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Congratulations! You’ve made the decision to hire a coach.
You’ve gotten through the “I should be able to do it myself, coaching is a scam, people will think I’m weak and incompetent, I don’t have the time, coaches just want to get rich off me, coaching is for people who have ‘problems’, it’s not worth the cost, I’m scared of what I’ll learn about myself, my boss will think I’m not up to the job” thingy.
So now what do you do? You don’t want to hire just any coach: You want to hire the perfect coach. So let’s start there.
There is no such thing as a perfect coach. (Reality can be harsh.)
The fantasy of one perfect coach sits right along side the fantasy of one perfect person, relationship, job, or child. Now that this is out of the way, I’d like to address your expectations.
Hiring a coach is a big deal; at the very least it should be. Hiring a coach says a lot of things about you— and they’ll all pretty terrific.
- It’s a declaration of your values.
- It says you’re deliberately pursuing success.
- It says that you know that leaders are made, not born and that leadership is a behavior, not a trait.
- It says that you have a Growth Mindset, and that you’re willing to risk safety and comfort for advancement and success.
Most of all, hiring a coach says that you’re committed to becoming the very best version of yourself; that you want to “turn your potential into performance”tm. Having made this decision, you’re well on your way to the transformation you seek.
The next step is to identify the perfect coach for you: The person who can coach you from where you are to where you want to be, and beyond.
This is the tricky part.
This is where your ego seeks safety and familiarity at the same time your gut tells you to go for it. This is when you default to what you know because you’re still ignorant of what’s in your blindspot. This is where you can make some awfully painful and avoidable mistakes.
When I became a coach, back in the Jurassic Period (1992), there was NO coaching field. There was consulting and there was counseling, the latter of which was reserved for people considered to have gargantuan issues (which wasn’t true, but this isn’t the space in which elaborate on that).
I’m guesstimating when I say that there were maybe a hundred or so of us who had been clued into the universe of coaching, pre-infancy.
Today you can’t take five steps without bumping into someone who identifies as a coach. Like most fields, there’s a vast space along the continuum from competent to incompetent. Like every position you fill, there are specific criteria for which to search. Keep this front of mind:
- Coaching is a hybrid.
- Coaching is not yet regulated.
- Anyone can call themselves a coach.
- Coaching gives many lost souls something to do.
You may seek a life coach, business (professional) coach, career coach, relationship coach, presentation coach, confidence coach, wellness, spiritual, leadership coach….. Regardless of the area of specialization, the pitfalls are the same.
I have been coached for as long as I’ve been a coach. I have worked with people who were credentialed and people who weren’t. I have worked with men and women, young and considerably older than myself. I have been coached by both the brilliant and the average, by visionaries and those lacking in luster.
Below is what I have learned. Pay attention because these rules are infallible. Taking shortcuts, ignoring red flags and thinking you know better will likely get you short term relief and long term pain. I promise.
In my opinion, the relationship you have with your coach trumps everything else: credentials, experience, investment, etc. So choose slowly, wisely and with your outcome front and center. Now for those avoidable mistakes…
#1 YOU’RE NOT COACHABLE
You know what you know. You know what you don’t know. BUT you don’t know what you don’t know. This is where coaching is invaluable. If you’re not willing to put down the old lens with which you view the world, how will you discover a new way of being? How will you create a new lens? Well, you won’t.
Sure, you think you’re open and you think you’re ready. But are you? Really?
If your trusted coach asked you to do something crazy like call every one of your exes and own up to your part of the break up, would you? If your trusted coach recommended that you make an appointment with your manager, skip level, and his/her skip level, would you?
The most ‘perfect’ coach in the galaxy won’t be able to move the needle if you’re more committed to digging in, resisting, arguing, and ‘being right,’ than you are to transforming the parts of your life that don’t support you in a positive way.
This is probably the most significant question to ask yourself BEFORE you start looking for a coach.
#2 YOU PICK A COACH THAT DOESN’T SUIT YOUR PERSONALITY
Let’s say you’re an introvert. You’re reluctant to speak up in a meeting. You like to be invisible. You would never confront a colleague. Let’s say that the reason you’re seeking a coach is that you need to move beyond some of these limitations so that you can receive the recognition you deserve and (finally) get promoted.
It’s unlikely that you’ll naturally gravitate toward a coach who’s company does “KILLER COACHING” or “RADICAL TRANSFORMATION” or any other approach that’s in your face and “I’m gonna make you cry”. Coaching should be work and fun. If you choose a coach whose style is so different from yours that you have difficulty even looking the coach in the eye, you’re not going to make the progress you desire. Then you’re going to feel like a failure (even though you’re not).
We are who we are. Sure, transformation is possible and desirable, but that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to become someone you’re not. In fact…
Really good coaching should chip away at everything
that isn’t authentically you, so the true you can emerge.
