Evaluating a Coach’s Creds

Most of our day-to-day coaching needs can be met by forming strategic partnerships with the right people, people with expertise, knowledge and experience. You do this all of the time when you talk to a mechanic before purchasing a car, do on-line research before selecting a neighborhood in which to move, or talk to a friend before deciding on your next vacation destination.

I use those examples because they are familiar to us. And they are not emotionally charged issues. But some people feel most secure when they use a coach to serve as a sounding board before making choices. For example, Jocelyn and I were trying to decide which movie to watch the other night. My typical approach is to start a movie, and if it stinks, well, I shut it off. I lose ten minutes of my life. Her approach is different, more scientific. Jocelyn conducts online research via IMDb, a movie opinion “coach” of sorts. We have different approaches, and both take about the same amount of time. And do you know what? It’s just a movie. If it’s great or terrible, the outcome is completely inconsequential.

So why am I using simple examples like movies, cars and vacation spots? Because in most cases, the information you need is online, in library books, shared by your smart friends, and to be gathered by a little personal observation on your part. And in the end, the answers to your questions are good enough.

But what do you do when you’re faced with a challenge in which you have no adequate life experience to help you cope or be successful? What do you do when the outcome has a great consequence to you, and you don’t know how to go about getting “it right”?

Have you ever found yourself in any of these work situations?

  • Looking for a new job after being laid off
  • Starting a new job or career
  • Exhausting yourself trying to improve performance on  a work matter

Or have you found yourself facing any of these personal challenges?

  • Learning to live again after the death of a loved one
  • Rebuilding your self-esteem after a break-up
  • Starting a new diet or exercise program to improve your health

Or on your journey of self-awareness, have you confronted any of these destructive patterns that prevent you from excelling?

  • Any addiction in which you find yourself powerless to overcome (smoking, drinking, drugs, pornography, laziness, gambling, behavioral obesity, etc.)
  • Negative thinking and defeatism

If you’re like most people, you can see yourself in at least one of the categories above. And I’ll be honest: at different times in my life, I’ve been in each one of them.

Friends can help you with some of these issues. And certainly having informal conversations can make you feel better if not provide you with solid suggestions and help to get unstuck.

But some issues can’t be resolved by talking with a friend or bending the ear of a bartender or beautician. If you decide that you are ready to enter a formal coaching relationship, I want to offer some very simple advice to evaluate the credentials of any would-be coach you might select.

1. Generalist or specialist. Finding a coach is similar to finding a doctor or counselor. If you have carpel tunnel syndrome or obsessive-compulsive disorder, you would likely want to find a specialist. However, if you want an overall check-up, you’d go to a generalist to help guide you in the right direction. The same is true with using a coach. Depending on your level of awareness and the nature of your need, you might wish to work with a generalist first, and then find a specialized coach once you are equipped with the knowledge to proceed. Or if you know you need an expert on ABC, go straight to the expert.

2. Sample methodology. Ask for an overview of the methodology the coach practices. If a coach doesn’t have a methodology as part of his or her standard practices, keep looking. Check out the methodology your coach will use with you. This will help you evaluate if the practitioner’s approach is compatible to your learning style and preference.

3. Proven track record. The first time I went golfing, I hit a birdie. So I should put up a shingle advertising myself as a Golf Pro, right? Wrong. I teed off on the 7th hole…but the ball ended up on the fairway of the 4th hole. A bad shot. I mean a really REALLY bad shot. It sliced, hooked and may have hit a few trees along the way. Anyway, using a pitching wedge, I hit the ball in the general vicinity of the 7th hole, and by some accident of nature, the ball went in the cup. I shot a birdie in a most accidental, unconventional way. I just got lucky. I cannot replicate that performance, nor would I want to! Likewise, make sure you find a coach with an actual proven track record instead of one who got lucky with one or two clients. A good coach can walk you through his or her experiences and give you references of people he or she has served.

4. Fit. In hiring, recruiters say they have a “job fit” to describe when they come across a candidate who is a match for a particular job. Find a coach who is a good “fit.” What is a good fit? You know it when you experience it. If you need someone with empathy, the right fit shows you empathy. If you want someone to be direct and clinical, find someone who pulls no punches. If you want to focus on one finite area of your life while keeping the other parts off limits, look for someone who respects those boundaries.

In summary, once you commit to entering a coaching relationship, find someone you respect and trust to serve as your guide. A coach cannot do the work for you, but a coach can show you the way. A coach cannot possess your body to make you do things you aren’t ready to do on your own, but a coach can help you practice and gain experience so you feel more equipped for the real-deal. A coach cannot ensure your success, but an experienced coach can use his or her experience to guide you around obstacles and get you closer to your desired results.


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