Harvard Business Review reported in November 2004 that annual spending on executive coaching in the United States was estimated at $1 billion. Since that time, the business of coaching has steadily gained in popularity and with any field that grows rapidly there are questions.

Some of the more common questions are:
• What exactly does a coach do?
• What are the benefits of hiring a coach?
• What qualifies someone as a coach? How do I choose the right person?
• Is there a difference between coaching and consulting?
• How is coaching different from counseling?
• How long will it take before I see results?

Although this is certainly not an exhaustive list, here you will find our answers to these common coaching questions.

What exactly does a coach do?

The broad use of the term “coaching,” can be very confusing to both coaches and to the general public. As a starting point, know that there are two major branches of Professional Coaching: Personal Coaching and Business Coaching with a number of niches in each category. The type of client served and the problems encountered help to distinguish the two categories.

Personal coaching AKA life coaching is also known by names such as success coaching, vision coaching, dream coaching, life success coaching, personal development coaching and career coaching. Personal coaching focuses on helping individuals accomplish their dreams and grow personally.

Business coaching is most commonly known as executive coaching, corporate coaching, management coaching, small business coaching, sales coaching, and leadership coaching, to mention a few. The focus here is on professional development, leadership skills, company profitability, management training, team building, organizational development, or change management.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) – the closest thing to an industry standards body – defines coaching this way. “Professional Coaching is a professional partnership between a qualified coach and an individual or team that supports the achievement of extraordinary results, based on goals set by the individual or team. Through the process of coaching, individuals focus on the skills and actions needed to successfully produce their personally relevant results”.

The goal of any coach worth their salt is to act as a catalyst to help clients achieve their goals. Coaches may use assessments, as well as listening skills and powerful questions, to help their clients tap their potential. Coaching is a fluid and individualized process that deals with the goals and issues facing the client at any given point in time. Think of the process as “dancing in the moment”, a phrase coined by the founders of the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). Whether a coach is working with a client on personal or business issues, their job is to keep the clients overarching agenda as the central focus, recognizing that real-life situations impact what the client is facing. It is a flexible process of non-judgmental listening, inquiry, feedback and support, which allows the client to grow, learn and achieve results more quickly.

What are the benefits of hiring a coach?

Fresh perspectives on challenges and opportunities, enhanced thinking and decision making skills, increased productivity and interpersonal skills are all benefits that you’ll receive from coaching. In addition, the coaching relationship provides the needed accountability to help you achieve your goals.

A study released by Manchester, Inc. quantifies the business impact of external executive coaching. The study, which included 100 executives, showed that their employers realized improvements in productivity, quality, organizational strength, customer service, and shareholder value. There were fewer customer complaints, and these organizations were more likely to retain executives who had been coached. In addition, a company's investment in providing coaching to its executives realized an average return on investment (ROI) of almost six times the cost of the coaching.

The recently released 2008 Sherpa Executive Coaching Survey confirms earlier studies on the value of coaching in the business arena. Their report shows that an increasing number of companies are seeing value in hiring coaches, especially for their executives. Early on, many of these efforts were directed at “fixing” a problem or helping an executive to save their career. These days there’s more of a focus on providing proactive support to develop a leaders skills and many companies are including coaching as a component of programs designed to build leadership bench strength.

What are some typical reasons someone might work with a coach?

According to the International Coach Federation, there are many reasons that an individual or team might choose to work with a coach, here are just a few:

• Something urgent is at stake – a new business goal, opportunity or challenge
• There is a gap in knowledge, skills, confidence, or resources
• Your career has stalled
• The management style of a member of your team is ineffective and causing employee problems
• A team member is extremely successful, and success has started to become problematic
• You haven’t identified your core strengths and how best to leverage them
• There is a need and a desire to better organized and more self-managing
• Your department or company is experiencing high employee turn-over

The list could go on and on, but these examples give you some idea of reasons why you might decide to engage the services of a coach.

What qualifies someone as a coach?

Determining whether or not someone is qualified as a coach is a thorny subject. Anyone can decide to start calling themselves a coach and many do even though they have no relevant experience or training. For those with coaching training, it is further complicated by the fact that there is no conclusive evidence to support that any one approach to coaching is better than another. A quick search of the Internet will result in a listing of hundreds of organizations offering coaching training and certification programs at various price points. So what’s a potential client to do?