#3 YOU HIRE YOUR BEST FRIEND, WHO’S A COACH
Yes, your best friend knows you better than anyone else. Yes, you are super comfortable with her. Yes, your best friend loves you deeply and cares about your success. Yes, she’ll cut you a deal to save you some money. Yes, your best friend is a great coach and you’d love to work with her.
These are the 5 reasons you should never, ever, under any circumstance hire your best friend to be your coach.
If you hire her, she will edit her coaching to accommodate your insecurities, triggers, fears and neuroses. She may not even realize she’s doing this to you. After all, who knows you better than she does? She’ll do this because she loves you, and she wants to preserve this relationship that is so precious to her.
Because she so values your friendship, she will not be capable of telling you the truth 100% of the time; again, doing so would jeopardize your relationship. She will not be able to identify your blindspots like a stranger would. She won’t ask you the tough questions that you absolutely do not want to know the answers to. When you drag your feet, she won’t necessarily hold you accountable in a way that will get you moving.
So. Don’t. Do. It.
#4 YOU OVERESTIMATE THE VALUE OF A COACH’S CREDENTIALS. AND LACK THEREOF
The coach who looks good on paper, is properly credentialed, has a zillion years of experience and has worked wonders for your friend, colleague or relative is not necessarily the right coach for you.
The two most powerful people I ever received coaching from was Nancy (no relation) and Curt. Neither was a certified coach. As a matter of fact, at the time neither had even taken a coaching course. What they had was good, solid instincts. What made them excel was their commitment to my expansion and transformation. What made them great is that they were great people. I had massive breakthroughs with both of them, multiple times.
Neither Nancy nor Curt was my coach in the traditional sense; we didn’t coach for months or even weeks. These were one-off conversations when I felt lost, scared, stuck or alone. They changed my life.
I also have hired two different Master Coaches, neither were a good fit for me. Both bent toward distracted and bored. I’m sure they were really good at what they do: Just not for me.
Please do not draw any conclusions I’m not making. There are plenty of inept people on both sides of the equation AND more importantly, there are many, many skilled and credentialed people who will help you change up your life in just one meeting. I simply want to emphasize that credentials, alone, don’t automatically prove one’s excellence.
#5 YOU IGNORE YOUR INTUITION
Your intuition is probably the single most significant tool you’ll need when choosing the perfect coach for you. Yes, it’s hard to separate our heads (ego) from our hearts (gut), but if you trust yourself and listen to your gut, your intuition, your instincts, you won’t go wrong.
Much of the information we gather in our decision-making comes through to us on an intuitive level— it’s unconscious and beyond our self-awareness.
Inevitably when my clients tell me that they made a ‘mistake’ or ‘blew it’ they’ll add “I wish I’d trusted myself and listened to my inner voice; it told me not to do this.”
#6 YOU CHOOSE YOUR COACH BASED ON THE CO$T
Pardon me, but for a moment it may appear that I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth.
1. You get what you pay for. 2. Just because a coach is inexpensive, doesn’t mean s/he isn’t going to do a great job. Re-read #4
Ask yourself these questions:
What is the cost of not doing anything?
What is the cost of staying stuck?
What is the cost of remaining in a job you hate (or, at least, one you don’t love)?
What is the cost of talking and talking and talking about the things that challenge you, but doing nothing to change them?
How much time have you spent discussing this issue with your friends, colleagues, partner, manager, etc? Now multiply those hours by your hourly wage.
Compared to inertia, coaching can be a bargain.
What’s it worth to you? Only you have the answer to that question. My research demonstrates that most people contemplate an issue for 1-5 years before they take action. Yes, you read that correctly: one to five YEARS.
Coaching can seem to be very pricey. You can expect to pay $150 to $1000 an hour or more.
In reality, you’re not paying an hourly rate per se, you’re paying for the coach’s expertise in helping you achieve the result you’ve set for yourself.
If you can stay focused on the value of the result you want, it will be much easier on your mind and the story you tell yourself.
For example: You want a new job, but you don’t know what that job is. You work with a coach for three months. Your investment is $5,000. You get the perfect job and you love it. You even increase your yearly compensation. Was it worth your investment? Chances are it would have been worth it if you were charged twice as much. So keep this in mind.
#7 ENGAGING FOR THE WRONG PERIOD OF TIME
Personally, I find this one a bit baffling.
I’ll get a call from someone who is contemplating hiring a coach; she wants to talk to me about the coaching process . We discuss the areas in which she’s challenged and how we might approach them. She’s been ‘thinking about’ getting a coach for seven years. She hates her job. She hates her marriage. She wants to lose 75 pounds. She doesn’t get along with her colleagues. All fair game for coaching, I tell her.
Then she tells me she wants to sign up for two months of coaching; “That should do it” she tells me, “I’m a quick learner”.
