The Value of a 3rd Opinion: Part 3 – working with a coach

Posted December 1, 2010 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

My new Twitter friend @knealemann told me that Roger Federer often went for stretches playing tennis without working with a coach.  Most people seem to express surprise when they hear that.  Afterall, every top athlete has a coach, right?  But what about you?  Do you have a coach to help you get better and stay on top of your game?  Having graduated from the management school of “initiation by fire” myself, I’d never really heard of coaching until I joined a leadership consulting/training firm in the late 90’s. I ended up taking a coaching program through The Coaches Training Institute because I thought it might make me a better “manager as coach”.  Instead, it opened my eyes to the power of coaching and made me wonder why the hell nobody had told me about how helpful working with a coach can be.  Here are some of my thoughts on how to go about finding and working with a coach.

  1. Define your goals… what are you trying to work on and how do you think a coach could help.  Personally, I find coaching to be the most effective when I’m feeling stuck or hitting a career plateau.  Coaches have always helped me to define my ‘next steps’.  I’ve also used coaches when I’ve found myself struggling in a new role and/or when I’ve massively increased my scope.  They’ve helped me learn the navigational skills I’ve needed to stay sane.
  2. Think about what kind of coach you want… there are thousands of people who call themselves coaches.  Lots are great… many are not.  The key is to start with understanding what type of coach you want to work with and what skills/background you want them to have. 
  3. Ask for a demo session… In my experience, chemistry is pretty important.  You’ll be working with this person for at least 3 months on some pretty important issues, so you have to feel comfortable with them.  Most coaches will spend about 30 minutes with you to give you a feel for how they work.
  4. Commit to a timeline… depending on what you’re trying to achieve with your coach, you may require more or less time.  If you’re hiring a coach to help you prep for a large keynote speech, then a few focused sessions will do the trick.  If you’re a newly promoted leader who’s trying to figure out the complexities of a new role, then a 12 to 18 month program is probably more ideal.
  5. Prepare for your meetings… coaching, like mentoring or peer forums, is highly self-directed.  You’ll get as much out of your coaching conversation as you’re willing to put into it.  Reflect before each session on what you’ve done since the last session and what you’d like to talk about in the session.

Some other things to think about:

  • Certification schmertification… Personally, I think most “certification” programs are a cash grab so I wouldn’t worry so much about whether your coach is ICF certified (I know some excellent coaches that just refuse to jump the hurdles to get their designations), but advanced training in coaching is important.  It’s definitely a unique skill set, so see if they’ve attended Adler, CTI, Royal Roads or one of the other coaching schools.
  • More $$ isn’t always more impact… leadership or executive coaches can range from $375 a session to $3,000 a month (or more).  I’ve spent money on both ends of the spectrum and can honestly say that the $3,000 a month person was as effective as the $300 a month coach I hired in 2000.  Some coaches offer one set of rates to corporations and one set to individuals.  If your company won’t foot the bill, ask what their personal rates are.
  • Enroll in a coaching program yourself.  It’s a FANTASTIC way to boost your own leadership skills AND you’ll get a ton of personal coaching included in the process.  (I like things that give me multiple bang for my buck like that).
  • Switch it up.  I’ve never hired the same coach twice, although I have extended working with a few coaches from time to time.  I find different coaches are good for different stages of your career path.  Knowing what you’re looking for and goals is always the crucial first step.

Working with a coach has certainly provided me with a wealth of learning, support, encouragement, motivation and insights over the past decade.  If you’ve never had the experience, consider giving it a try.  If you’d like more ideas on what to look for in a coach, give us a call.

Happy leading!


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  1. As a CTI graduate, I cannot agree more with your statements!
    Were it not for my coach training at CTI, I would have not grown to appreciate a deep connection to myself and others. I am fully convinced that coaching has the potential to unite humanity, because it quite simply breaks down the barriers that separate you and me. Moreover, coaching builds you up in unexpected ways you could not have imagined. I was so excited and encouraged by coaching, that I wrote a book in which I share self-coaching essentials that I learned at CTI and since my training. Simple tools that anyone with an interest in leadership can learn and apply. I can be reached at http://www.InnerPeaceNow.ca if you want more information.