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Picking a Coach: When Do You “Swipe Right?”

In the business world, coaches are often treated like baseball caps—they’re thought to be “one-size-fits-all,” and can be molded to fit the needs of any leader or team. When we hear people saying things like, “Just hire any coach” or “This coach worked for XYZ Company, she should be fine for us, too,” frankly, we cringe. Coaches vary in style and approach, they specialize in specific areas, and they are better suited to address some needs more than others. If you had to assign coaches to an article of clothing, a pair of well-fitted jeans would be a better analogy than a baseball cap. A good coach cares about the subtle differences between people, and is equipped to tackle specific issues or pitfalls that a team or a leader may be experiencing.

“Okay,” you might be thinking, “I can buy that coaches aren’t all the same, but if they’re so varied and unique, how on earth do I pick the right one?”

We’ll address that in a minute, but let us throw yet another monkey wrench into the works: How do you know if you even need a coach in the first place? Not every personnel issue can be solved with coaching…so how can you tell which issues do need the attention of a professional, qualified coach?

Let’s say you do need the services of a professional coach. What then? It can be tricky to sift through (endless!) websites and listings. Some coaches may seem similar when, in practice, they’re actually quite different. What’s more, a lot of buzz words and jargon tend to be tossed around, making it difficult to interpret what the heck people are actually offering.

In this article, we’ll try to demystify the process of finding a quality coach (if you do, indeed, need one), and we’ll touch on what type of coaching can create effective, lasting change. Keep in mind, this is a high-level overview, and we would be happy to answer any specific questions. Just drop us a note.

First thing’s first:

1. Do You Actually Need a Coach?

Here’s the plain truth: You and your team may not need to work with a coach. From a profit standpoint, that’s a difficult thing for us (professional coaches!) to admit, but it’s absolutely true. Some teams or leaders require additional training, not coaching. They need to improve certain mechanical skills or become better-acquainted with specific systems.

Coaching is different.

Coaching emphasizes mindsets and behaviors. If you’d like to improve leadership performance, hire a coach. If you’d like to bolster morale or productivity among your team, hire a coach. Having interpersonal communication issues? By all means, hire that coach! Basically, if a mindset shift is needed, then a coach is needed.

If, however, your company is switching over to a new type of software or your sales team needs instruction for effectively closing the sale, a trainer is likely better suited to those needs (although, the sales team might actually need better leadership to motivate and guide them, in which case a leadership coach is the ticket).

Sometimes, the line between trainers and coaches is cut and dry, but sometimes the boundaries get blurry. For instance, what if your company is gearing up for a major transition involving new objectives, rebranding, and shuffling of personnel? A trainer would be useful for handling logistical elements of the transition, such as retraining staff on system operations or software. A coach, on the other hand, can help the transition run smoother by guiding the leadership team and their resources on what thinking, or actions help them, and which may get in their way. A coach might also help connect the dots team performance and morale before and after a transition and uncover sticking points that are preventing the transition from being wholly successful before, during AND after!

Again, if you are wondering whether your specific needs would be best suited for a trainer or a coach, contact us. Every situation is different, and it’s possible you’re dealing with a set of issues that are not terribly clear cut.

2. Finding Your Coaching Match

Let’s say you’re dealing with behavioral or mindset issues and you decide you do need a coach. Fantastic! …Now what?

There are all manner of coaches out there who go by all kinds of titles (mentor, advisor, consultant, guru). Each one can likely add some value to your organization, but not everyone is going to be well-suited to your requirements, points of view, or framework.

We encourage you to do your research and understand the coach’s offerings. Do their services seem to match your company’s needs? If so, dig a little deeper and try to get a feel for the coach’s methodologies and approach. At The Disruptive Element, for instance, we emphasize creating long-lasting mindset shifts through methods based on brain science. If that methodology isn’t a good match for you or your team, we won’t be hurt if you “swipe left” and pass us by. It’s crucial to find a coach who will mesh with your ethos. If, however, you believe brain science can improve/support your team, then we just might be a match.

