Creating a strong coaching alliance: How do I find the right professional coach for me?

So you have been thinking about hiring a coach, but are unsure of where to start.  Why do I want a coach?  How do I find the right professional for me?  What happens once I hire one?  How do I tell if it is working?

Professional coaching is a relatively new and currentlypoorly regulated field.  Navigating the uncharted terrain can be challenging and confusing.  Yesterday’s post addressed the question, “Why do I want a coach,” by painting a broad picture of the value of coaching for achieving goals, getting more of what you want in life personally and professionally, and less of what you don’t want. This is the second in the series offering suggestions and insights into finding a great fit for you when hiring a professional coach.

How do I find the right professional coach? 

O.K., so you’ve decided to move forward on hiring a professional coach.  So now what?  How do you find one, and what should be considered in the process?  Here is the three step process that I recommend. 

1.  Find a legitimate professional. 

2.  Know what you want. 

3. Take your prospective coach for a test run.

Finding a legitimate professional

The field of professional coaching has really only been in existence for about 30 years.  It evolved from several fields including psychology, business consulting, and leadership development.  Currently there is no external regulating body for coaching, although it is internally regulated.  What does this mean to you, the consumer? Buyer be ware.  Anybody, regardless of level of training, education, and experience can hang their shingle as a coach.  You probably are not looking for one of those “Woo Woo” coaches now are you?  Whether you find your coach on the web, through word of mouth, or through a professional association, you are investing a significant amount of time and money in yourself or your organization, so think quality.  Choosing a coach who is affiliated a professional coaching organization is a simple way to begin the screening process.  Find out about your prospective coach.  I am certified by the International Coach Federation (ICF).   Two other options that I am aware of include, the International Association of Coaching (IAC) and the  Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC).    You might be wondering what the certification process entails.  To  be certified at the lowest level for the ICF, I was required to complete a significant amount of coursework (60 hours), complete a significant amount of coaching hours, purchase and receive professional mentor coaching to improve my coaching skills, take a practical coaching exam wherein an experienced assessor coach evaluated my skills, and commit to uphold the ICF code of ethics.  It is a somewhat rigorous process  requiring stretching and the development of critical skills.   

So when you are considering coaches, check them out.  Find out about their background including education and training, professional (and sometimes personal) experience.  Are they certified?  Are they continuously and actively developing their own coaching and life skills?

Know what you want. 

Just because you’ve screened them and know a certain coach is well qualified doesn’t mean they are the right fit for you right now.  What do you really want to achieve?  You don’t need to know exactly what you want,  but it helps to think about what you generally want.   Think about skill sets and attributes of the coach that will make a great match for you.  Are there specific skills such as large scale budgeting, progressive discipline, or time management, that you wish to acquire?  Learning from someone who has this particular skill set might really close a gap for you.  Maybe it’s the development of the “soft” skills that you desire, and someone who has expertise in helping people develop these skills is a great fit.  Sometimes it helps to have someone from a similar background as you, with similar strengths, and sometimes it’s great to have your opposite.  Many times skill sets can be less important to a great coaching collaboration than a coaches attributes.  Who they are as a person and how well they have developed their core coaching skills such as coaching presence, can seal the deal  and make one coach stand out among the rest.   My favorite attributes in a great coach are listens deeply, speaks boldly, and can stand up for his or her client even when they aren’t standing up for themselves.  Different coaches work well for different people at different times throughout their lives, and that’s wonderful!  You deserve to find a really great match!

Take him or her for a test drive!

How are you going to KNOW  it’s a match made in heaven?  It may be funny and awkward and strange, but if you are serious about beginning coaching, ya gotta take ‘em for a  test drive.  Most coaches offer a free initial coaching session of some sort.  We do this for several reasons, but primarily because WE also want to know if it will be a great fit.  Your coach will be screening you while you are screening him or her. The last thing the coach or client want is a struggling, limping, draining, nonproductive coaching relationship.  That is not at all what coaching is about.  When I do my screening, I typically schedule a 20 minute phone call.  I ask the client to tell me about him or her, their current situation, and what they are hoping to achieve.  I then tell them about me, about coaching, and how the whole thing works.  Typically within the first 5-10 minutes of our conversation I have a very good sense of if I’m interested in working with the client.  If we both find it’s a great fit we have set the foundation for strong coaching alliance.  Sometimes I’m not feeling the love.  Sometimes the potential client is not feeling the love.  When that happens, it’s O.K.  We call it as we see it.  I may offer alternative suggestions.  We say thanks for the memories and move on.  No problem.  It’s rewarding to have the conversation and make a clear call as to whether it’s a fit.

Finding a great coach does take some effort.  A great coaching alliance is tremendously rewarding for both coach and client and is very much worth the effort.   I hope you have enjoyed this post and found the information helpful.  I would love to hear from you.  If you are a coach and have additional suggestions, or a different perspective, I would love to hear it.  If you are a client, I would like to hear what you think of this process, or any comments or questions you might have.  If you are just out there reading this, I’d still like to hear from you!  My next post in this series will be about what happens after the initial coaching conversation.  I will discuss how the coaching process typically begins.    


Written by: Terry Hoffmann

Terry Hoffmann specializes in partnering with organizations to create, deliver, and enhance their coaching programs. She coaches physicians, executives, and teams to drive profitability, foster loyalty, enhance provider and staff engagement and satisfaction, and create high performance work cultures. Terry's educational background includes a Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching from the University of Texas at Dallas Naveen Jindal School of Management, Master's degree in counseling psychology from the University of North Florida and a Bachelor's of Science in psychology from Colorado State University. She holds a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) credential through the International Coach Federation and a Board Certified Coach (BCC) through the Center for Credentialing and Education.