Coaching has been a growth area for a while, and there are a lot of people now offering different forms of coaching and setting up as coaches. In fact, a lot of people (like me) are moving into coaching from other areas of life and work, which I think is a great thing for diversifying the experience and expertise pool. The downside is that the choice can be overwhelming, the fees confounding and the approaches variable in quality.
So, how do you even begin to know who to choose to walk with you on your metaphorical (or physical!) journey? I've distilled some of the important things to consider below:
1. Seek rapport and connection
First, and foremost you should look for someone that you connect with, as this will maximaise the chances of doing great work together. Coaching is a relationship and an alliance, and so you need to know they 'get you', that they will push you, and that they will help you bring forth your best, most capable self. All of these things are easier to achieve if you have good rapport, and connect in ways that aren't always easy to explain. Sometimes it's a match of values, sometimes it's just chemistry. Sometimes it's a soul feeling. If you have found a potential coach on social media then you can get a good indication of how you might connect by speaking with them online, but if not then always start by initiating some correspondence with them, and if possible book an initial session. Some coaches offer free 30-minute tasters. Some offer a discounted discovery session to discuss your needs (this is my approach). One thing is certain, if you don't connect then it's likely that there won't be a deep level of respect for each other - and this is, I believe, vital for a good coaching relationship. I always care very deeply for my clients, and keep a manageable client load accordingly so that can invest enough care and energy in each person.
2. Do they know what coaching really is? Do you?
It's important that everyone knows that coaching is. I've observed some fairly public examples of 'coaching' only to walk away thinking 'hold on, that was just someone giving advice to the other person'. Advice is fine, but it's what friends and advisers do. A good coach will not do the work for you, but will be in service to you looking for your own answers; challenging you to dig deep and develop. This will feel like a cop out for anyone looking for quick fixes, and truly frustrating at times, but the real value of coaching (from a coach's perspective) is developing an ability in the Other to find their own solutions, trust in their own voice and proceed confidently under their own steam. All of this is done with respect, care and support. But coaching should be empowering, and not just a way of imparting the coaches preferred way of doing things. This type of relationship is more suited to mentoring.
This is perhaps the most nuanced pitfall people make when choosing a coach - picking someone they like and hoping to get all the answers from. And certainly, this is easy-street for the coach. But whilst there will be times you are trading wisdom, approaches and techniques: the answers should be leveraged from the client's growthful edge. As a potential coachee, you are doing yourself a future disservice if you go to someone waiting for answers. The benefit of a coach is that they will challenge you and your thinking, help unpick what's really going on and check your blindspots. They will ask you difficult questions, hold space for you to suffer and succeed, and generally be a great ally. But they won't do it for you. Beware therefore of a coach who spends too much talking about 'how they do things'.
3. Do your values match?
Values are not always easily visible, but somewhere along the line you may find it helpful to find a coach that has similar values to you. There is, of course, a lot to be gained in having a coach who is different to you in several key ways (see below) but to avoid the pitfalls of 'they just don't get me' or 'we never really connected' or 'I actually think my coach was a bit disappointed in me' then it's a good idea to align some of your beliefs and values. For example, are they motivated by similar things? Do they understand your motivations? Two of my core values are compassion and purpose, and like anyone I want to make a living to support the life I want to live. But I cannot work with a coach who is driven by money goals, or by traditional metrics of success. It might be that I have some tricky self-limiting beliefs about earning money, but I need a coach who understands my conflicts and knows how to work with them. They need to understand what it's like for me to exist within a different value framework.
Use your discovery session with a coach to find out a bit about how they work if you don't already know at the point of booking. The chances are you'll be drawn to someone because you know on some level that your values, ethos and outlook on life match, but if you don't know then do find out.
4. Is there enough difference?
Whilst having rapport and some matching values will be important, it's also valuable to find a coach who is sufficiently different from you that they will push you in ways that you might not be used to, and help you think about things in different ways. A person different from you in their approach might enliven your problem solving ability and freshen up the approach you have been taking so far. A coach is there to wave a flag for you and your capability, but they are not a 'yes' person. You will grow better if you have someone who is sufficiently different that they challenge you to think differently. They don't have to be wildly different to you, but perhaps the difference involves mastery over a quality that you wold like for yourself. For example, you might be a disorganised person seeking structure, and would therefore benefit from someone organised and methodical. Their approach may seem alien to you, but if your ultimate values match in some way, and/or the rapport and connection is good, then you can be inspired by the 'difference' between you and work with that.
It may be the difference between you that has attracted you to them as a potential coach in the first place; in which case really work with this in your sessions and help use it to define your goals.
5. Can you trust them with what you need to trust them with?
This is related to the first point, but good personal coaching operates in the arena of self-development. To develop we almost-always have to go to the difficult places inside of ourselves. You should therefore trust the person you are coaching with; trusting their ability to maintain confidentiality, and trust that they have the experience to handle anything difficult that may arise. In the very least you will need to trust that they will be able to signpost you to further, specialist resources if you need it. In short, this point relates to choosing a coach that you can trust will carry anything difficult that needs to be uprooted in order to develop. It's not uncommon that what holds us back is often deep rooted (though of course this isn't always the case and sometimes we just need a kick up the butt!).
We also have a little thing in the therapeutic world, that is equally relevant in coaching. it's called 'trust the process' - an experienced practitioner knows that there are always ups and downs with clients, and points where the client feels frustrated and like 'nothing is working' but when you coach or counsel you know that going through the process will bring results, and to trust the process. For your part, you need to trust that the coach knows that they're doing. Sometimes it's about qualifications, but mostly it's about experience and intuition. If you don't trust your gut on this, then choose someone else.
6. What do you want a coach for?
Are you looking to generally build your confidence and explore your sense of purpose, or are you looking for a time-limited shove to achieve a clearly defined goal? Are you seeking highly-specialised business coaching? It'll be easier to choose the right coach if you have a sense of the size and shape of the support you're looking for. This will also help you decide what coaching packages to go for. Coaching has usually been conceived as a short term relationship, and this accounts for the many short-term coaching packages on offer. These will suit people who have specific goals in mind, and specific deadlines. However, a laser-session won't suit you if you have a broader issue around e.g. developing self-worth. A good coach will talk about what you need from your sessions, and the sort of time frame that would be best.
7. Beware of anyone who pressures you.
Coaching, generally speaking, is something you either know you would benefit from, or not. it shouldn't require a hard sell, or persuasion. A good potential coach will engage in chatting about your needs with you, but they won't harass you with offers, discounts, follow-ups etc. There is no value for anyone in bringing someone into coaching who doesn't want to be coached, because they simply won't be ready to make the changes they want to see in their life.