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Setting up coaching for success - find the right coach for you

Posted December 2 2014

So often in life, the pattern for what follows is set almost before you’ve even noticed you’ve begun. So too with coaching, whether coaching and individual or a team. There are opportunities, and pitfalls at the very start of every coaching assignment, and how all parties respond has a huge impact on the way the rest of the work will pan out.

Today, in the first of a series on setting up coaching for success, I’m going to look at the first step in setting up one to one coaching so that it achieves all that you, and your organisation, hope for.

Step 1: How do you go about choosing your coach?

For most, the first part of setting up a coaching relationship is a series of meetings with potential coaches, usually offered either by the organization, or by recommendations from people you trust. At the end of which you, the coachee, have to choose!

For many people, they will be choosing a coach for the first time. And often this means that they’re not even quite sure what coaching is, or how it might work. How then can you make a good choice? Which criteria are worth paying attention to?

Often, the decision ends up being based largely on gut feel. And gut feel is good – ignore it at your peril! But it is only one element.

What do you want, and what do you need?

Think about why you’ve decided to embark on coaching. What is it you want? That’s often quite easy to answer. And what is it that you need? That question might elicit quite a different answer if you look yourself in the eye.

Is it to get some challenge? Will you get more by picking someone who you think might be a little bit edgy for you, but will get you to look into corners you might ordinarily shy away from? Coaching at its best is illuminating, thought-provoking, and yes, fun. But for you, right now, will it also give you more if it’s just a little bit uncomfortable? A coaching conversation is, and needs to be, quite different from a chat with a friend.

At other times, you might need a coaching relationship to bolster your confidence, to support you in some repair work after a particularly difficult experience, or to help deal with something where you feel emotional or even fragile. In which case, you might need something a little more nurturing from your coaching – at least for a time, until you are back on track.


What about logistics. Do you work best face to face, or might this be a piece of work you’d prefer to do by phone, whether or not it’s possible to meet in person? What are the time zone considerations, a particularly key point for many people who now work across continents.

Do you like to be in your office or off site? Which environment will get you at your best? How far are you willing to explore what works for you? I have many clients who choose to work off site, and even had a coachee who wanted, specifically, to work in places they found visually inspiring, so art galleries, walking outdoors and cultural venues were all in the mix.

How can you set aside proper time for coaching, particularly if it’s by phone? Being coached while driving is, I would suggest at best inadvisable, and at worst is probably bordering on illegal! It certainly won’t get you a great result. And I have a personal preference not to coach people while they are eating (and as coach I would certainly not eat myself). So coaching over dinner – definitely not – sets the wrong tone – this is a professional conversation that needs a level of focus uncommon even in your average business meeting. Coaching over a sandwich? Maybe, but I’d let my client eat if they really were so hungry they needed to do that in order to concentrate, and personally, I would stick to coffee.

How do you work best?

How do you like to work? Many coaches will ask this question – often, it’s a bit of a stretch to answer for the would-be coachee. What does the question mean exactly?

So consider, ahead of the meetings with potential coaches if possible, about times when you’ve been at your best, and what it was that made that so. Try to articulate this to yourself, so that you can then share that thinking with your potential coach. Do you like structure, or hate it? Do you need a forward plan or are you happy to see what evolves? Do you like theory, models and stuff to read, or are you relieved if someone else is taking care of that, and you can just focus on your thinking and your experience.  Do you love to talk, or really need time to reflect? Are you looking to explore and clarify your own thinking, or are you looking for advice (in which case it may be a mentor you need – but that’s a subject for another blog!)

The organizational dimension

And what about organisation? They will be paying the bill – where do they fit? A coaching relationship in a corporate setting needs to be an equal relationship between coach, coachee and organization. Meaning that each party is equally potent in the work, and, no party is more important than any other. All three have a part to play, and all three need to play that part with diligence and skill in order to get the most from the work. Things can get very uncomfortable if two of the three become too ‘close’. Look at the examples below:

As part of creating a coaching relationship which is equal and balanced, a good coach will usually want to meet whoever is sponsoring your coaching, probably in a 3-way meeting with you. Is the coach in front of you someone you would feel comfortable introducing to your boss or boss’s boss? Do you feel they would handle that meeting with confidence? Would they balance respect for you and your seniors with the tenacity to dig for real clarity on what they want to see from the coaching? What do they have to say about the three-way relationship between coach, coachee and organization?

Accreditation and Experience

You may be someone who sets great store by accreditations, or by experience, or by both. Or you may not. And for some people, they trust their organization to have checked this out with any coach they will be introduced to.

Think about what you’d like to know about the coach you’re going to work with. Is it important to you that they’ve worked on a topic similar to the one you want to explore, or are you happy that they have experience as a coach, and so can handle whatever comes up ?

Are you keen that they understand your industry/organisation/field, or do you believe that a coach is there to bring expertise as a coach, not knowledge of your industry or business? If you think that they are there to bring expertise as a coach, how can you test that? You could do worse than look at the ICF’s ‘core competencies’ and ask some questions about these (visit to: http://www.coachfederation.org/icfcredentials/core-competencies/)

You might also want to ask how your coach will deal with particular situations should they arise. Think about when their response would really matter to you, and check out that scenario.

These are just some of the early stage considerations in choosing a coach so that the coaching experience sets off on a great footing. For more thinking look out for the next blog in the series on “Setting up coaching for success.”