06/01/2011 11:16 am ET | Updated Aug 01, 2011

5 Tips for Hiring a Coach

Done well, coaching can provide performance breakthroughs in any endeavor and open up a world of possibility for those engaged with the right coach. Done poorly, it's advice given by someone who thinks they 'know better' than you; a concept that makes professional coaches heave a collective sigh of disgust.

1. The first step in hiring a coach is to consider if you are up to something big enough to even need a coach. If you're just feeling a little 'stuck,' you might only need to learn a new skill or take a class. Coaching is an expensive proposition, not just financially, but in time spent. Before you consider using a coach, ask yourself: 'Am I committed to something so big that I need a coach in order to accomplish it?' If the answer is 'yes', both you and the coach have the best chance of developing a successful relationship. A good coach is not taking all clients on. They're looking for a chance to make a difference, not just charge a fee.

2. A second consideration when hiring a coach is: Are they a 'fit'? Ask for a no-charge consultation by phone or in person to interview them and find out about their process. You don't want a 'paid friend', you want someone who will be able to tell you the truth, be direct and honest, but not be condescending, either. You're looking for the right mix between listening and feedback. The right 'fit' is someone who'll meet you where you're at and be a 'stand' for you moving to your next level, whatever that is.

3. Coaches don't need to be experts in your field of endeavor, but they do need to be in theirs. In other words, if you run a chair factory they don't need to know about vinyl coverings or the gauge of aluminum tubing. But if you're engaging them to provide leadership skills and to help develop management best practices, they should have a clear record of accomplishment in other comparable companies or industries. Results count.

4. Good coaches judge their success by your success. The spotlight belongs to you and a sign of a good coach is one who stands beside or behind you when you're winning. If they're providing you with the answers, they're not allowing you to have your own realizations and personal growth. An 'ah hah' moment is way better than a 'unh hunh'. A coach leads you to the decision you know is right; they don't make the decision for you.

5. Coaches are exemplary in their own lives. You never want to be in a 'do as I say, not as I do' relationship with a coach. They should be on time for appointments, honor their commitments and keep their word. They should carry themselves appropriately and dress professionally. It should be clear that they are organized and clear in their approach and coaching model. Good coaches are usually active in their communities, and you can see a pattern in their lives of wanting the best for others. Like a great chef, they should share their 'recipes' for success with others, and you should know that they are also committed to a lifetime of growth and development of their own.

In general, the field of coaching, as I say in my own material, aims to create possibility and then support you in living into that possibility. You can develop your 'probable' future by continuing what you've been doing already. You can create a 'possible' future if you read a new book or take a course, ask for help or hire a new employee. But if you're looking to create your biggest possible future, hiring the right coach is a crucial investment.

I'd love to hear your experience with coaches, good or bad, or continue the discussion of 'why hire a coach,' and I invite your comments and feedback below.

This is a follow up to last week's piece, "5 Signs They're Probably Not a Coach," and I'm grateful for all the comments here and in the coaching forums on LinkedIn. Coaching is an expanding, self-regulated industry and I hope to be of some support to those who are considering this very useful investment in their lives or businesses.