Actually, no it won’t. These are major life transformations. It didn’t take two months to get her here, and it won’t take a mere two months to work through it to the other side. I’m guessing she’ll easily need six to twelve months to work through these tangles. She wants it fast. I want it done the right way, so she doesn’t have to do this same piece of her life over again. Hmmm.
Then there are the people who want to stay in coaching far longer than necessary. They tell me, “I’m afraid to go out on my own.” Here’s what’s silly about that: they’ve been “out on their own” all along. A really good coach doesn’t do it for you, s/he stands beside you as you do it yourself and helps you with the vision and course corrections.
#8 YOU HIRE A COACH WHO HASN’T GOTTEN AS FAR AS YOU WANT TO GO
If you ask six different people, you will likely receive six different comments on this point. Some people would say that you don’t have to achieve something in order to help someone else achieve it. That is, you can help someone quit smoking even if you’ve never been a smoker yourself.
There are certainly world class sports coaches who have coached their clients to Gold at the Olympics, without ever having achieved that distinction themselves. You know— some people coach it and some people do it.
There are some other people who would say that if you want to build a seven-figure business then you’d better work with someone who’s already accomplished that for themselves. I usually (but not always) sit firmly in this category.
I recall quite clearly the first week I was in graduate school, pursuing my Masters of Psychology, when I learned that half my Pro Set class had never been to therapy. Being the rabble-rouser I am, I questioned how they could be allowed to become Psychotherapists when they had never been through therapy themselves? How can a therapist possibly understand what it takes to lay yourself open, stand in complete vulnerability and share your deepest thoughts if you’d never done it yourself?
I was patently dismissed.
Let me ask you, my friend… Would you visit a dentist who’d never been to a dentist? Would you hire a chef who didn’t have taste buds? Would you hire a coach who’d never been coached? Point taken?
Hiring a coach is a deeply personal choice. You’re the only who knows if it’s important for your coach to have shared an experience similar to your own. Don’t worry- you’ve got this!
#9 YOU DON’T SET CLEAR AND MEASURABLE EXPECTATIONS FOR YOURSELF AND YOUR COACH
Coaching is both a relationship AND a business agreement: Which means that expectations need to be set, boundaries must be established and outcomes have to be determined before you get started.
Early in my coaching practice I recall emailing my clients that whenever they needed me they should just reach out. At that time, email was not as commonplace as it is today, and texting wasn’t even a thing. So they called. On Saturday night. Sunday afternoon. At 10:00 pm and 7:00 am. It hadn’t occurred to me to establish specific boundaries like, Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. I shudder to think that it took me eighteen months to figure out that I deserved time off, and that my clients wouldn’t disappear if I wasn’t available 24/7.
Recently I had a client tell me, “In the absence of clarity, anything can happen”. That about sums it up. If you don’t define your goals for yourself, and your expectations of your coach, then anything can happen. And it will.
CRITICAL: You must always have your coaching agreement in writing with every detail delineated. Always.
If you’re afraid to offend your coach, worried s/he’ll think you’re difficult, scared to take responsibility for the results you’ve committed to achieving, etc. then talk to your prospective coach about this. You want to work with a coach who is committed, deliberate, accountable and who has great boundaries. Period. If the coach won’t put your agreement in writing, RUN.
A short time ago I spoke with a colleague who’d just been severely burned by a coach (I only heard her side of this story, BTW). It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it can be a doozy. She paid her coach $5000 a month for over a year. According to my colleague, the coach was barely there for her, didn’t check in, did not positively impact her business, had no accountability structure in place and refused to refund her money. She’s going to be ‘ouching’ from that experience for a very long time.
When you’re defining your goals (yes, you are doing this and, yes, in writing) they must be specific and measurable. “I want to get a new job” is neither. “I want to get a new job in banking, at x level, doing y, for b amount of money, etc. is both. Got that?
Also, be sure to ask your prospective coach for their expectations of you. Expectations such as timeliness, scheduling, homework, assignments, frequency of calls/visits, length of appointments etc. can either enhance or ruin your coaching experience. My clients know that I’m as flexible as Gumby when it comes to changing appointments in advance of a call; but show up thirty minutes late without letting me know, or no-showing is a big NO NO. I call that mutual respect.
When the ground rules are established, in advance, few coaches and coachees have problems. It’s the unspoken that will bite us in the tush every time.
What mistakes have YOU made when hiring a coach? What did you look back on and say to yourself, “
I wish I’d listened to my instincts!” Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
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Known as The Impact Expert, she is the main stage speaker, expert trainer, and veteran coach who helps leaders solve key issues related to leadership development, employee engagement, and advancing women. She is the author of the acclaimed book: Impact! What Every Woman Needs to Know to Go from Invisible to Invincible and is currently working on her next book.