How to pick your coach? Watch out for chemistry!

I was recently on a panel for the Association des Amis des Grandes Ecoles de France (similar to the Ivy League schools for the US) here in New York and, together with my fellow panelists, we tried to address some key questions people had about coaching. One question was, of course: “What can coaching can do for me?” And a great response offers this recent article ‘Personal Best’ by Atul Gawande in the New York Times.

Now, once you’re convinced of the merits of coaching, the next important question is: “How do I find a great coach?” In a bit of an exaggerated sense, this isn’t dissimilar to choosing a spouse: if you pick the right one, you will both enjoy the journey (for the most part!), and see some great outcomes. But if you pick the wrong one…

The coaching industry as it stands today is incredibly fast growing, and is gaining legitimacy. People (and organizations) are ever more willing to invest top dollar into their personal and professional growth and potential. However, coaching as a discipline is also still fairly ‘young’, and the fundamentals of the industry continue to be in flux. The profession as a whole is not regulated at this point and, while you will find some excellent coaches with fantastic credentials and experiences, the term coach is not protected, and anyone who wishes can hang out their shingle with no further qualifications and call themselves a ‘Coach’. This makes it hard from the outside to know who to seek out (or sometimes even where to begin looking).

The Search

Some strategies which have worked for people are to reach out to recognized coaching training programs from brand name schools – like INSEAD, Columbia or Georgetown University – who all list their training credentialing process, and who will provide a list of their graduates. Other people seeking the right kind of coach have approached their HR departments to see if they have a list of coaches who they have on retainers or can recommend. There are also certification institutions, such as the International Coach Federation, or associations such as the World Wide Association of Business Coaches which can serve as a starting point. Finally, given that coaching is becoming ever more mainstream, and is often seen as a ‘badge of honor’ for successful people, many clients have simply asked their peers who have been coached about their experiences with a particular coach.

Once you have a short list of reputable coaches, the next step is to make sure that coaches have experience in a setting relevant to you, that they have some clear methodology, and, very importantly, that they have a high quality client list. You may wish to check out the testimonials on their website. (Make sure there are names or companies associated with a quote and be wary of anonymous quotes!) You could also consider asking to speak to former clients for a reference.

Now, assuming that you have found a coach who has the credentials, and who has the right experience in the area that you wish to be coached on, the next step is the most important: make sure you and your coach have chemistry! From both research and experience we know that the success of the coaching relationship comes, in essence, down to two things:

1) The willingness of the client to be coached

2) The relationship between coach and client

It is vital that you have the right chemistry with your coach and that their personality and coaching style resonates with who you are. This will have a huge impact on how much return you can get from your investment. Coaches are aware that this is a key component and most offer a complimentary session to help you (and them) decide whether this partnership has the potential to become a trusting and fruitful partnership, or whether it could end in a messy divorce…!

Read more on how to pick a coach also in a previous posting.