First, before hiring a coach, do your homework. A good place to begin is by educating yourself about coaching. In practically every major city there is an ICF Chapter you can turn too. In Atlanta, you can visit the Georgia Coach Association to not only learn about coaching, but search the online directory to find a great coach. Visit them at www.gacoaches.com

Next, take the time to think about what your objectives are for working with a coach. Are you looking to transition careers, earn that next promotion, thinking about starting a business, having trouble managing your team or do you just feel stuck? Once you’ve thought about why you’d like to work with a coach, interview at least three coaches before you make your decision. Be sure to ask them about their experience, qualifications, skills, and ask for at least two references. Finally, don’t under estimate the importance of feeling a connection between you and the coach. Without it, the coaching relationship is doomed to fail.

When considering a coach’s experience, be sure that the experience is relevant to what you need. Seems pretty obvious, but you might be surprised to discover how many people call themselves business coaches; yet, they have little or no business experience at all. Let’s say you want to hire a coach to help you grow your business and increases sales. Wouldn’t you want to know that the person you’re hiring actually has a proven track record of owning and running a success business? I certainly think it’s a good idea!

When it comes to evaluating the training of a potential coach, it is important that you look for individuals who’ve been trained in programs accredited by the International Coach Federation. With a mission to preserve the integrity of coaching around the globe, ICF fosters the development of the coaching profession with programs to maintain and upgrade the standards of the profession. They are the defacto standards body for the coaching industry. If you’d like a listing of current organizations approved by ICF, please visit www.coachfederation.com

Is there a difference between coaching and consulting?

You bet there is! The primary objective of a consultant is to achieve organizational results through the application of specific expertise. They may or may not also be responsible with transferring knowledge or a skill set to their client, but they are paid to solve problems.

A professional coach's primary goal is to tap into the client's own vision, wisdom and directed action in service of the client's self-identified agenda. The coach is not paid to offer solutions. The general assumption is that individuals or teams are capable of generating their own solutions, with the coach supplying supportive, discovery-based approaches and frameworks.

Isn’t coaching just another form of counseling?

Absolutely not! Coaching is a profession that supports personal and professional growth and development based on individual-initiated change in pursuit of specific actionable outcomes. These outcomes are linked to personal or professional success. Coaching is forward moving and future focused.

Therapy, on the other hand, deals with healing pain, dysfunction and conflict either as an individual or as part of a relationship between two or more people. Resolving difficulties arising from the past that hamper someone’s emotional functioning in the present, improving overall psychological functioning, and dealing with present life and work circumstances in more emotionally healthy ways define traditional therapy.

Coaching does not focus on healing past emotional wounds that may hinder future success. While feelings and emotions may be a natural outcome of coaching, the primary focus is on creating actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in one's work or personal life. The emphasis in a coaching relationship is on action, accountability and follows through.

How long does a coach work with individual or team?

The length of a coaching partnership varies depending on the individuals or team’s needs and preferences. For certain types of focused coaching, 3 to 6 months of coaching may work. For other types of coaching, people may find it beneficial to work with a coach for a longer period. Factors that may impact the length of time include: the types of goals, the ways individuals or teams like to work, the frequency of coaching meetings, and financial resources available to support coaching.

Finally, there is no doubt that coaching can move you forward in service of your personal and professional goals. The key to your success is getting clear about what you want to accomplish, do your homework and choose the coach that’s right for you!

Author's Bio: 

With a mission to IGNITE passion, purpose and profits in the workplace, Talent Builders, Inc., is a leading provider of people development products and programs. We work with clients to create solutions that increase sales, develop leaders, improve customer satisfaction, engage employees, and increase retention.

Talent Builders CEO and Chief Talent Officer Barbara Giamanco capped a corporate sales career at Microsoft, where she led and trained sales teams and coached executives, before establishing Talent Builders, Inc. in 2002. Since establishing Talent Builders, Barb has worked with organizations to build high performing executive teams, develop leadership bench strength, improve communication, increase sales, hire the right people the first time, decrease turnover and improve employee retention. She is also the co-founder of the Women’s Mentor Network. For more information call 404-459-4030 or visit: www.talentbuildersinc.com