By Suzi Pomerantz, MCC, MT

Successful professionals in every industry rely on coaches. 

Executives, managers, supervisors and team leaders find that they must guide and lead their people and projects with little or no preparation or support. In many organizations politics guide a leader's decisions and actions more than vision. Who (or what) is guiding you along your path to success? Do you find that your company or industry is changing so fast that you fear you'll be left behind? Are your daily activities so demanding that it is hard to focus on where you are going? Is it difficult to motivate yourself consistently enough to achieve all the goals you've set for yourself? Are your relationships at work powerful in terms of communication? Coaching is a tool for business success…one that is critical for powerful leadership.


Coaching is a profession that provides individualized consulting for people of all ages, in all industries and professions, and of all positions within organizations. In the early 1980’s, individual business coaching was only available to high-level executives. In recent years it has become increasingly popular with professionals seeking a competitive edge over their colleagues and co-workers. Basically, coaching is executive, professional, personal, or career development, delivered on a one-to-one basis.

Work is organized around projects. People set goals for the outcomes they intend to achieve, and use a coach to motivate them, to keep them focused and on track, to inspire them to excel, to enhance their personal or professional growth and development, and to provide partnership for their ultimate success. Masterful coaches empower people to identify how past behaviors, thought systems, and ways of being produced unintended results and consequences and to transform these old systems into more effective or more powerful choices. Armed with this knowledge, clients use the coaching relationship to fundamentally shift their frames of reference, thereby producing winning results in the areas of their lives that they targeted with their coach. A coach is a visionary, a change agent, and a person who enables others to exceed past performances and tackle their challenges with freedom, creativity, choice, and power. It is continuous, individual, change-management consulting rather than a one-time effort, quick fix, or training session. Coaching is often used as executive intervention to help executives change, improve their performance, and develop as leaders.

Coaching has gained media exposure: NBC Nightly news featured coaching in February 1996, calling it “the cutting edge in this country in business get ahead in the nineties, to get control... get a coach”. The Wall Street Journal (October 1995) stated that coaches number over 1000 in the USA alone. There have been recent articles about the coaching profession in most major publications and newspapers across the nation.

The International Coach Federation offers the following definition of coaching: “Professional coaching is an interactive process that helps individuals and organizations to develop. It is an ongoing relationship which focuses on the client taking action toward the realization of a vision, goals or desires. Coaching uses a process of inquiry and personal discovery to build the client’s level of awareness and responsibility, and provides the client with structure, support and feedback.”


Newsweek (Feb. 5, 1996) quotes a New York bank executive as saying, “ In the next five years people are going to say ‘Who is your coach?’ not ‘What is a coach?’ ” Star athletes, top executives, high-priced lawyers, and performing artists are not the only ones who improve with the insight, guidance, skill, and inspiration of a professional coach. Something as simple as one coaching call a week for thirty minutes can eliminate procrastination, sharpen your focus, enhance your creativity, heighten your effectiveness, and increase your power to achieve your goals.

Coaching is a doorway to innovation and creative thought that empowers people in all industries to exceed the limitations of what they currently consider to be realistic and allows them to produce outstanding results. It is an action-based, commitment-oriented partnership for excellence.


Coaching is a relationship that is based on commitment. It takes place in person, on-line in cyberspace, or over the telephone. Usually it’s one-on-one, but occasionally there will be cause for a coach to work with two people at once or groups (work teams, etc.). If you were to watch a coaching session, what you would observe is talking and listening; a conversation. Coaches are trained consultants from varied backgrounds: education, human resources, change-management, organizational development, ontology, financial planning, and others. Although some might have psychological training, it is not requisite to the trade. Coaches are in the business of making a difference with people by guiding them to make a difference within themselves. A coach is a vehicle for you to achieve your grandest vision of life. 


Here’s the tricky part. There are many folks selling coaching services who are not trained, professional coaches. How do you go about choosing the right coach for you? Here are twelve tips for selecting your own personal coach:

1. Ask the prospective coach about her philosophy of coaching. A good coach will be able to express to you her values and core coaching philosophy. It should include a commitment to integrity, service, partnership, and a fundamental belief in fostering your independence. A coach’s job is to be fully committed to your commitments. She should be able to completely align with your vision, and commit to doing whatever it will take to have you narrow the gap between your vision and reality.

