Recently, I’ve seen a flurry of activity surrounding the coaching profession, and I wanted to take a second to address this with you, my readers. You may have noticed that a number of TV programs have started hiring coaches to host: A&E’s Monster In-Laws and VH1’s Why Am I Still Single come to mind most immediately. Sometimes the coaches will call themselves “experts,” as there seems to have been some sort of recent consensus that experts are somehow more palatable to the general public. I am not fond of this trend. You will know why by the end of this post.
First, a word about what coaches do and what they do not do. Please, if you’re considering hiring a coach… or an “expert”… please remember that a coach is an investment in yourself. You would not randomly choose a career, a university, or even a gym membership, and you should not randomly choose a coach, either. We have different specialties, different approaches to coaching, and frankly, you get more bang for your buck with some than others. The easiest way to find out who you’re hiring and what you’ll be getting is to ask questions. Interview your coach. Anyone who has put in the time and effort to become a good coach won’t mind, and in fact, will appreciate that you are already invested enough in the process to ask questions. Additionally, most coaches offer a free session so that the two of you can see if there’s a good fit and for you to see for yourself the benefits of coaching. Use this time to your advantage!
There are a few warning signs that you should look out for in the initial session and beyond. If you run into any of these issues, please act immediately on your own behalf. A conversation with your coach may be helpful. If nothing changes, it’s best to kindly and firmly move on. If you’d like, you can explain to your coach–in writing or otherwise–why you’re discontinuing coaching services. A written notice can also be helpful if, for example, you’ve paid for several sessions that you won’t be participating in and suspect retrieving payment may be an issue.
Watch out for these warning signs:
- The coach can’t, or won’t, answer your questions. There is absolutely no good reason for a coach to avoid being questioned. If you ask a question that she doesn’t have an answer for, a good coach will tell you so and will go find the answer!
- Coach talks more than listens. Unless you’re in a workshop or seminar, you should be doing the majority of the talking. The coach’s job is not to babble, or even instruct, but rather to smoothly direct you to previously unexplored places.
- Coach runs the show. This is probably the biggest screw-up a coach can make. A coach who has been trained properly hears, “sit back and stay out of the client’s way” upwards of a hundred times during training. It is not our job to tell you what we’re going to be doing today or give you assignments, unless you’ve previously indicated that you’re open to such activities and welcome them. This is your journey, and the coach should be along for the ride… not the other way around.
- S/he fails to ask what you would like to accomplish or what your goal is… for the session and overall. Coaching is not counseling. You are there for a specific purpose, and we need to know what that purpose is before we begin. A good coach will start out every session by asking two things: what is on the agenda and what you’d like to accomplish with the session.
- Bored, distracted, or sleeping. Either the coach just isn’t that into you, the coach just isn’t that into coaching, or he didn’t get enough sleep last night. Regardless of which, the session’s a waste of your time.
- She tells you how. Coaches don’t tell you what to do, or even how to do it. They might offer suggestions or engage you in an exercise that leads you to your own solutions. They do not, however, connect the dots for you. We pride ourselves on letting people do their own work. That way you can be proud of your own accomplishments.
- It’s all about the coach. Your coach has a long list of accomplishments and goes on and on about them in excruciating detail. I highly doubt you’re paying her to be her rapt audience.
- You feel unmoved. While some sessions have more activity than others, you should walk away from a session feeling different than you arrived. You should feel challenged or see things from a different perspective. If there’s no change, there’s no progress.
- Your coach has no training or credentialing. You can always do a sample session (I hope) to figure out if your coach has amazing natural ability, but keep in mind that there are specific coaching techniques, training, competencies, and skills that your coach may not have if he or she hasn’t become proficient in not just what he is coaching, but also the art and practice of coaching itself. Make sure you’re getting what you paid for.
- You ask about ethics, and your coach is clueless. Most coaches adhere to a specific ethical code and they can discuss at great length what that code entails. If your coach answers vaguely or sounds confused, this should alert you that he or she probably has little training, at least in this particular area.
- Coach constantly cancels or reschedules. This usually indicates that the coach is having some sort of personal problem or just isn’t the right fit for you.
- The coach assumes an aura of authority. Your coach is your equal and will tell you so if you come to rely on his or her assistance too heavily. A good coach has boundaries and will work with you as a peer and not as a parent, boss, or authority.
Finally, a word on experts. While I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who are experts at their craft, I do not feel that the word has the same connotation as the word “coach” does. If you do, indeed, hire an “expert,” be clear on what his or her role is and what your role is in the…. experting… process. You may find it very different from the coaching model.