• Renato Zane

On the fence about working with a business coach? Here are some things to consider.

If you are considering working with a coach but feel unsure about making the commitment, let’s review a couple of the common concerns.

While the benefits of coaching are relatively well-known (improved performance, overcoming obstacles, strategic planning, leadership development, improved relations with colleagues, etc), the nature of the relationship with a coach may not be clear to you if this is the first time you are considering it.

Two questions that may be top-of-mind for you: a) will I be comfortable working with this person or is this going to be hassle? and b) how much will it cost me?

Let’s look at these two concerns, starting from the relationship.

In my practice, the coaching centers on the client. It is the client who most often leads the conversation, not the coach. As an instructor reminded me, “The client is in the driver’s seat.”

When I was working as a manager in media company, I was offered a few sessions with a well-established executive coach. I remember feeling anxious about our initial conversations because I feared being judged and worried about feeling somewhat inadequate; I felt some pressure to perform for this person. The company was paying for this service, so I wondered: was this going to be like having another boss?

What I discovered instead was that the conversations were natural and genuine, with no pressure. I learned that the coach was really my partner, who asked great questions and helped me discover answers on my own. The conversations were completely confidential and safe. Most often they were telephone calls, at convenient times when I was in a private setting and not stressed by the immediate requirements of my job. I had time to think and speak slowly, if I wanted to. There were no expectations of performance in the coaching conversations. They were transparent, organic and frequently cathartic. If I put any pressure on myself, it was because I chose to do so.

One of the things a good coach will do is hold the client accountable. But keep in mind that it’s the client who usually chooses the course of action. This is nothing new. In our lives we accept being held accountable by teachers, doctors, fitness coaches and dieticians; why not by a professional development partner who walks with us in confidence?

One important distinction is that business coaches are not therapists. Conversations don’t dwell deeply into psychological issues of the past, but focus more on the present and the future.

The key thing is to establish whether you feel comfortable with a coach. It needs to be a trusting partnership that should allow you to relax and discuss your private concerns without creating any unnecessary anxiety. In this sense it’s important to evaluate whether a coach is compatible with you before entering into an agreement. Often this is just a question of having a few preliminary conversations to feel each other out and get a sense of personalities and communication styles. Learning about a coach’s knowledge and experience could prove useful in your conversation topics.

You can also talk to others who have worked with coaches before and ask for their recommendations. Get their feedback and try to imagine yourself in a similar arrangement.

The client is in the driver’s seat.

Now to the second question, the one about costs. If financial concerns are preventing you from speaking to a coach, let me assure you that there are many options to choose from. If you have been promoted to a leadership position, you may find that your company will cover the cost of a coach for a certain period of time, or will encourage professional development through company programs. Check with your supervisor or HR manager. Some large companies even offer coaching as transitional services when there are mergers, reorganizations and layoffs.

If you are going to pay for coaching yourself, ask your prospective coach how he or she will bill you. There are many approaches and many different professionals to choose from. Every coaching agreement is different. A working relationship is tailored for specific situations. Coaching sessions are usually most effective over a period of months. My personal preference is to commit to a three-month relationship for a set fee. However, if a client only wants a few conversations, we can do that as well. My standard three-month agreement entitles the client to a weekly session that can last anywhere between 30 minutes and 120 minutes. If the client prefers only one short session every two weeks, that’s fine too. Again, the client decides. Many coaches (me included) will also be on call for clients if something urgent should come up between sessions. Coaches also stay in touch with clients via email and will share articles and other information with you that is pertinent to the ongoing discussions.

Coaches can offer pay-as-you go fees or arrange for a set quarterly fee to be paid in increments. The bottom line is that all these things are generally negotiable and should not be a cause for stress in starting a relationship with a coach.

Before agreeing to a commitment, ask whether the coach is willing to provide an introductory conversation. Many coaches offer a complimentary coaching session to give you a sense of the types of conversations you will be having.

The most important thing is to develop a trusting relationship with your professional development partner. You should look forward to your conversations as a time for valuable exploration of issues that matter to you. The sessions should be meaningful and constructive.

If you are curious about hiring a coach, let’s have a conversation.

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