Understanding professional coaching

Businesses and individuals can enhance their performance through coaching services, and finding the right coach can improve efficiency and profit


Bill Pullen is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Master Certified Coach and President of BPA Coaching and Consulting. As an Executive Coach and organisational development consultant, he has provided coaching and leadership development services to both public- and private-sector organisations. His work focuses on developing current and emerging leaders, building leadership capacity within organisations, and aligning leader behaviour with organisational strategy and mission needs. Here, he answers some frequently asked questions about the coaching process.

How do I find a professional coach?
The ICF hosts the Coach Referral Service (CRS), a free, searchable directory of ICF Credential holders. Clients can use CRS to identify coaches well suited to their needs and situation. You can access CRS via ICF’s website.

How should I go about selecting a coach?
The ICF recommends that you interview three coaches before you decide on one. In addition to asking for at least two references each, the ICF recommends asking the following questions:
– What is your coaching experience?
– What is your coach-specific training?
– What is your coaching specialty or areas in which you most often work?
– What types of businesses do you work with most often? At what levels?
– What is your coaching philosophy?
– What types of assessments are you certified to deliver?
– What are some of your coaching success stories?
– Are you an ICF Member? Do you hold an ICF credential?

Less tangibly, you should also use the interview process to assess the ‘fit’ between you and the prospective coach. Chemistry and rapport between coach and client are important for the trust building required in the coaching relationship. Discuss your goals and desired outcomes for the relationship, and ask the coach what he or she will expect of you during the process.

What sets coaches with ICF credentials apart from their peers?
Coaches who hold an ICF credential have met stringent requirements for education and experience, and have demonstrated a strong commitment to ethical behaviour, ongoing professional development and excellence in coaching.

What can I expect from the initial coaching session with ICF?
Once a client and I have agreed to work together, I have them complete a personality assessment prior to our first meeting; this allows me to enter the first session with a better understanding of the client. It is also common for clients to complete a questionnaire prior to the first session. This helps start their process of self-reflection, and it provides the coach with additional information.

At our first session, we lay the foundation for our relationship going forward. We discuss what the client feels she needs from me as her coach, as well as what I need from her as my client. We spend time discussing the client’s organisational context and the opportunities and challenges she faces, and we begin to set goals for the
coaching interaction.

What kinds of topics are explored in coaching conversations?
We cover a wide range of topics in the coaching interaction. These include interpersonal relationships and emotional intelligence; managing conflict; building and leading successful teams; strategic thinking; executive presence; career planning; dealing with problem employees; and increasing influence.

How is coaching tailored to meet the needs of the individual or organisation?
Just as each individual is different, so is each organisation. When I start with a client I spend a lot of time talking about their goals for the coaching as well as the goals the organisation hopes to achieve though the coaching. Once I understand the needs and goals of the individual and the organisation, we can work together to design a coaching approach that meets these objectives.

What are some benefits to the client of the coaching process?
Two of the chief benefits reported by clients are increased self-esteem and self-confidence. (In the 2009 ICF Global Coaching Client Study, 80 percent of coaching clients reported improved self-confidence.) Clients have also reported improvements in interpersonal relationships (73 percent), team effectiveness (51 percent), communication skills (72 percent) and business management (61 percent).

What kind of return on investment can my organisation and I expect from coaching?
Virtually all coaching clients report satisfaction with the experience. 99 percent of coaching clients report being “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with the overall experience, and 96 percent say they would repeat the process. As for return on investment, the vast majority of companies (86 percent) say they at least made back their investment in coaching.

For more information www.coachfederation.org