Three things to look for when choosing a coach

Posted on 27th January 2020

Coaching is one of the fastest growing service industries in the 21 century – yet still, regrettably, anyone can call themselves a coach with, or without, an appropriate qualification. With so many to choose from, each offering a variation of a very similar service, how do you make sure that the person you choose is the best fit for you – rather than just the best sales person!

As a rule of thumb, there are three basic things to look out for:

1. rapport – bottom line, do you like them – and, more importantly, can you imagine trusting them with your personal story?

2. professional integrity – do they hold a recognised qualification, are they a member of a regulatory body abiding by an industry specific code of practice, and are they insured?

3. experience – how long have they been practicing, are they accredited by a recognised industry body, and what do other people, in a similar situation to yourself, have to say about their experience

1. Rapport

When it boils down to it, there are only really two things that determine the success of a coaching relationship; your personal commitment to taking action, and the rapport you have with your coach. This is the reason why most coaches will offer a free, no obligation ‘chemistry check’ before either of you decide whether you would like to enter into a more formal arrangement. Some may refer to it as a ‘discovery call’, others may just call it a consultation – but, whatever it is called, the purpose is to determine whether or not there is sufficient rapport for you, as coachee, to share personal and possibly sensitive, information; and for the coach to feel comfortable requesting, and exploring, that information.

Good rapport brings with it an energy that has the potential to enhance creative thinking and reinforce commitment to taking action – there is a sense of ‘we are in it together’ and the coachee, not wanting to let the side down, is less inclined to default on agreed actions. Professional coaches are very conscious of the power of rapport as leverage in motivating coachees to take action and, generally speaking, are reluctant to work with people where this rapport is absent because failure to achieve can be very damaging for their own reputation and, it goes without saying, it is likely to be far less rewarding. Be wary then of any coach who doesn’t offer the opportunity to test that chemistry before agreeing to work together. Signing on the dotted line, without knowing in advance whether you are likely to get along with your chosen thinking partner, could prove an expensive mistake and worse, could seriously inhibit your progress towards your goals.

2. Professional Integrity

Coaching should never be confused with counselling, or with consulting – but, there are similarities, most important of which are the requirements for the coach to be honest about their credentials, to act ethically in the interests of their client, and to maintain confidentiality in accordance with clearly understood parameters. But, how do you know these things about someone you have not yet worked with? The answer lies in two key questions – the answers to which any professional coach should be happy to share.

Do they hold a recognised qualification in coaching?
It’s surprising just how many people offer themselves as a coach with no formal qualification in coaching at all! And then there are those who have attended a freebie weekend, received a certificate, and consider that enough to tell the world they are qualified. The reality is, there’s a whole spectrum of courses available for prospective coaches, ranging from those freebie weekends, to full time courses at degree level or above and, in between, a whole variety of providers offering mid-range diplomas on and off line. There are also accredited courses provided by the ‘big names’ in coaching, Tony Robbins, John Maxwell, etc. Most credible qualifications incorporate a minimum number of hours supervised practice. If you are looking for a professional coach who knows what they are doing, knows how to draw out your true potential, and how to support you through challenging times, always ask about their qualifications.

Are they a member of a regulatory body?
At the current time coaching remains an unregulated profession but that is not to say that there are no regulatory bodies setting the standards for professional practice. The big three are; International Coach Federation, European Mentoring and Coaching Council, and the Association for Coaching. The National Council of Psychotherapists also has a register for coaching professionals and, there are others. Each of these bodies has a code of practice or set of standards that members are expected to abide by, and which gives clients assurance that the person they are dealing with works within a transparent, professional framework. In most cases, membership requires practitioners to be insured, and to provide evidence of regular supervision, and continuing professional development.

3. Experience

It’s not essential that a coach has experience in the field in which their clients currently operate: the expertise they bring is the capacity to pay attention to the information that is being shared with them, to join the dots, spot the challenges, and ask the sorts of questions that will help to surface the right answers for the situation. That said, personal experience of a client’s world is generally an indication of a shared vocabulary, and inside knowledge, that can make for smoother communication. A coach with knowledge of the industry is also better positioned to ask those powerful, sometimes awkward, questions that may be particularly relevant to their client’s position in the company, and which may pass under the radar of a coach with less industry knowledge.

But, whether you choose a coach who is familiar with your particular situation, or someone completely independent who will look at the situation with completely fresh eyes, it is important is to establish the coach’s credentials – not just whether they have a formal coaching qualification as discussed above, but how long have they been practicing, how that practice is supervised, and what sort of reputation they are building amongst their clients. Two of the most obvious ways to check this out are;

Credentialing - are they accredited by one or other of the established coaching bodies?
Each of the three big coaching organisations offers levels of accreditation from Foundation through to Master Practitioner with each level requiring evidence of a minimum number of hours practice, plus regular supervision with a qualified supervisor, and a minimum number of hours professional development.

Testimonials – are these up to date and relevant?
It’s all too common for coaches, when they are first starting out, to populate their websites or social media with testimonials that sound convincing but, in reality, are often from people who have volunteered to receive freebie coaching in exchange for their testimonial. There is nothing wrong with this – everyone has to start somewhere! But, when you are looking for someone who can accompany you on what might prove to be one of the most important thinking journeys of your life, the chances are you want to know that person is up to the job. So, look for testimonials from people who appear to be in similar situations to yourself, what was their experience and is their testimony convincing? Check too for dates - if testimonials have not been added to in a while, you might want to ask why this is – is it an indication, for example, that the coach in question doesn’t have many clients; or perhaps has not provided a good service; or are they maybe complacent with their marketing? And remember – these days, there are so many different places where clients can leave reviews; Google, Facebook, Linked In, and various other platforms, so don’t just rely on the golden list posted on a coach’s website.

Of course, even with the most comprehensive checklist, there are no guarantees that you will find the perfect match for you and your situation, but paying attention to these three things will certainly increase the odds of achieving a powerful partnership.

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