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  • Writer's pictureRenee Conklin

Before you invest in a coach, read this.

I came to coaching reluctantly. When I started RC HR Consulting 2.5 years ago, I didn’t do so with the aim of becoming a coach. I launched the business with the purpose of partnering with Hong Kong SME’s to help them solve their HR challenges. Along the way, I started to realize that I could have an even greater impact by including coaching as part of my toolkit to offer solutions to clients.

But it wasn’t just client needs that pushed me into coaching. It was my own personal experience.

In 2017, I found myself at a crossroads. After unexpectedly leaving a job that I enjoyed, I didn’t know what to do next. I received an offer to join a law firm in a similar role, but I just wasn’t excited about it and turned it down. I decided to take a few months off. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but within just a few weeks, I found myself standing in the middle of my apartment, turning this way and that, unable to do something as simple as make a decision on what to do that day. I needed help.

After getting a few referrals, I hired Iris Kloth as my career coach to partner with me to map my next steps. Over the course of a few months, Iris helped me to uncover what I really wanted to do next (and it had nothing to do with getting another corporate job in HR!). I had always wanted to pursue a Master’s degree. With Iris holding me accountable, I applied and was accepted to the top MBA programs in Hong Kong. In addition, I always had a dream of working for myself. Through the coaching sessions, I started to put together some preliminary ideas for an HR consulting business. Most importantly, I developed the belief in myself that I had something useful to offer others and enough confidence to start (even if I wasn’t really ready!).

Even though I had this positive experience working with Iris and I experienced the tangible benefits, I was still skeptical of coaching. When I attended networking events and met coaches, I would try to avoid them. I had a negative view of the whole field of coaching and felt that the profession was a bit too “fluffy” for me. Even after I had been coaching clients for several months, it still felt awkward to call myself a coach.

I think my initial hesitation came from the fact that coaching is a largely unregulated profession. Anyone can call themselves a coach, even after attending just one weekend workshop. I met some really unimpressive individuals who called themselves coaches. Even worse, they would draft up these elaborate marketing and branding collateral about themselves, but when I reviewed their backgrounds on LinkedIn, they hardly had any professional experience at all, had inflated their titles or drastically exaggerated their experiences. As someone who holds integrity as a core value, I found this disheartening and disingenuous.

So what are some simple ways you can find out if your potential coach is truly experienced, trained, qualified and well… good? Here are a couple of things to look out for when selecting a coach.

Certification – Most coaches go through extensive training through an ICF-certified coach training program. ICF is the International Coaching Federation that regulates coaching standards, ethics and codes of practice. Coach training can be done anywhere (physically or virtually), and most coaches spend several years achieving the various ICF accreditation levels. There are three levels: Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and Master Certified Coach (MCC). Each level of coaching certification requires the coach to have a certain number of hours of training and coaching. This often includes the completion of academic papers and exams. I’ve just finished my qualifications for my ACC with 250+ hours of coaching under my belt!

Remember that being in your comfort zone is just that, comfortable. It’s not the place where change happens. And being in your comfort zone might be the very thing stopping you from growing and moving on.

Professional background – This may not be a popular opinion, but to me it’s important for a coach to have substantial professional working experience. That doesn’t mean a 3-month internship at Deloitte followed by a “Community Engagement Manager” role at a coworking space (a real coaching profile I found on LinkedIn). Much of my coaching centers around helping individuals be successful in their careers and in the workplace. I’ve worked in international, Fortune 500 companies that are heavily matrixed, with complex structures and layered stakeholder relationships. I’ve also worked in small, founder-led organizations and now consult companies with <100 employees. These experiences make me a better coach. It doesn’t mean that I can’t coach if I don’t have these experience. But it does mean that these experiences can better inform my coaching and how I support my clients to maximize their success.

Methodology – When I meet a client for the first time, I always talk about the difference between coaching and mentoring. Coaching is about asking, not telling. As your coach, I am not here to give you advice. If you want advice, find a mentor. My role is to act as a sounding board. You know you best and you know your situation best. By using various tools and frameworks, I act as a facilitator to help you get to the next best step for you. As your coach, I am friendly, but I am not your friend. I may confront your thinking patterns and highlight your blind-spots. That might be uncomfortable. But our conversations are not a paid coffee chat. They are an opportunity for you to identify and work toward your goals, and move forward.

References – Most coaches have testimonials or recommendations on their website, LinkedIn profile or in their marketing collateral. Read these. Is this coach working with clients who are experiencing similar obstacles or have similar goals to you? Has the coach helped his or her clients achieve outcomes that are long-lasting and sustainable beyond the coaching relationship? If you don’t feel comfortable with what you read, move on.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, you want to be sure that you can build trust and rapport with your coach.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, you want to be sure that you can build trust and rapport with your coach. Someone might check all of the boxes on the items listed above, but if you don’t like their personality, find them condescending or just think they aren’t the right fit for you, then the coaching won’t be successful. Have an initial chemistry meeting with your potential coach (ideally face to face, Covid-19 permitting) to see if you can establish that initial trust. Trust should happen quickly and grow over time as the coaching progresses.

So, after a 13-year corporate career, two years of coach training, receiving my ACC certification and 250+ hours of coach training, I finally feel (a bit) more comfortable calling myself an Executive and Career Coach. Having made this transition myself from a corporate HR professional to an Executive and Career Coach means I am uniquely positioned to support my clients as they go through transformations that impact their role, career or identity.

Remember that being in your comfort zone is just that, comfortable. It’s not the place where change happens. And being in your comfort zone might be the very thing stopping you from growing and moving on. I stepped out of my comfort zone of corporate HR roles and help my clients do the same every day.

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Renee Conklin is a Coach and HR Consultant who coaches individuals to career success and consults businesses on people-focused solutions. Check out more of her articles on LinkedIn.

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