Team up with a professional for winning results.
Are you at the top of your game? If there's room to grow, consider taking a page from the playbooks of elite athletes, who wouldn't dream of competing without a coach to help them achieve peak performance levels.
Coaching, whether for career development or leadership skills, is a bourgeoning business: The International Coaching Federation (ICF) estimates total U.S. coaching revenues at more than $700 million. Career coaching has particular appeal for women, who make up nearly 60% of coaching clientele.
Coaches fall somewhere between management consultants and therapists. Like consultants, they advise leaders on business matters and help set goals. In addition, they ask probing questions with an eye toward modifying behavior, just as a therapist might. Their goal is to foster individual performance and help executives discover their own career paths. An organization may engage a coach to develop high-potential employees or to facilitate transitions, while individuals might hire one as an objective observer and sounding board.
Sounds great, right? But be cautious: Although there are professional coaching organizations and accreditations, the field is neither regulated nor licensed, so it behooves you to take care in choosing a coach. Here are a few things to look for:
References: Begin with recommendations from people you know and trust. Ask any coach you're considering for a list of clients you can contact to discuss the coach's process and results.
Chemistry: Probably the most important criterion for choosing a coach is how well the two of you get along. A good coach should be a trusted advisor, able to provide the objectivity that business colleagues may lack. Many coaches offer initial consultations free of charge, so take advantage of this to get a sense of their style and to determine whom you connect with best. They should be asking questions that spur you to consider your issues in a new light, and you should be comfortable accepting frank - even negative - feedback from them.
Experience: The jury is still out as to the importance of credentials such as those conferred by the ICF, or whether depth of experience should take precedence. Respondents to a 2009 survey by the Harvard Business Review were nearly equally divided in determining whether certification was either very important or not a deciding factor at all. Still, it's fair to ask a coach about his or her background and qualifications. Has he or she been able to help clients with issues similar to your own?
Expectations: The best results occur when you and your coach establish objectives and expectations at the outset. This doesn't mean you can't explore territory beyond said objectives, but the desired end result is a clear goal with a path toward achieving it. You should also have an understanding about how long the process will last: Typically, a coaching engagement will run between four and 12 months.
Cost: As a one-on-one service, coaching doesn't come cheap. The latest annual survey by the ICF placed the average fee at about $214 per hour, while the Harvard Business Review survey showed a range between $200 and $3,500 per hour, with a median of $500.
Is the expenditure worth it? If you know what you want to get out of a coaching session and are determined to find a good fit, the answer may well be yes.
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