We admit, poring over a coach’s offerings and methodologies will only get you so far. Sometimes, it pays to talk with past clients or read testimonials. Or, you may simply want to sit down with your prospective coach and ask a few questions. When you’re investigating, keep in mind the following traits of a “good” coach:

· A good coach meets you and/or your team where they are.

Anyone can say, “Do this! Change that!” But if your team isn’t ready for the change, it ain’t gonna happen. It’s a good sign if your coach wants to evaluate or get to know your team before offering proceeding. Ask him or her about the pre-screening they typically do before they begin proposing recommendations.

· A good coach focuses on solving one or two issues at a time.

If your prospective coach claims that she can boost morale, get people to meet deadlines, improve performance, and introduce an entirely new system for communication and feedback…you might want to slowly back away. Sure, a capable coach could help with all these things, but not all at once. If you’re working with a veteran coach, she’ll know it’s best to approach one roadblock or problem at a time (maybe two, if the roadblocks happen to be related). Coaching is an inside/out job. Work needs to done with internal thought processes and connecting them to our actions. Patterns can be established across different focus areas.

· A good coach co-creates a path forward.

Even though your coach may develop a decent understanding of you, your team, and how everyone interacts and operates, he won’t have the same perspective as someone who has been with the company for ten or fifteen years. Because of this, it’s a good idea for the coach to co-create a strategy with the company’s leadership team. The coach may present ideas or a flexible plan on how to move forward, but the plan should be open to tweaks and feedback. This kind of involvement comes with an additional bonus: the leadership team will have a larger stake in the outcome of the plan. They helped designed it; they’ll be partially responsible for its success and will want to make sure the initiatives are followed and the outcomes are realized.

3. Coaching and Change-Resistant Teams

Most coaching deals with change—whether it involves developing better habits, altering behavior, or changing one’s mindset. The true test of a capable coach is whether or not they can implement effective, enduring change. For instance, anyone can waltz in and get a team to deliver feedback to each other…but how long will that exchange of feedback last once the coaching ends?

The thing is, humans are hardwired to resist change. When something new is introduced into our lives, our natural reaction is to balk and reject it. This instinct is tied to the amygdala, a part of the brain’s limbic system which prompts our “fight or flight” reaction. Dr. Britt Andreatta says in her book on brain science and change, “Humans are wired to resist change and we are working against our biology at every turn. It’s well documented that every year 50 to 70 percent of all change initiatives fail.”

How do you turn around this troubling statistic and trick the brain into accepting change? How do you coax it into seeing new patterns as the “new normal?”

It’s best to introduce change incrementally, in small, progressive steps. This method has proven to be effective again and again, not just with coaching, but also with dieting, exercise, journaling/writing, keeping a clean house, etc., etc. If you want to run a 10K, but haven’t worked out in ten years, it’s not a good idea to get up and start sprinting. Instead, ease into your goal. You may start with stretching, brisk walks, a combination of jogging and walking, or any number of exercises before you begin running in earnest.

The same is true with coaching. You can’t jump into a new way of doing something and expect those changes to stick. An astute coach realizes this and sets up small milestones for you and/or your team to achieve. Your coach is more than someone who doles out ideas for creating change, she is a change-making partner.

In time, and with incremental changes, the brain will adapt to new patterns and ways of thinking. Our neural network is an incredible system and, even though we’re wire to be suspicious of or resistant to change, we also have the capacity to embrace it and adapt to it.

If you think you or your team could benefit from working with a coach, it pays to take a step back and think about what, exactly, you’re looking for. Would your needs be better suited to a trainer? What type of coach are you seeking? When looking at prospective coaches, do they meet the criteria for a “good coach?” Do they have a plan for creating effective, lasting change?

We get it. It can feel overwhelming to hunt for a coach who fits your organization. No one wants to “swipe right” on a coach, and then have to reject them later. We advise you to take your time, do your research, and ask prospective coaches questions about their approach and methodology. And if you still feel overwhelmed? Let’s talk.


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