How to Choose a Great Coach (no matter what industry you're working in)

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This past spring my husband started working with a coach – a poker coach. That’s right, he’s working with someone to improve his poker-playing skills. At first I was skeptical; after all, I come from a world where you only hire a coach for high-level professional development like public speaking and leadership. But here’s the thing: in addition to poker playing skills, his coach is also helping him with skills that transcend his hobby to areas including strategic thinking and high-stakes decision making. He’s been able to use both of these areas of development to grow himself professionally beyond the poker table. And yes, his poker skills have improved too (he plays for Costco gift cards, so I fully support this growth!)

We’re moving into an unprecedented era of development and growth, in both personal and professional aspects of our lives. As a result, it’s now possible to hire a coach in just about anything, including a general “life coach.” However, for every success story of how a skilled coach helped their client reach new potential, I also hear stories about coaches who seem to unable to give their clients what they need to truly grow and improve.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time working with various coaches (both as a mentor and as a client), and I think there are a few key things to look for before hiring a coach for yourself:

1. Make sure your coach has successfully done the thing they’re coaching you on

This seems obvious, but I cannot tell you how often I’ve met speaker coaches who aren’t great speakers or have very limited public speaking experience, marketing coaches who haven’t successfully built and executed their own campaigns, and life coaches who don’t have their lives together. I’m not saying they need to be the best in their field (after all, we’re all in various stages of development and there’s always room to improve), but they do need to know what’s it like to be in the field in the first place. As in, did they build their success doing the thing they’re coaching you on, OR have they built their success by jumping right into coaching on it?  

2. Make sure they ask a lot of questions

My friend Kelly (a skilled coach in her own right) talks a lot about the power of asking questions of your clients. Kelly is a leadership coach, motorcycle trainer, and former Naval officer – which means she knows a thing (or several things) about developing people. She backs up her point of view with some solid brain research about how asking questions increases learning and development for the people you’re working with. Beyond this, when a coach asks a lot of questions it means they care about you specifically and they aren’t trying to do a template/cookie-cutter coaching session. Which leads me to…

3. Make sure they know and value your specific goals

I work with a client whose main objective is to give better presentations to his colleagues at work. He’s not terribly interested in submitting a TEDx talk or becoming a world champion public speaker. His goal may seem small, but if he reaches it not only can he continue to climb the ladder at the multi-billion-dollar tech company where he’s currently employed, but he can help his company hit their big goals as well. Now his goals suddenly seem incredibly important, and not small at all! I’d be remiss as a coach if I was trying to coach him towards something he’s not aiming for. Make sure your coach knows exactly what you are working towards and why.

4. Make sure you work well together

This is huge! If you and your coach don’t “click,” you’re not going to get the results you need. Everyone is different and therefore has different needs and responds to different styles. Do you want honest, unfiltered feedback? Or do you respond better to softer, gentler feedback? Do you need someone who will hold your feet to the fire and keep you moving forward even when you’ve lost your drive? Or do you need someone who is more maternal in their style, and is more nurturing? Most coaches will do an initial consultation or meeting before agreeing to work with you, and that’s the time to ask as many questions of them regarding their style and skills as possible. Which brings me to my last point…

How do you best receive coaching and feedback? That’s one of many things you need to communicate with your potential coach before you begin work together.

How do you best receive coaching and feedback? That’s one of many things you need to communicate with your potential coach before you begin work together.

5. Make sure they do an initial consult or assessment before agreeing to work with you

Experienced coaches will speak with you (at least very briefly), or have you take some sort of assessment, before agreeing to work with you. It’s important that they gather information about you, your goals, your experiences, and what you’re looking for in a coach before they agree to take you on as a client. If they completely skip this step it could mean any number of things (depending on the situation), but overall it’s a critical step in making sure they’re the right coach to help you be successful.

Learning and growing should never end, no matter what stage of life you’re in. If you’re stuck, faced with an intimidating challenge, or just feeling like you need to fine-tune some areas of your life, I highly recommend hiring a coach. By doing your due diligence you will find a coach who is skilled, is prepared to help you meet your goals, and you love working with. The result is better performance, more confidence, and outstanding results. Good luck!

If you’re not ready to hire a speaker coach, but still need some guidance on creating your next big presentation, why not try my FREE guide on writing a killer presentation? Just sign up below!

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