How to Choose a Coach

You have decided you need help in some part of your personal or professional life and even if the challenge you are facing is emotionally distressing, you don’t think it’s a problem for a therapist. So you decided to look for a coach.

A quick Google search reveals coaches specializing in every possible aspect of the problem you are dealing with. Maybe there are too many specialists to choose from or maybe none of these specialists seem to quite capture your particular problem. Everybody is proud of their training and accreditation but you don’t recognize any of them. And the prices range from almost nothing to outrageous.

How do you figure out whether one of these coaches is going to be worth the money?

First, think about your budget. Most people get the most out of coaching if they spend enough money to feel like they have made a serious commitment. Only you will know how much money that is for you. Many coaches use a sales tactic that involves encouraging people to trust that the impact of this coaching will pay for itself—do not fall for this. If you are distressed by the amount of money you are spending on coaching, that stress will interfere with your ability to get value out of the coaching.

Second, understand what coaching is and is not. Coaching is NOT a class where you learn skills, though you will likely learn skills as a result of coaching. Coaching is NOT mentoring, in which someone who has been there and done that walks you through how they solved the same problem in their lives. Coaching is NOT a process of uncovering how you came to be where you are and healing from those scars. Coaching is a relationship that helps you feel safe enough to be courageous as you try new things plus a compassionate and strong accountability partner. Coaching changes your behaviour and helps you build new habits.

At its core, coaching is effective because the coach creates a sense of safety and optimism, identifies elements of your thinking that you are blind to, and uses skillful dialogue as a catalyst for the your life. The result is that you achieve your goals and get better at achieving future goals. But it is a more indirect process than people who haven’t experienced coaching before imagine.

When you are looking for a coach, you need someone who makes you feel safe and courageous. You need someone who is comfortable with the fullest range of emotional expression that you are capable of. If you are protecting your coach from the full range of your emotions, it is a sign that you do not feel safe being yourself in that relationship.

You should be coached (at least informally) by a prospective coach before you hire them. Ask yourself whether you revealed parts of yourself you typically hide. If you did, that’s a good sign. Did you come away with a tangible action step that feels like a stretch but you think you can succeed at doing? Any coach who wants to sell you into a program with a 15-minute call is probably offering teaching or mentoring rather than coaching.

You want a coach who wants you to soar more than they want you to be their client. A coach who needs you as a client to meet their financial goals is going to subtly and unconsciously sabotage your growth. As business people, they should trust your value as a success story and a source of referrals more than they need your money to cover their cash flow. If you sense neediness in the coach as they try to convince you to work with them, walk away.

So, you have talked to a few coaches. You have eliminated everybody who won’t give you a taste of their coaching before you give them money. You’ve eliminated coaches who are too cheap or too expensive. You have found someone who make you feel safe, courageous, and free to succeed beyond needing coaching anymore. What next? Honestly, that is what you are looking for and you should just hire that person and move on.

What about all those qualifications and signature programs, and proven systems?

Many of the accreditation programs for coaches and different coaching models are variations on a theme that coaches and coach trainers are repackaging and relabeling with their own spin in order to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. Most of the distinctions are not relevant to you as a potential client looking for individual coaching. The most notable exception to this are the International Coach Federation (ICF) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC).

The ICF and EMCC were founded by and are maintained by people from many different coaching schools with the intention of increasing standards, professionalism and respectability in the coaching profession.

A coach who uses ACC, PCC, or MCC has been certified by ICF as meeting the definition of a coach (as opposed to a mentor, teacher, or therapist) with over 100 hours of experience as a coach (500 for PCC and 2500 for MCC), 60 hours of ICF approved training (125 hours for PCC and 200 hours for MCC), and mentoring from more experienced coaches.

The EMCC has similarly rigourous qualifications. A coach who has been accredited by the EMCC will use EIA for coaching individuals or ITCA for coaching teams.

There are good coaches without ICF or EMCC qualifications and there are coaches with ICF or EMCC qualifications who are not a good fit for you, but if you don’t have any other criteria for narrowing down your selection process, this is a good one.

I have a PCC from ICF and an ITCA from EMCC. I am proud of the work it took for me to obtain them, but neither of those guarantee that I would be the right coach for you.

If you want to know whether I would be the right coach for you, you need to book a consultation call so we can have a coaching conversation and you can find out.