How to choose a Coach

Posted on June 10, 2014 by

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This week UP’s Training Team Lead, Nikki Lebedis is discussing coaching – having been both a coach and ‘coachee’, Nikki shares her experiences and tips for choosing a coach of your own.


Nikki Lebedis

Nikki Lebedis

Coaching (or it’s grander titled equivalent – “Executive Coaching”) is becoming ever more popular. I’m often asked about it, so I thought I would put some thoughts down.

If you have made the decision to secure a coach, either via your employer or independently, the first job is to find someone you want to work with.

Consider the context of the coaching you require. While you can reasonably expect discussions to range from the professional to the personal during your sessions (we are, after all, all “whole” people), there should be some contextual focus. For example, contrast a life coach, with an executive coach. The former may look at the more personal aspects of your life, such as your relationships, your home life and so on. The latter should have much greater emphasis on how you perform effectively in a professional context – this is the kind of coaching we offer here at UP.

Now you have decided on the context of your coaching, you can start thinking about individuals. I would always recommend word of mouth if this option is available to you. Do be aware that different styles will work for different people, so do try and get as much information as you can. Other alternatives are searching online (fraught with potential disasters) or to contact some of the Institutes or similar I mention below. Although bear in mind this will only generate their own qualification-holding coaches, and there may be other people more suited to working with you.

Regarding qualifications, there is no single body that oversees coaching in the UK. Qualifications can come in many forms, ranging from Post Graduate Certificates such as that offered at the University of Aberdeen, to the more applied Institute of Leadership & Management Certification, to less salubrious internet qualifications that I’ll refrain from linking to here. There are also organisations that may have specialisms in coaching style, such as the Gestalt Coaching courses offered at the Kinharvie Institiute. Finally, there are other much more over-arching professions and qualifications that don’t mention coaching at all, but fully equip someone to perform that role and more – such as our Chartered Psychologist Julie McDonald.

In short, there is no definitive qualification you can ask to see.

In my own experience the best coaches have extensive experience in the myriad of personal development areas that coaching will touch on. It is likely that they would have qualifications or affiliations to professional bodies, thought this is not always the case. The necessity of a qualification will come down to your personal preference which I discuss more below.

Saying all of that, the one thing you should always look for in your coach is something called “Supervision”. All coaches should have a Supervising Coach, with whom they discuss their work and any particular challenges. This helps them keep on track and remain independent of their clients. Ask about this.

The next step would be to meet your potential coach in person. Whilst many coaches offer remote work, there will always be greatest value in face to face meetings. Any coach worth their salt should be prepared to meet with you, for free, to talk over the potential relationship. Whilst I wouldn’t advocate expecting them to fly to other end of the country to meet you, they should be prepared to spring you a cup of coffee and a conversation at the local Starbucks.

Personally, I believe the most important aspect of a coach/coachee relationship is a rapport. Often this is based upon personal values and working style. Having been a coachee and a coach, I have had great, and awful, experiences of both. I like an informal, relaxed style with a level playing field and a lot of humour. In my younger days my employer, with great intentions, secured an Executive Coach for me (note capital letters). He had all the bits of paper, was about 40 years older than me and spoke to me like a schoolteacher. I hated him. Fast forward ten years and I secured my own coach –  fun, informal and gentle. Him, I loved.

As a coach I spend a great deal of time getting to know potential clients before I take them on – not least because I have a better idea of the journey ahead than a new client may do. If I see a match in style and values then great, we are good to go. If not, I’ll often refer them on to other coaches whom I hold in high regard and have a very different style or value set. Again, be wary of any coach who doesn’t consider this.

Finally, always ask how a coach works. They may work a methodical process, or be more organic in direction. They may be challenging or curious. They may be deferential or equal. All are appropriate if they fit your own preferences.

In short, coaches come in all shapes and styles. We have four here at UP:  Julie, Morna, Lynn and myself. All very different styles, with different backgrounds, qualifications and experience.  Interested? Give us a call and let us buy you a coffee!