Are you one of those people like a highly motivated colleague of mine, Margo, who has been through a number of coaches, spending considerable amounts of money, looking for the coach that is right for her?
In fact, Margo isn’t my colleague’s real name. While she was willing for me to tell her story she didn’t want to be identifiable by any of the three coaches she saw before she found the right one. She didn’t want them to feel devalued by what she told me. They were committed and attentive to her, but they found it difficult to understand and provide what she wanted from the coaching. She had difficulty connecting with them. She is not criticising them for that. She knows other people who see these coaches and are happy with them. They were just not the right coach for her, but in spite of trying three times she was disillusioned when she couldn’t find the right one for her. I was too close to her to be her “right” coach also.
Margo came to realise that her inability to find the right coach for her had much more to do with the way she had gone about it, than anything to do with the three coaches. She has accepted responsibility for that but when she began talking with me, she didn’t know how she did need to go about it.
“I should have looked into it more carefully.”
“I went into it with only general thoughts about what I really wanted from a coach. Having a coach seemed to be what I needed to do to support my career advancement so I thought I had better get one.”
“I wasn’t really responsible about it at all, given the amount of money and commitment involved. In fact, in retrospect, I was rather irresponsible about it, considering what I expected from the coach.”
“I didn’t realise just how different each coach is and what different approaches they take.”
“If I am honest, I actually expected that the coach would know what I wanted from the experience and then provide it.”
“I went into the first session and just sat there and waited for the coach to start. I’m appalled now at the lack of accountability I assumed for my own learning. It was like I expected the coach to do all the work. I didn’t, but I really had no idea what coaching was about or what would happen.”
Margo and I had caught up for a coffee, having not seen each other for about twelve months, when she told me about the harrowing time she had had finding a coach that was right for her. At that stage, she was on the point of giving up on the idea and was very much believing that she was the problem.
Margo’s experience is not unique. It is very common. I had been coaching since 1995. I had given some short talks on coaching and written some articles. The feedback I had received paralleled Margo’s experience. There is not a lot around to guide people in choosing a coach. I shared some ideas with her in our informal “coaching” session, over a glass of red!
Four weeks later she found a coach with whom she is really connected, who both challenges and supports. After reflecting on our talk, she was much more focused in her search.
She suggested that I put some of the ideas I shared with her down on paper. She thought they may be helpful for others.
You could be forgiven for supposing that Margo was a young and inexperienced new graduate searching for a coach, given the difficulties she had finding one. She wasn’t. Margo is a senior manager in a large organisation. She has been promoted every year for the last three years. She’s obviously going places, but it’s been the speed at which she has moved through her organisation and the new learning that has accompanied it that had led her to feel a coach could be helpful. Margo is no different to hundreds of other very experienced people I’ve talked with who have tried to find the right coach for them.
Coaching often has so much hype around it. Many individual coaches “market” themselves in a way that creates guru status around them. It’s difficult to question that – unless we’ve broken through the hype. It’s easy to be swept along with it all and choose a coach on nothing more than the coach’s self-definition, just as Margo and hundreds like her do.
Coaching is a significant investment of both time and money. It needs to be given the same attention as any other investment.
Every Monday for the next few weeks in my blog, I’m going to write about coaching and hope that the ideas I share with you will help you either find the right coach if you are looking, or, if you already have a coach, work better with your coach to achieve your goals.