What to look for when looking for a professional coach?

What to look for when looking for a professional coach?

All leaders, professionals, founders, and employees can benefit from getting a professional business coach. But finding the right one might be difficult. In this article, the core qualities and characteristics of great coaches are highlighted.

Esther Marugan | Feb 28th, 2021

All leaders, professionals, founders, and employees can benefit from getting a great coach but finding the right one might be difficult. It’s a jungle out there and unless you happen to know one or have someone you trust that can recommend one, you might not get exactly what you were hoping for.

What does help is knowing what to look for in a great coach. So, let me take you through a few things you should know about the field of coaching, and tips on how to find the right coach for you, your esteemed leaders, and valuable employees.

Why Look for a Professional Coach?

We are always looking for further career and employee development to achieve new levels of business success. Professional coaching has been proven to be beneficial when you wish to improve professional skills including:

  • Communication, listening, and empathy.
  • Investor pitching and negotiation.
  • Team growth, engagement, and development.
  • Time management, prioritization, and problem-solving.
  • Positive habit-building.
  • Decision making.
  • Strategy development and execution.

Whichever way you dissect career and business goals, skilled professional coaches engender a significant boost in performance. The trick is to set concrete goals with an awareness that people improve most within areas where they are already strong. It is a common misunderstanding that leaders and employees need to improve themselves solely within areas where they lack skills and abilities. In truth, we serve ourselves and our businesses better by focusing on developing the areas in which we already have a certain level of skill and drive - and then leveraging these strengths to help ourselves (and others) overcome weaknesses.

Increased performance is one reason coaching is essential but is not alone. The working world of today is rife with volatility, rapid change, hasty decisions, and ambiguity. With that in mind,  it is crucial for leaders and employees of modern organizations to have a place where they can discuss important business dilemmas, reflect on their leadership styles, talk about concrete strategic issues they are facing, and connect with the bigger picture, as was previously discussed in this article: Democratizing Coaching. When this is added the need to keep up to date with industry trends and new practices, recruiting expert external help becomes an essential business need.

What qualities should you look for in a great Professional Coach?

Just as with anyone, coaches have their areas of expertise and uniquely valuable strengths. However, the most successful coaches share a host of necessary qualities which make a coaching experience worthwhile and relevant for each client. Those baseline qualities which you should be looking out for include the following:

  • Attentive listening skills – they hear what you do and don’t say.
  • Empathy and a high level of emotional intelligence – they can read emotive indicators and body language, also through the screen/when online.
  • Ask deep, evocative, relevant questions.
  • Open your mind to new possibilities and perspectives.
  • Help you identify, understand, appreciate, and apply your strengths and the strengths of others and how these can compensate for your weaknesses.
  • Support and motivate you (when you need it) and bring you back to reality if your self-confidence becomes overinflated.
  • Hold you accountable - to promises,  values, and strengths as well as limitations.
  • Keep the right balance between challenging, supporting, provoking, and motivating you.
  • Keep appointments, keep things confidential - and thus are trustworthy.
  • Can structure and explain the coaching process for you.

If your coach does not excel in these qualities, I encourage you to offer feedback - or find another coach for you and your leaders/employees.

While these qualities provide an intrinsic foundation, there are notable extrinsic characteristics we suggest you research ahead of employing a new coach.

Is the Coach Well-Educated?

Professional coaches can guide and help with a steady, yet empathetic hand. In order to do this, the coach needs to have undergone extensive training. Formal training gives your coach guidance on their personality, style of interaction, psychological strengths, and barriers. Well-educated coaches benefit from the feedback and supervision of their styles from senior coaches who watch them in live client interactions. “Weekend-course coaches” or those without formal education are easily found and while they may have amazing personalities and intuitive abilities to be great coaches, they are seldom the finished package. In order to become a world-class professional business coach, intense and years-long training and continuous supervision and feedback are needed.

To understand if your coach has undergone intense training simply ask for his/her license or degree. Ask where they got their training, and perhaps Google the education to find out what others think about it. Make sure this is formal, recognized, and proper education, based on more than just a few days of training. Is it highly ranked within the coaching world? Among the most recognizable and trustworthy coaching institutions in the world are the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC). Trained and Licensed Business Psychologists also have years of training and supervision behind their title.

