How to choose a coach

The number of business professionals using individual coaches has increased dramatically in recent years. There are many advantages to using coaches. Unlike seminars and other public events, coaching is tailored to the specific needs of the individual. Coaching sessions are held at a time that is convenient for the individual and are usually only about an hour in length.

This article provides suggestions for how to go about selecting a coach who is qualified and able to help you to address your specific objectives.

Clarify Your Objectives

Before seeking a coach, it is important for you to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. Good coaches have particular issues that they work with and do not represent themselves as being able to help all people with all concerns. Some common objectives for coaching include:

  • Becoming more effective as a leader
  • Learning how to better manage priorities
  • Improving work/life balance
  • Making better presentations
  • Clarifying career aspirations
  • Desiring a change in career direction
  • Overcoming lifestyle challenges

Don’t be a Coach’s First Client!

Consider the coach’s education, training and experience. Many coaches have educational backgrounds in psychology or counseling that provide an understanding of human behavior. They may also have certifications such as those provided by the International Coaches Federation. If you are a business professional, then you will most likely want to engage a coach who has business experience and understands the basics of how businesses operate. Ask the coach what experience they have in working with people with objectives like yours. You don’t want to be a coach’s first client! Can they provide references?

Does the Coach Have a Clearly Articulated Coaching Process?

Good coaches have a specific process they use to help their clients. For example:

  • Diagnostic/data gathering phase. The first step is for the coach to develop a thorough understanding of your situation and/or factors that might be contributing to concerns you have. For example, if you want to improve your leadership skills, there needs to be an assessment of your current approach and its strengths and weaknesses. Data gathering can include the use of assessment instruments and interviews with others you work with.
  • Action planning phase. The coach works with you to understand the data and determine the specific action steps you need to take to accomplish your objectives
  • Implementation phase. You implement the action plan while meeting periodically with your coach to review progress and make adjustments to plans as needed
  • Evaluation phase. An assessment of whether the coaching objectives have been accomplished. This phase might involve repeat assessment and interviewing.

Know What You are Paying For

Be sure that you clearly understand the fees you will pay and the amount of time you will have with your coach. Some questions to consider:

  • Does the coach charge a flat fee or by the hour? If a flat fee, is there a limit to the number of meetings and how accessible is the coach between meetings? Most experienced coaches prefer to operate on a flat fee basis with no set limit on the number of meetings and/or conversations. Most persons being coached feel more comfortable with a flat fee than with knowing that every time they speak with their coach, a meter is ticking. Be wary if the coach wants the entire fee upfront. Look for a payment schedule such as 1/3 of the fee upfront, 1/3 after 2 months and the other 1/3 after 4 months.
  • How long will the coaching relationship last? The typical engagement can be from 3 to 12 months depending on the number and intensity of the issues that need to be addressed.
  • Take Your Time in Selecting a Coach

    Engaging a coach will require a lot of energy and resources from you so don’t be hasty in making a choice. If possible, interview several prospective coaches. Meet with them more than once. Check references. Be on guard if a coach puts pressure on you to agree to contract at your first meeting.

    This Coach is Not Right for You if….

    Here are some red flags that can signal that a coach is not right for you.

    • Lack of experience and/or training. You don’t want someone who has just decided to be a coach because it looks like an easy way to make money. Don’t accept vague answers about experience such as “Oh yes, I’ve helped lots of people with that kind of issue.” Ask the coach to be specific and to discuss case examples (protecting confidentiality, of course).
    • The coach pushes for a commitment too fast
    • Pressure to sign a contract at the first meeting
    • A coach that doesn’t have a clearly articulated coaching process
    • Vague information regarding fees, the length of the engagement or the frequency of meetings.
    • The coach offers a guarantee of results. Coaches aren’t miracle workers. Just like a physician cannot cure every patient, not every coaching engagement achieves the objectives desired.
    • You aren’t totally comfortable that the chemistry between you and coach is right. If the coach has objectionable mannerisms or personal style that concerns you then he/she is not right for you and your business.


    Many people have benefitted tremendously from coaching. But engaging a coach is just like making any major purchasing decision. Exercise due diligence to ensure that the coach you engage has the experience and training to help you address your issues. Be sure that you feel comfortable discussing personal issues and problems with the person you select to be your coach. Make sure that you understand and are comfortable with the financial arrangements and the amount of time that you will both be expected to commit to the coaching process.

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