Professional Business Coaching: Understanding the Pros and Cons

We all know that you can't keep doing the same thing and expect to get different results. One of the best ways to shake up your management habits and move to the next level is through professional business coaching. Other forms of professional development are helpful, but they're often skills-based (teaching about new regulations, for example, or how to negotiate better). Coaching offers something different: "Coaching is a method of helping clients find their own answers," says New York City-based executive coach Michael Melcher. He provides the lowdown on what you need to know about the pros and cons of professional business coaching.

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Find the right coach. If you're not working with the right partner, the benefits of coaching are limited. First, check for fit. "You should always set up an initial meeting with the coachee and the coach. The coachee should feel chemistry and/or the beginnings of trust from the beginning," says Melcher. "If not, search elsewhere." Next, evaluate their background. "Strong coaches draw on their entire life and work experience, as well as specific training [as a coach] . . . Be wary if your coach has no formal credentialing or if she says that she doesn't believe in it."

Understand when coaching can help you. If you're really going to grow as a leader, you need to be open to feedback. "You are coachable if you are willing to take a penetrating look at what you do, why you do it, and what other options might exist," says Melcher. "Coaching can be used to look at technical challenges (specific skills you want to learn) and adaptive challenges (ways that you need to change your perspectives, behavior or mindset, or situations for which there is no known answer). Coaching has more power when you are working on adaptive challenges."

Recognize when coaching is a bad idea. Not every problem or situation can be helped by professional business coaching, says Melcher. If you're unwilling to look hard at yourself or "want the coach to work harder than you're willing to work," that's a recipe for disappointment. You, your organization, and your coach all have to be on the same page about what's expected and what success looks like. And, Melcher notes, "In a work situation, when management is unwilling to make a managerial decision and instead seeks to foist the problem onto someone else," he says, they'll sometimes hire a coach. But that kind of outsourcing never works. After all, a coach isn't "someone who will provide some magic missing ingredient." It's a collaborative relationship, not a universal panacea.

Get clear on the ROI. "No soft skills are easy to measure, and many large industries don't really have good metrics, either (e.g. marketing or advertising)," says Melcher. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't expect to see clear results from your coaching experience. All good coaches should have a process by which they measure the impact of your work together. "Coaching should always have a defined beginning and an end, since in the end the goal is self-regulation — the coachee has learned what she needs to learn and then moves on," says Melcher. Coaching engagements may be as brief as a few sessions (for very targeted work) or a comprehensive 6- to 12-month engagement (or occasionally longer, if new issues arise or need to be addressed). But the goal isn't to create an infinitely ongoing relationship: It's to help you gain new skills that you can apply in the workplace as soon as possible.

Professional business coaching can't solve every problem. But it can provide you with a sharpened skill set so that you're better able to take on new challenges.

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Dorie Clark is an NCMM contributor, marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her new book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.


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