I’ve witnessed multiple peers start coaching businesses over the past couple years, some of which closed shop almost immediately after opening.
Given what the industry looks like now, I consider myself to be a somewhat early adopter of personal coaching. When I joined MULC as a client nearly a half-decade ago, there was not yet a coach on every corner. A meme I saw sums it up:
“God, give me the confidence of a 25-year-old life coach.”
There are 25-year-old life coaches out there. There are probably more 25-year-old life coaches than there are coaching businesses which have survived over five years (MULC has been around for close to 10).
I thought it might be interesting to describe my understanding of some characteristics of an effective coach. It could help a stranger make a better decision about whom to hire.
“Upstream” Problem Solving
One characteristic of a good coach is that he does not attempt to solve client problems at the level of the problem. Instead, he works “upstream.”
For example, consider a down-on-its-luck sales team. An executive might bring in a motivational speaker in order to get the team excited about making its cold calls for the day. And perhaps it might be effective for an afternoon. But soon the team will regress to its original unmotivated state.
But the executive might instead find “upstream” changes: Perhaps a change to the team’s sales incentive structure, such as larger commissions, will motivate the team. Or, in a more authoritarian environment, perhaps the executives may simply say: “Either make those calls or we don’t pay you.” Fear can be a motivator, of course.
“Upstream” problem solving is sometimes mysterious: Having a salesman tell his wife he loves her on the way out the door in the morning might be motivating. A skilled coach may see a connection a client does not.
Exposure and Influence
One fact of the business of coaching is that through the process of coaching, a client may become more like his coach. On choosing a coach, one might ask: “What can I learn from this individual?”
There are traps embedded in this question. One trap is that we don’t know what we don’t know. People do a terrible job of judging what another individual might know or what his contributions might be. It is guaranteed that during your tenure as a coaching client, some learnings will blindside you.
Another trap: Social media and other deceptions can obfuscate who an individual actually is. Who is your coach after you strip off the camera filters, the photoshop, and the rented helicopter? If you and your coach were trapped in a jail cell together, would you still want him as your coach?
The Problem Isn’t the Problem
Consider a client who goes to a coach in search of an Action Plan.
The seasoned coach recognizes that the client may not actually want an Action Plan. Think about it: If the client really wants an Action Plan and has the capacity to create one, then what is stopping him from making one? Certainly there is nothing in the Book of Human Behavior that says, “If a man wants an Action Plan, he must first consult a coach.” Something else is thwarting our client.
Pretend for a moment that the coach is naive: A client asks him for an Action Plan and so he delivers an Action Plan. What then? The client goes home and executes his Action Plan perfectly (or, more likely, less-than-perfectly). And upon completion of the Action Plan what does the client do? Of course he returns to his coach (or a new coach) for a new Action Plan.
Coach and client have created codependency. For the client, it is Action Plans all the way to the grave. For the coach, perhaps, it is Action Plans all the way to the bank.
This post was written to describe some less-than-obvious factors to consider when choosing a coach. My hope is that you are now better equipped to choose a suitable coach. And, of course, we’d love to hear from you.