Wow, this coaching thing has taken on a life of its own. If you recall from the last issue, I'm intrigued by the potential impact coaches can provide to help us in our businesses and personal lives. I made a request through a news service to which I subscribe for experts to send me the answers to these three questions:

  1. Why should you hire a coach?
  2. How can you tell the difference between an effective coach and one that won't work for you?
  3. What questions should you ask a coach before you hire him or her?

Here are two answers that really caught my attention. One was from Lisa Johnson, owner of Brookline, MA-based Studio Elle Pilates (www.studioelle.com). She wrote touting her coach. How's that for enthusiasm?

“I hired a business coach in March of 2006 and my business just soared,” Johnson wrote.

Johnson says she hired her coach because:

  1. She keeps me focused.
  2. She's always on my side.
  3. She knows that I need to work toward balance, not just work harder.
  4. She lets me vent about stuff in my business that I can't vent to anyone else.
  5. She gets what it's like to own a business; she has one too.
  6. She is excellent at vetting new ideas.
  7. She has remarkable experience with personnel issues.

How can you tell the difference between an effective coach and one that won't work for you?

“Watch your bottom line. If your numbers are going up with their input, it's a good sign; but also watch your personal life too,” Johnson wrote. “Are you reaching some goals you've always wanted?”

Then, I noticed one reply that was brutally candid and brief (a blessing to journalists). It came from Alan Weiss, Ph.D., at www.summitconsulting.com. Confession: I “know” this coach because I've read a few of his books.

Weiss answered the questions this way:

  1. Hire a coach if you have specific developmental needs that don't lend themselves to group learning, e.g., speaking style, interpersonal problems, preparation for the next promotion, etc.

  2. Ignore the supposed “credentials.” The coaching certifications and “universities” are mostly bogus, set up by people who can't, themselves, coach, so they wind up teaching it. There are no universally accepted criteria or certifications for coaching. You mostly need: experience with people and positions such as yours; chemistry (do you trust them to tell the truth?); ready access; tailored approach, no “regimen” they put you through.

  3. Ask for three clear references at your level and call all three. Ask what intellectual property they've contributed to the profession. Ask what they've published. Ask about their overall educational background. Many coaches don't even have a college degree, including one who famously shows up on Oprah frequently. Avoid them at all costs.

I rather enjoyed Weiss's no-nonsense approach, and it's one I would both recommend and adhere to if I ever hire a coach.

My own view on the three questions?

Do you need a coach? In a sense, everyone needs a coach, though we might use different terms such as mentor, friend, rabbi, etc. You just need objective advice. No one I've ever met is that competent or that brilliant that they don't need counsel.

On the issue of a coach's effectiveness, nothing is better than a test period, and as many of the responses indicated, this is where a gut feeling might matter. But be wary of getting too comfortable. You're not looking for a friend. You're looking for someone who will be dispassionately critical.

Potential questions to ask a coach? I like Weiss's suggestion requesting referrals, calling them and asking point blank what is the tangible benefit they received.

I confess that I can only think of two coaches in the HVACR industry. One is Adams Hudson (www.hudsonink.com), whom I've mentioned in my previous columns. There is also Frank Hurtte at www.riverheightsconsulting.com, a new contributor to this magazine, who has spent more than 28 years in the distribution business. (Disclosure: He's a buddy of mine.) If you want a coach who is intimately familiar with the HVACR industry, Adams and Frank should make a good starting point.

From the nearly 50 responses, I separated out nine that offered solid advice. If you would like to read the responses, send me an e-mail at tsperic@penton.com.