Coaching “fit” goes far beyond likeability

Sandra Oliver

Sometimes I get asked to attend a “meet and greet” before a coaching engagement, hosted by an organization, to see if the coachees “like” me. Many companies have a practice of introducing several coaches to every potential coachee. When I talk to coachees, they report finding it hard to choose between the coaches they are presented with. Why? Because all coaches in that scenario are going to be good coaches and will be doing their best to win over the client. How does the client know who to choose when all they have to go on are three great first impressions from three great coaches?

I see this “meet and greet” process as inefficient as well as ineffective because it takes a lot of time and does not consider other elements of fit. Frankly, fit is about much more than if you, as a coachee, are comfortable with me. Perhaps you should be looking for someone who makes you appropriately uncomfortable to challenge you and push you out of your comfort zone. Just because someone really “likes” or “feels” comfortable with me, doesn’t mean that I am the best suited to help them reach their goals.

Here’s my top tips for finding fit:

1. Find a coach who has the right business background, the right skills, and the right area of speciality. Don’t underestimate the value a coach will bring if they have a solid understanding of your business or industry.

2. Find a coach who enjoys working with (and is experienced in) individuals with similar coaching objectives as you. Coaches will have types of clients with whom they prefer to work with and have experienced the most success in the past. For example, I am most effective at helping people get their next big job and transition into their new role. Other coaches may be most successful at developing young leaders or helping those who struggle with stress or perfectionism. We all have unique backgrounds that contribute to our success coaching in specific areas.

3. Find someone you trust. Likeability does not always correlate to trust. To establish trust, you need three things: professional credibility, reliability, and intimacy, according to David Maister’s trust equation. Professional credibility is your technical and business skills as a coach. Reliability is about providing great client service (following up on calls/emails right away, meeting deadlines and billing appropriately, etc.). Client intimacy is in the deep relationship you build and to what extent you understand what the client most wants and needs. Each of these three things goes far beyond likeability and instead, speak to the reputation a coach has around their commitment to client service.

4. Do your homework. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable. Here are some of my favourite questions:

  • How long has the coach been practicing?
  • Who is their preferred client group?
  • What development objectives do they specialize in?
  • How much do they charge per hour?
  • What are their expectations of you as a coachee?
  • What do they commit to as your coach?

5. Also, take note if your prospective coach is asking many questions of you, to determine fit from their end. If they aren’t, you have to wonder whether finding fit, or just finding the next client, is most important to them.

We hear time and time again that “fit” is the most important aspect of a coaching relationship. Invest the time upfront to find a coach who meets your needs; who provides a supportive relationship while also holding you accountable to change, which is what coaching is all about.

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