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So You Have A Coach?

Written by: Misty Smalley
Published: April 2013

So you got a coach. Congratulations! Coaching can offer tremendous benefits in your work, relationships and development. It can open your eyes to improvement opportunities and help you pour more of your strengths into everything you do.

At any level of business hierarchy, a coach tends to be that one person who can push the envelope - ask the tough questions, make you tow the line. She can give you the raised eyebrow when there's more to it than you see or when you just don't want to see it for what it is. She will challenge you to make you see more clearly... or from someone else's perspective... or to see you the way they see you.

You chose your coach carefully, and likely have a natural "fit" - personalities that can work together successfully, even through the tough, soul-searching stuff. Something clicked when you met - like your minds were on the same frequency or you had a connection. You felt that this coach could really help you get where you want to go.

The decision to retain a business, career or executive coach is a great step forward... but what if it wasn't your decision?
Recently, a longtime friend got a coach... but not by choice, and not of her choosing. Her company, a very enlightened mining organization, made a significant and well-intended investment in their employees and future, by embracing the idea of coaching for their senior leadership. The company worked quickly, calling in a couple of executive coaches and presenting the program to their leaders.

Neither my friend nor her colleagues had the opportunity to buy-in to the executive coaching idea, or to select their own coaches. The company did it's best to match the leader to one of the coaches they had retained based on their understanding of each and their eagerness to initiate their new program. Though some of the leaders formed connections with their coaches fairly early on, others struggled for months before settling into a routine. A few never clicked at all throughout the year-long engagement.

Understandably, there were mixed results among the leaders in terms of perceived value for my friend's company. Her own assessment was that, though the company's execution was rushed, the responsibility of getting something out of the opportunity, warts and all, belonged squarely on the coaches. Many of the coaches had not made that realization until after the engagement had ended... and then felt like they had wasted the opportunity without even realizing it.

In the event you should find yourself with the good fortune of a coach, even if he or she was chosen for you, rather than by you, try these tips to get the most out of the experience.

  1. Be positive. So much depends on your state of mind going in. Put a smile on your face - research shows that the act of smiling can actually lift your mood. Good moods impact situations in positive ways. Or... go in with crossed arms and a scowl, expecting the worst... guess what, you won't be disappointed.
  2. Get clarity. If knowing the purpose, or the "why" of it is important to you for buy-in, ask the question. We connect to the intention of a thing more than the "how" and the "what". Figure out what you need to know or feel and be persistent about finding it. It will make the rest of the experience meaningful.
  3. Connect with the coach. Sure... he or she may not be the exact person you would have chosen... but finding commonalities will help build a relationship. It could be something as simple as your shared love (or hate, or both at the same time) of the Red Sox... that is enough to have a five minute conversation with the guy behind you at the check-out, after all!
  4. Work your list. Coaching is about little ole you. Your development, your goals, your opportunities. Coaches are there to guide and facilitate the worklist and the work, not to create it. What do you want? Don't be afraid to jump in and really own the direction!
  5. Go diving. Don"t have a list yet (which would not be surprising if you are unexpectedly assigned a coach)? Make that your one and only goal on your coaching worklist - to figure out what you want now and in the future. Dive deep into your own soul to figure it out. Take the time with your coach to talk through and let him/her help shape your thoughts into a vision. Then ask your coach to help you figure out how to get there.
  6. Know when to call it a day. If you've tried everything but still are not getting what you need from your assigned coach, ask for another of your choosing. Your company has invested your valuable time in this process, and it should be a positive and beneficial experience that helps you grow personally and professionally. Help your company give itself and you the very best.

There are more, of course... this is just a short list. What tips would you add?

Misty Smalley

Misty Smalley

Misty Smalley is an HR leader and writer who actively pursues interests in executive coaching, organizational development and training design. A life-long learner, she joyfully strives to help others to explore the meaning in their own journeys, then to express it authentically.