In my years as a career and leadership coach, I have seen individuals thrive, and I have watched as others put in the time but made little progress. I like to believe I have made a difference in people’s lives, and I reflect on and take responsibility when coaching has not been as successful as I would like. When necessary I ask myself what I could have done differently as a coach—asked different questions, asked more questions, been more assertive, been less assertive, been more demanding, been more flexible… Just as I ask myself questions about what works and what does not work in coaching, I believe it is essential that coaching clients enter into a coaching relationship with the right questions and enough information to make their coaching experiences productive. Because many coaching clients have little background in the practice, I offer the following suggestions as you or they search for and use coaching services.
- Identify why you want a coach. Understand that there are different kinds of coaches. Some focus primarily on productivity and operational behavior. Some focus on team building and organizational climate. My team also considers those, but my personal focus is Affective Leadership. I am more concerned with who a person is as a leader or team member. If, for example, your primary concern is the bottom line, I may not be the coach for you, but other coaches may serve you very well.
- Find the coach that meets your needs. Just as coaches have different areas of focus, they also have different personalities and backgrounds. It is not always necessary for the coach to have the same background as you. In some cases, it is better to work with someone who has no history with the industry or organization. He or she may be able to see conditions you experience with different eyes. The important consideration is that the coach you choose should have a philosophy that aligns with yours—what matters in life, careers or leadership.
- Understand the coach’s procedures. What are the expectations for missed appointments? How do you reschedule appointments? How much communication is allowed or expected between sessions? Is the meeting place or time flexible? Are coaching sessions conducted in person, on-line or by telephone? Do you receive discounts for pre-payment or blocking hours in advance? Complete understanding and agreement will prevent misunderstanding, loss of time or money, and will contribute to a stronger and perhaps more productive relationship.
- Check your attitude. Are you coachable? Are you willing to take the time required to bring about improvement? Can you consider different points of view? Are you willing to tackle tough conversations? Learning new behavior is scary and slightly uncomfortable. Are you willing to be a different person than you now are? Are you willing to risk reactions of people when you act in ways they may not expect?
- Ask questions of yourself and the coach. Am I making progress? Why or why not? Am I spending coaching time productively? Am I holding myself accountable? Have I set goals high enough? Are they too high? The coach’s job is to ask questions that will prompt the client to find the best solutions for herself; it is usually not to suggest solutions. However, asking a coach’s opinion of a situation without asking for specific direction can be beneficial.
- Establish trust. The coach’s first responsibility to any client is to establish trust. It is just as important for the client to consider and build a trusting relationship. Recognize when trust is present and when it is lacking. If trust stands in the way, reconsider the value of the relationship.
- Do your homework. At the end of each session, you and your coach should outline actions you plan to take to move you toward meeting your goals. Take these action steps very seriously. Unless you actually follow through, your coaching session was simply a social call. Record what actions you agree to take. Decide when you will complete your “assignments.” Be sure the coach holds you accountable and asks you to discuss your progress during each session.
- Recognize topics you may not want to discuss…discuss them. If certain topics are too painful or too risky, tell the coach that you do not feel comfortable discussing them. A coach must remain sensitive to your comfort and welfare. However, ask yourself why these topics are painful or risky. Why do you not want to discuss them? These discussions often hasten your progress.
- Tell your story succinctly. Time is money. It is wonderful to have someone listen to your complaints, fears or frustrations, and a certain amount of time doing so can be productive. However, it is important to monitor the time you take in telling your story and move into discussions about why each story is important as quickly as possible. What are your motivations and the motivations of others, and what steps can you take to deal with frustration, anger, loss or whatever issues arise from the discussion?
- Recognize what progress looks like. If it is not working, tell the coach. Frequently evaluate your goals. Have you met them? What is your timeline? Are you on track? What is preventing achievement of your goals? Is the time you spend in coaching moving you forward? What can you do to speed up the process?
You are paying the coach to help you move forward, and the coach must accept responsibility for assisting you in the process. It is just as important for you to see the relationship as a partnership. Coaching is not something that is done to you. It is a relationship that requires you and the coach to focus and take action to build a better future for you and those around you.
What other suggestions do you have? What other questions do you consider valuable?