The What, How and Why of Hiring a Coach

Career Blog

Teen students are working together and taking notes in lesson time at school.

People hire coaches for all sorts of reasons from enhancing productivity and increasing performance to navigating a career transition and improving personal or professional relationships. There are as many goals as there are clients and no shortage of life, business, and career coaches waiting in the wings to help. But before you sign up for that coaching package make sure you understand the basics of the profession.

What is Coaching?

People often confuse coaching with other services such as mentoring or consulting. However, there are big distinctions in both the services provided and the process to get to those results.

  • A coaches’ expertise lies in the process of navigating the conversation. They allow the client to craft and own the agenda and then work to pull the best from them via insightful questions, well placed challenges, and clear observations of behavior. Coaches are content neutral guides who help clients uncover new ways of looking at issues and excellence within themselves.
  • A mentor, on the other hand is someone who has actually done your job (or lived through a similar situation you are facing) and can advise based on that experience. Mentors can be more directive since they are content specific role models who help people follow a path similar to their own.
  • A consultant is more of a doer. They help clients by providing specific expertise and/or completing agreed upon deliverables for the individual. They can have as much or more content knowledge as a mentor and use that up-to-date information to do the work for you.

In short, a consultant can build you a spare room. A mentor can show you how to swing a hammer and avoid smacking your thumb. And a coach can help you understand your purpose behind building the room before you buy a single nail. All services are valuable, but it’s important to know what you need before you buy. Of course, having a coach, who also has both subject matter and life experience in your topic is the ideal situation assuming he or she can navigate seamlessly and openly across the offerings.

How do Great Coaches Do Their Work?

I’ve long maintained that if you’re looking for a Great Coach You’ll Know it When You S.E.E. it and by that I mean, he or she is a Successful, Educated, Example of what you want to achieve. In addition to who they are, the best coaches are able to:

  1. Actively Listen: Great coaches adopt a listen first strategy. They typically talk for only 10 to 20% of the time with the majority of that being questions.
  2. Be Flexible: Coaches partner with clients to explore potential paths to success and select the BEST right solution. They also have the emotional maturity to realize it’s not about their process, preferred outcome or point of view.
  3. Be Practical: Coaches know when to push clients toward stretch goals and when to downshift and promote quick wins.
  4. Be Creative: They can prompt clients to think differently and overcome obstacles.
  5. Be Brave: They are always willing “to be fired”.  When the situation calls for it, they are unafraid to switch from question mode and confront the brutal facts and deliver the hard truth.

Why Hire A Coach? 

Clients can experience a vital quick win when a coach helps them recognize and remedy a career-killing issue or skill deficiency. These are sometimes referred to as “spinach in the teeth” scenarios – damaging realities that are obvious to everyone but the client. Mid-term issues like a new leader establishing trust with and a strategic plan for his/her team can also be addressed via coaching. Of course, there can also be longer-term wins such as building productive habits, crafting a work/life vision, or helping with change adoption. Whatever the focus area, clear goals and ROI metrics should be established at the start to ensure maximum benefits.

Is There a Stigma Attached to Coaching?

In the early days of the profession coaching was compared to counseling. With this model in mind many people thought that if you needed the service there was something “wrong” with you. Most leaders and enlightened professionals have come to realize that business, career, and life coaches are more aligned to sports coaches in that they help participants move from good to great. Thankfully the world of self-care and counseling is also broadening its user base so that people can get the assistance they need.

Many performance coaches, myself included, will not work for organizations that have a negative agenda or pre-formed conclusion – i.e. those that use coaching as a way to oust a struggling professional. Coaching at its core is designed help people reach the next level of performance.  It is and should be viewed as a perk…an investment in the client’s future.

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Check out my latest book The HR Guide to Getting and Crushing Your Dream Job and follow me on Twitter at @timtoterhi or LinkedIn

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