Several years ago, I was interviewed in U.S. News & World Report on “Should You Hire a Career Coach” and it got me thinking more deeply about what makes a great coach who will help you reach the highest level, versus someone who’ll take your money and leave you high and dry (which happens all too frequently).
In my business as a career success coach, I hear from hundreds of new coaches each year who would like to be trained more deeply in a process that helps clients grow and succeed, and also want help to stand out in their niche, because they’re struggling. They long to make a mark in their respective worlds, and get “on the map” as a thought leader and a change agent. Some clearly come from the right place in their hearts and have the “chops” to succeed and thrive, but many, sadly, don’t.
If you’re looking for top-level coaching help to move you forward, yet still don’t know if it’s worth it, or where to find the best coach for your needs (and the “best” for you means a great fit with your unique, authentic values, needs, visions and longings), I’d offer these five signs below. Look for these to guide you on how to vet the best coach for you, and to make sure that the coaching you pay for will be a positive investment that will return tenfold or more.
Make sure the coach has these five ingredients:
They have a deep desire and commitment to help others (not just a desire to heal their own pain).
I learned in my therapy training about the concept of the “wounded healer” – people who are attracted to healing or helping others because they desperately need healing themselves. Truthfully, I was drawn to my own therapy training in the months following 9/11 (and after my brutal corporate layoff) because I was in emotional pain and longed for healing myself, and to understand how I could have spent so many years (and gone so adrift) in corporate work that was unhappy and eventually meaningless to me. Thankfully, the training and years of experience as a therapist helped me heal those wounds, which allows me to truly enjoy focusing on serving others.
The same is true for many new coaches. There are hundreds upon hundreds of professionals who are running from their corporate pain, thinking that just speaking on the phone all day with people to offer them help sounds like heaven. The problem is – that’s not the reality of being a coach.
And hanging out a shingle (or website), saying “Hey, come to me – I’m a coach!” with little or no training, expertise or experience at all is unethical at best, deeply harmful at worst. Many don’t understand how to handle it when the client work gets “messy” and emotional, which it inevitably will when dealing with real change. I was shocked recently to see a website of a new coach who touted fabulous “proven results and guarantees,” only to find out she hadn’t worked with a single paying client.
Many coaches are drawn to the field because they subconsciously feel the need to be an “expert” in someone else’s life, and because their own life is in such chaos.
These folks aren’t able to be their own best coach or advocate, and don’t have the self-awareness, clarity or courage to guide their own lives effectively, let alone support others.
What to look for: Look for real, solid evidence that this individual is invested in the process of helping others move forward, and has had years of experience supporting people. Make sure they can share testimonials from former clients who are happy to talk about the exciting outcomes they’ve experienced with this coach.
They’ve conducted their own proprietary research.
When I was just starting out as a coach and writer and developing my first book Breakdown, Breakthrough, I’ll never forget getting the advice by a top editorial consultant to go out and do some direct research on my core topics. I really didn’t know what she meant at first. “Research?” I asked myself. “Why do I need to do that? I know everything I need to know about professional crisis for women – I’ve lived it all!”
Turns out, that was the most instrumental advice I’ve ever received. In 2006, I took a full year to interview over 100 women across the country about the professional crises they’d faced, how they got there and how they overcame these challenges. Their advice and their personal stories were riveting and powerful, and I learned what I didn’t even know I didn’t know. It turns out that 50% of my hypotheses about professional crises and how women overcome them had been dead wrong. Those new findings became the basis of my book and of the coaching model I use today.
Coaches who deeply care about helping others are excited (and compelled) to conduct their own, in-depth proprietary research to uncover new ways to think, talk and teach about growth. They’re intensely curious about the inner workings of their ideal clients, and of the challenges that they’re helping these clients face. They long to know more, every day. And they don’t stop learning.
What to look for: Check out the in-depth research the coach has done personally that furthers the progress of growth for their clients. What new findings have they unearthed that will be helpful to you?
They’ve developed their own “model for change.”
For coaches to make a powerful difference in your life, they have to have developed their own, teachable point of view and their personal model for change – not just a regurgitation of the great coaching concepts that others have put forward, but their own framework. These concepts and approaches to how people change need to reveal the coaches own unique language, perspective, filter, and ideas for how to move the needle on a particular challenge or problem that no one else has figured out yet or is talking about in just that way.
While it’s been said that there are no “new ideas” in the world, there are definitely new, powerful ways of sharing and teaching universal truths and critical concepts that lead to positive life and career success.
For the coach to be a right fit with you, their model for change needs to speak to you directly, and have proven efficacy in addressing the exact types of challenges you are experiencing.
What to look for: Look at the model for change the coach has developed. It should have specific steps and processes for moving you forward. If they can’t articulate their model for change and the outcomes that they regularly catalyze and help generate with their clients, then move on.
They have lots of free materials, articles, resources and content that demonstrate and share their thought leadership.
The best of the best coaches aren’t just running a business to make money and get rich. And they aren’t just interested in working with affluent people either – they long to help (in some core way) a very wide array of people from many walks of life who are struggling with the same challenges they know how to address.
What to look for: Check out their website, blog, videos, and downloadable materials. Read their free content. Does it move the needle for you and resonate with you personally? Does it inspire you to make change and take action, and does it help you operate differently in the world?
They have once faced what you are facing now and know what it feels like, personally.
Many coaching training organizations share a belief that great coaches don’t need to know anything about what their clients are dealing with in order to be effective. I disagree wholeheartedly.
Today, it’s all about specialization and expertise rather than generalities.
I’d much rather go to a coach who not only knows how to conduct the process of coaching powerfully, but also has lived through the challenges I’m facing, and overcome them successfully. Otherwise, they have no clue of the inner and outer realities of the situations they’re working with. I once went to a coach to help me exponentially grow my business (the goal was micro to millions), and she’d never done it herself. It was a disaster (and complete waste of time).
Imagine going to a Parenting Coach who’s never had children, or a Divorce Coach who’s never been divorced. They just haven’t lived the realities of the deep challenges of the situations they’re dealing with, and are coming from a place of unknowing and inexperience, despite their book learning.
What to look for: Find a coach who’s not only fabulous at the process of coaching, but also has achieved great success in exact areas that you dream of excelling in. It’s about both content and process: Their content should be aligned with what you care about most, and their process should be one that you’ll enjoy and thrive in.
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