Let’s demystify the what it means to be a coach. Contrary to any mental picture you conjure up, coaches don’t necessarily fit into these tidy little stereotypes:
1. The former champion (now a has-been) who finds himself unemployed or underemployed like the Irv Blitzer character portrayed by John Candy in the 1993 movie “Cool Running”. Sure, those kind of stories make for great drama, but they aren’t real. No one would want a coach in the class of the has-been. You want one who is a “still-am”!
2. The subject-matter expert who has achieved personal success but lacks coaching skills. When I booked world-class leadership speakers in a previous life, I contracted with a management consultant/author assuming he would be a great motivational speaker. Turns out, the great author was an utter jerk in real life and up on the stage. The strength of his ideas could not speak loudly enough to compensate for his misbehaviors. His head full of smarts couldn’t make him a decent coach. I learned that being smart or successful in one part of life doesn’t make you qualified to be a coach.
3. The professor/psychologist type who asks great questions without ever offering concrete advise. You can picture this person, right? A tweed jacket replete with leather elbow patches, the faint scent of pipe tobacco, and owlish glasses that ask, “And how does that make you feel?” Or “What do you think you should do about that?” While that kind of listening and reflecting has its merits, the best coaches do more than hold up the mirror to your own thoughts.
But what if you decide that you could benefit from a coach? How do you go about finding the “right” one?
I suggest two things:  determine if you want a formal vs. informal relationship, and  evaluate coaches based on some sort of selection criteria.
Formal vs. Informal. A coach is someone who helps you improve more quickly than you would if left to your own devices. In other words, you already have several coaches in your life. If you have a knowledgeable co-worker who teaches you new things at work, you can consider that person a coach. Your auto mechanic neighbor whose advise you seek before shopping for your next car is a coach. The person who sits next to you at the Lion’s Club or at church who has spent years in the house finance market is certainly someone who can coach you on finding the best interest rates or finding a lender.
If your need for coaching is limited to a small, niche area or your growth can be accelerated with targeted insight gleaned from a few informal conversations, be informal. Meet your coach over coffee or a beer.
I have several people in my life who serve as informal coaches. Wes serves as one of my relationship coaches. He is kind and warm, and he reminds me that I will get out of each relationship approximately what I put into it. Ray is another one of my informal life coaches. He’s a model to me about what it means to live with purpose, and he reminds me that I have to be intentional about drawing good, positive things my way. Craig is another informal coach. He’s smart in business, and I bounce ideas off him from time to time. Heck, just last night I had a coffee with a friend named Tony. I didn’t realize it until I was driving home, but our entire meeting was a coaching session.
When in doubt, find an informal coach. Why?
- They cost you nothing.
- You probably already know them pretty well.
- If they are convenient to you, you will likely tap into them more frequently.
- They can foster organic relationship by introducing you to other like-minded individuals.
Next up: How to Evaluate Potential Coaches…