How To Find A Coach Who Fits Your Needs

The terms “life coach” and “personal coach” are often used interchangeably, as are “executive coach” and “professional coach.” But what’s the difference? And as a leader, how do you know when to engage with a personal coach versus a professional coach?

My company specializes in professional coaching and development, and I’ve seen that some corporate leaders choose to seek out a coach for a variety of reasons, such as if they need guidance increasing their interpersonal and leadership skills. But it’s not just C-suite executives utilizing coaches. According to the
2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, managers and lower-level leaders can also benefit from coaching.

To find a coach who fits your needs, it’s first important to understand the differences between the two:

Personal Versus Professional Coaching

The 2017
ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study (registration required) described five positive impacts of personal coaches, including improved communication, self-esteem, productivity, performance and a healthy work-life balance. Sometimes, personal coaches help clients in both their personal and professional lives by identifying the areas that are out of sync or under or overutilized.

In my experience, professional coaches can achieve the same five impacts listed above, but their clients tend to be executives and high-potential employees. I’ve observed that professional coaching goals are rarely focused on technical skills. Instead, these goals usually focus on increased self-awareness and self-management, as well as the awareness and management of others. Targeted outcomes are ideally agreed upon by the individual being coached and the organization’s stakeholders (e.g., their boss, direct reports, peers, boards, etc.).

Sometimes, professional coaching merges into personal coaching and is often a blend of consulting and therapy. (Full disclosure: my approach to coaching is to use multiple disciplines.) In 2009, the Harvard Business Review
surveyed 140 coaches, and roughly 94% of respondents said the focus of their executive coaching engagements shifts over time. “It starts out with a business bias and inevitably migrates to ‘bigger issues’ such as life purpose, work/life balance and becoming a better leader,” the Harvard Business Review reported. I believe that still holds true today.

To navigate this dynamic, practice the following three steps:

1. Identify your personal or professional goals.

Thinking about embarking on a coaching journey? Start with the end in mind by identifying bold personal and professional goals that have the potential to change the nature of your life. (And don’t feel like you have to get it exactly right from the start.) These goals are likely to evolve, and your development is likely to be nonlinear.

Then, think about intermediate, short-term goals that would be important to achieve along the way that will lead you toward your ultimate bold goals.

2. Do your research on potential coaches.

You can use your network to begin your search for the right coach or utilize coaching websites that can help you find a coach who fits your goals. Once you select a few potential coaches, avail yourself of their introductory free session. I firmly believe that education, certification and experience are important when evaluating a coach, but passion for their work is the most important consideration.

Look for a coach who views their work as more of a calling than a career — someone who has a combination of expertise, reputation and healthy boundaries. They should celebrate your success while recognizing that success is yours, not theirs. Their ultimate goal should be for you to graduate by achieving your goals and no longer needing them.

3. Choose someone who specializes in your goals.

When selecting a coach, consider your coaching goals. Review the five positive impacts that clients report from personal coaching. If they match your coaching goals, then a personal coach would likely be a good choice. Oppositely, if your goals are more focused on your role at work, such as increasing productivity and relationships with other employees, a professional coach would likely be the better option for you.

While there is a clear delineation between the definitions of life and personal coaching versus professional and executive coaching, in practice, the difference might fade. If you’re torn, an approach that I have found helpful is to begin with a hybrid coach who offers a combination of services.

The chemistry between you and your coach is critically important. Self-awareness achieved through coaching conversations can be challenging. This is when what I call “optimally frustrating empathy” — a form of frustration that ultimately leaders to the development of new skills — is key. Working with the right coach for your needs should enable you to feel comfortable and engaged throughout the process, but not so comfortable that you remain unchanged.

In nature, the mother eagle provides a good example of optimally frustrating empathy. As her eaglets become ready to fly, the mother eagle gradually removes comfort layers from her nest until leaving the nest, their former way of being, becomes the obvious choice. When the right chemistry is combined with optimally frustrating empathy, I believe you can reach new heights of leadership excellence.

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Ron Young

Dr. Ron Young, the Co-Founder/Chief Science Officer & lead psychologist of PAIRINspecializes in professional coaching & development.