skills to be an impactful coach. When interviewing them, ask about existing clients and for references. When contacting any of their current/past clients, ask if they have quantified the business impact resulting from their engagement with the business coach. 

An Executive Coaching.

What they do: Executive coaches work with leaders at all levels (not only the C-Suite) to help them enhance their performance by building on their strengths and addressing areas of development. By nature, leaders are often relied upon to have all the answers within their organization and have the responsibility to develop others. Executive coaching provides them an opportunity to focus on their own development. While it was common years ago for an organization to engage an Executive Coach to address senior leaders’ deficiencies (often career-limiting behaviors), today, Executive Coaches more often are tapped to develop high-potential individuals and prepare them for greater responsibility. 

What to look for: While Executive Coaching is one of the more established and credentialed areas of coaching, there is still no formal education/experience requirement for someone to call themselves an Executive Coach. Therefore, selecting someone with formal training, credentials, and experience are more critical when identifying an Executive Coach. While certain functional experience may more naturally lend itself to Executive Coaching, such as human resources, you should evaluate a potential Executive Coach by asking questions about their coaching credentials and experience. Often the most qualified Executive Coaches will have achieved certification through professional organizations such as ICF (International Coaching Federation) or an Executive Coaching program from a renowned academic institution. These types of formal training/certification are coveted in the Executive Coaching arena and separate truly professional Executive Coaches from the masses. While these individuals may also provide services as a business coach if the client is within their professional experience area, they are typically not functional/industry specific. Additionally, some Executive Coaches will hold certifications for tools such as 360-degree feedback surveys, allowing them to leverage these as part of the coaching relationship. As mentioned for other coaching modalities, look for them to provide referrals and/or formal recommendations. 

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