2. Ask for references and a list of clients. What types of executives, entrepreneurs, and professionals has the coach worked with? Check out how long it took, and what structure of coaching was involved. Make sure your coach has a stable track record and contact a few of these folks and get the honest truth about the impact your prospective coach had on their lives, and in what domains.

3. Determine if the coach’s style is one that will support you. Is she a taskmaster, or a gentle nudge? How rigorous is she? How supportive, nurturing, compassionate? Identify what style of support you need in order to fulfill your goals. How clearly does the coach articulate the objectives and outcomes of the process? Is she out to create significant change in your job performance?

4. Does the coach provide practices, projects, and assignments for you, or will you generate your own? What assessment methods will be used? 

5. What kind of accountability structure does the coach provide for you? What format does she adhere to for helping you attain your goals? What consequences (if any) are there for failing to fulfill a promise to your coach?

6. Change takes time. What does your coach recommend as the average length of a contract? Depending on your project, three months is a healthy minimum and six months is a recommended acceptable duration. You might question a coach’s rationale for suggesting a coaching contract in excess of one year -- projects usually do not require that much coaching in order to be accomplished. Depending on the areas in which you want to be coached, you might hire a coach to work with you daily, weekly, or twice monthly. The coach should be willing to customize a structure to match your needs. Ask how much time the coaching process will take and which coaching methods will be used.

7. There are many techniques that are used by the well-trained coach, and different methods work for different people. Review these options with your prospective coach to determine what will work best for you. Role-playing, written journal work, homework assignments, games, charts, and other examples are worth investigating. Does your coach custom design the client learning program, or does she rely on pre-packaged material? In order to achieve lasting change, sophisticated methods are necessary. Coaching programs often employ simulations, testing, teaching, conflict-management training, problem-solving, and in-depth work in the areas of interpersonal issues and relationships. 

8. Most coaches will not charge for an initial consultation. You can engage a prospective coach in a brief coaching session that will give you a taste of what she can do for you. If she is willing to do this, it is a good way to determine if a particular coach is best suited to meet your business needs.

9. Inquire into the coach’s personal history and training in coaching. Where did she learn to coach? How many disciplines does she incorporate in her coaching? Coaching is a holistic, interactive, experiential field. Find out what she knows about adult learning and personal transformation. Find out the credibility of the organization(s) that trained her. A coach need not have a doctorate to be effective, but should have some behavioral training. The best combination is a coach with graduate work in psychology, business, organizational development, and/or education with special training and certification as a coach and hands-on experience working within organizations.

10. Coaching is a relationship-based profession. The most important factor is whether or not you like the coach, feel comfortable working with her, trust her, and genuinely believe she has something to offer you. The nature of the work coaches do is very personal, so choose your coach carefully. Make sure she has similar values to you and that she inspires you to be your most powerful self -- the greatest you possible.

11. Coaching affects matters other than business. Coaching relationships often uncover personal, vulnerable areas as the conversations weave through the domains of your life and work. Your coach must assure you of the confidentiality of your conversations. Trust is key. Coaches coach the whole person, and usually do not separate the work you from the real you. Thus, although it may begin as a business relationship, often times other life issues come into play. 

12. How much does coaching cost? Some coaches charge by the hour with a minimum deposit. Others require up-front payment. Others bill clients monthly. A six-month engagement could run you anywhere between $750 to $5000. You can usually find telephone coaching for as little as $50 a week to upwards of $250. Another option is to have your employer pay for your coaching. Increasingly in the workforce, employers hire coaches for their employees as non-monetary compensation. These employers recognize the benefit: your productivity increases, and your increased accountability contributes to the organization. 

Good luck finding your coach! 

About the author:

Suzi Pomerantz, Master Certified Coach, consultant and owner of Innovative Leadership International LLC, has trained and coached over 1000 clients in leadership development and personal effectiveness. She’s available during business hours at (301) 601-1525 or by e-mail at

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