Being an effective manager and an inspiring leader is tough work. It takes wisdom, knowledge and self-awareness. As we try to improve ourselves professionally, whether to rise up in the world or to better lead a company, we often find a gap within our inner circles, a lack of people who can help us sort through ideas or identify opportunities honestly and effectively.
That’s why career coaches are gaining traction. Career coaching has become widely accepted and increasingly valuable for professionals at all levels. But finding the right one — and for the right price — can be tricky.
If you’re considering hiring a coach, it’s first important to recognize what a coach is — and is not.
COACHES OFFER DIRECTION. Career coaches assist clients by helping them to identify answers, directions and ideas. They do not provide explicit advice or directives. They challenge clients to identify and break through growth barriers. You are not hiring a coach to give you solutions but to help you unlock solutions yourself.
A COACH IS NOT A THERAPIST. True, a good coach will often delve into your past, but only to provide a frame of reference for the present. Nor is a coach a consultant. This is not someone you are hiring for their business experience.
A COACH, ABOVE ALL, IS OBJECTIVE. As the saying goes, you’re on the wrong side of your own eyeballs. An impartial person, like a coach, has the ability to offer feedback to business leaders, serving as a metaphoric mirror that reflects what we cannot (or refuse to) see otherwise.
THE COACHING RELATIONSHIP IS (AND SHOULD ALWAYS BE) CONFIDENTIAL. Let’s face it; it’s lonely at the top (and sometimes lonely in the middle, too). Unlike co-workers or employees, a coach is a partner you can trust with intimate and sensitive information. This allows even the highest executives to speak freely and work through challenges without fear of compromising personal information or hierarchical authority.
AND A COACH HOLDS YOU ACCOUNTABLE. This is a big one. Often, no one really holds us accountable for what we do. You might think your employees, bosses or colleagues do, but they all almost always act in their own best interests. When a coach holds a client responsible, that accountability is based purely on what the client committed to doing. Again, it’s about the client’s agenda.
So, where to start? If you want to hire a coach, recognize that finding the right one can be a challenge; you’re seeking a one-on-one relationship, so personality and fit both matter. And be aware: Anyone can claim to be a coach because, unlike a doctor or lawyer, coaching is not a licensed profession.
Before engaging a coach, do preliminary research and verify that he or she has completed a certification program through an accredited institution. There are several professional associations, the most reputable of which is the International Coach Federation (ICF). A little research can also lead you to a list of specialized coaches who focus on particular industries.
Once you identify the coach or coaches that you would like to interview, schedule a consultation. Many coaches offer these initial meetings free of charge, though some do not. Each one, however, should at minimum explain what the client should expect from the working relationship. The coach should also encourage potential clients to ask questions before making a commitment.
Make sure you ask about the coach’s process. It’s important that the coach explains that he is not the expert in the relationship. Coaches are not fortune tellers, and they don’t have all the answers. They are professionals who know the right questions to ask in order to help clients find their own answers. Also, find out how the coach measures results, which are key to the coaching process.
If you have the opportunity to meet in person or speak via technology, use that as an opportunity to test out the coach. The coach should ask you a bunch of questions about your goals and why you contacted him. Be honest, and lay out the goals you want to achieve. See if he asks you some follow-up questions and, if not, look out for coaches who tell you what they think or offer direct advice. There is a time and a place for that, but it is rare in the coaching relationship. Feedback, however, is OK, and you should welcome it. You want to make sure the coach reflects back to you what you’ve shared with him. Remember, they will be your mirror.
That’s really the most important part to remember about the coaching relationship: It rests with you. You have to be willing to participate. You have to be open to being directly challenged on what you say and how you behave. Your honest responses, your willingness to think differently and your commitment of time and energy matter more in this process than anything else. You will be expected to do real work. Many coaches use exercises to help frame the relationship. Some of that work happens during the coaching sessions, but much of it happens outside.
That is why coaching takes a commitment of time — and money. The rates for certified coaches vary greatly, depending on what the client wants. Typically for business, executive or career coaches, hourly charges pencil out anywhere between $200 and $1,000. Some coaches provide flat-rate packages, others are open-ended. Also, many coaches work off of an initial commitment of three months, since it usually takes that long to implement sustainable change. Again, it is up to you to figure out the structure and duration of your coaching relationship.
No coach will ever guarantee a return on investment. But with studies showing more and more top executives using coaches, it’s clear that a good, honest coach has become the latest advantageous relationship for career enhancement.