Mentor, coach or confidante – it can get a bit confusing with all these terms – is there a big difference in the relationships? This week, I will go into some depth on each role; today we will talk about the role of a coach and why you might need a coach.

Very simply, a coach partners with someone to help them remove the roadblocks to success. It is a journey where personal discovery and growth accelerates, usually at a pivotal point in someone’s professional or personal life. The coach gains deeper insight into their client’s needs, fears and challenges and uses many techniques for rooting out the truths. They give a clearer path. Often who need a coach seek assistance because they feel overwhelmed or unsure of what to do next.

There are two kinds of situations when working with a coach. The first is company sponsored – that’s where the company pays the fees. The other alternative is to opt working with one privately. The growth of private coaching is growing, companies will typically sponsor executive development, often leaving other coaching specialization to the individual, such as:

  • Career
  • Personal
  • Sales
  • Business
  • Leadership
  • Life
  • Soul
  • And other disciplines

Selecting a coach can seem like an overwhelming process. There are organizations which market coaching credentialed heavily; implying it is a requirement. The fact is, it is not regulated; there are no national or global standards. Organizations offering training programs are promoting their own method and internal criteria. I would not discount the International Coaching Federation (ICF) as a resource for developing a list of people who have had some training in the field. It is just as important to explore their practical experience – may be limited. ICF has a basic list of questions you may want to use as you consider a coaching relationship. Another resource is The Coach Connection.  Both of these organizations offer their services as a liaison; coaches are marketing through them in exchange for a fee or are paying for professional membership.

Consider other ways to find your coach; many work off personal referrals instead of fee based service providers. Other good places to ask for referrals are your local professional associations and organizations. Don’t be surprised if people are less forthcoming on personal details of their relationship with a coach, not everyone is comfortable talking about the work they have done – it can be very personal. Visit a prospective coach’s website to see if their ability is in an area you have identified to work on. For example, my coaching clients are often working on the following areas: executive presence, influence skills, effective communication and team building and learn about my approach though my Leadership Breakthrough website.

The level of support you receive will depend on what your goal is and to what degree the process is being funded. For example, company sponsored executive programs are often one year in length. The coach interacts with other parts of the organization to gain insight into the behavior or skill gap. More robust programs offer assessments; enabling the participant to learn more about themselves.

If you are funding your own program, I would urge you to assess your goals and best learning style – match those against the coaches in the marketplace. A good coach will ask you about what kind approach works with you. For example, do you prefer direct or a guiding approach. Ensure your expectations are reasonable. If you give a critical eye to your own behaviors, have a strong will to make changes, you’ll make progress more quickly. As a benchmark, expect to have at least six sessions to carry out a minor to moderate change. The coach relies heavily on the individual’s wish to work issue aggressively.

A key foundation of a productive coaching relationship is trust. If a person engages a coach directly, there isn’t any interaction with outside sponsorships. The person is the sole determiner if there is good fit. You should be able to make that assessment in your first meeting.

In company sponsored programs, the question of confidentiality is usually top of mind for the person receiving the coaching services. Coaching professionals have a code of ethics – often stated in their websites or in their agreements with the clients. The ICF and International Association of Coaching (IAC) have good examples.

It is important to set up clear boundaries for each party – the coach, participant and sponsor. It is not unreasonable for the coach to have “check in” with the sponsors to gain insight into situations, behaviors or feedback on progress. It may sometime feel like a one way street to the sponsor since the coach’s purpose is to understand their perspective, not provide feedback on what the person is saying in the sessions. If the coach shares that information, it will break down trust immediately. Conversations with the sponsor are important for these reasons:

  • Ascertain if a behavior continues to occur
  • Learn of situations where the person is growing their skills
  • Identify new areas of improvement
  • Reinforce the sponsor’s behavior with the person

Conversely, the sponsor is able to:

  • Share their perspective on how well the person is doing
  • Ask what they may do differently
  • Identify the areas to continue to focus on in the sessions
  • Ensure the person is actively working the program – making meetings, doing homework

Working with a sponsored person is a delicate balance for the coach. It often requires different interfaces – a mixture of face to face, conference call and written communication. Ensure that your coach is proactively working with all stakeholders.

Ultimately, I tell people it comes down to chemistry once you have done the first homework. Developing an open and trust based working relationship helps you take more risks and think through your options more clearly.