Does the Coach have Elite Business Acumen and Organizational Experience?

When engaging with coaches hired to help professionals working in modern business settings, it is important to find coaches who have a high business IQ and elite business acumen. Business acumen can be defined as:

“keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a "business situation" in a manner that is likely to lead to a good outcome”.

It is important that the coach naturally understands organizational political dynamics and is knowledgeable in what it means to lead and work in modern organizations. This is typically personified with fluency in business jargon and organizational structures. What is equally critical is the ability of a coach to develop scenarios tailored to the lived experiences of their clients to empower them for the future realities they will encounter.

One way to test out whether the coach you are about to hire has the business acumen or not is to ask them how they intend to help your leaders/employees (or yourself) solve real-life business issues and challenges. Does the coach speak the language of strategy? What challenges do they foresee for your business? Do they know what it is like to work in a modern organization? Not to mention, what it is like to lead and bring an organization to the next level? Does the coach “get” what you are talking about when you share challenges and experiences?

If not, you might need to find a more suitable option.

Does the Coach Come with Great References and Recommendations?

Word-of-mouth referrals are perfectly fine when it comes to finding great professional coaches. Ask around for references in your network, and check whether the recommended coaches will be the right fit for you and your organization. Remember, they might not. What works for one person or another organization might not necessarily work for another. And as we all know, chemistry and personal fit also play a huge role when it comes to the effectiveness of the coaching journey. Don’t be afraid to ask the coach for some previous references.

Without trust, you, your leaders, and employees will not get the most out of the journey. Furthermore, you might unwittingly hold things back hindering your opportunity for growth and challenge. Therefore, pay attention to the personal connection - does this coach seem to be the right fit for you and your organization? Do you "click"?

Does the Coaching Methodology Fit Your Needs?

There are a lot of different ways to be coached. The methodologies coaches use span from short-term solution-focused methods to more introspective approaches, where you spend years discovering hidden dynamics that might prevent you from excelling in your career and achieving business excellence. You might find a coach who will dare you to try out things in front of them or online, or in front of an audience where they will give you feedback based on direct experiences with you in concrete situations. Or you might find a coach where you only meet in a consultancy room (online or in real life). Ask the coach what kind of approach they are using and why. Ask yourself whether this is a method that fits well with you and your organization.

It is also important to recognize that you might not know what you need - so stay open to different ways of working within the areas you seek help with. Given the times we’re in, you should consider finding a coach who can do online coaching. Being able to do the coaching online is a resilient way of developing leaders and employees in a fast-paced world. It is time-efficient and safe, and the coaching itself can be just as thought-provoking, challenging, real-world appropriate, and impactful as face-to-face coaching. This is something we know all about at Session :-).

Is the Coach Willing to Measure Concrete Goals and Track Success?

For you (and others) to be able to evaluate whether the coaching helps or not, it is important to set goals at the beginning of the coaching journey. Revisiting and re-evaluating the goals as the coaching journey continues is also important. Is the coach willing to measure progress and the impact of the coaching on the business? Do they follow an overall structure as you go along? If not, they might have a reason - don't hesitate to ask for it. But take it as a warning sign if the coach is unwilling or unable to explain their process.

Fluffy promises like “it will be great” or “it's hard to measure, but I know from experience that it works” are not going to help you in the long run. Very often, if not always, you and your business need concrete and tangible ROI proof to be able to maintain the budget for your coaching - so better help yourself by pairing up with a coach, who accommodates your request.

Where to Find Great Coaches?

As already mentioned, word-of-mouth and direct recommendations are one way to find a great coach. However, not all are lucky enough to know someone in their network who knows someone who knows someone. If this is the case for you, try this:

  1. Post on social media - ask for advice and recommendations.
  2. Search the web for great coaches in your neighborhood, including those working for coaching companies.
  3. Find a coaching website where licensed coaches are represented.
  4. Get in touch with Session. Session is connected with a host of the top coaches all over the world and facilitates a direct connection between ambitious clients and the best coaches in all time-zones.

Good luck - and don't hesitate to reach out directly for recommendations!

Enjoyed the article?

Meet the author

Esther Marugan

Esther Marugan

Executive Coach, Session

Expert within Innovation, Strategic and Transformational Leadership, Impulsup, Spain

Ready to get started?Put your learnings to work.