It’s a question I get all the time:
“Should I work with a coach?”
And every time, I give the same answer:
Coaching has become a trendy industry. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a podcast run by a self-proclaimed “life coach” promising to change your life. Many of these people, unfortunately, “found” their way into coaching because they couldn’t change their own lives for the better—let alone yours.
There are of course many excellent coaches who bring a ton of value to their clients, such as Marshall Goldsmith who is an executive coach to some of our greatest leaders in business. For every top coach, however, there are many hacks who become coaches as a second-chance career.
I wouldn’t let most of those people coach my cat, let alone me or anyone else I care about. What makes a top coach much different is, well, they don’t think of themselves as a coach.
Basketball or life coach?
Honestly, my stomach churns when I hear the term, “coach,” let alone, “life coach,” and for myself and my team, we use the term, “Advisor.”
When you hear “coach,” the first thing that springs to mind is athletics. It’s all good if you like to use that term, but If you want a coach who can actually improve your life, you need to rid yourself of the association.
An NBA player needs a shot coach, a trainer, an assistant coach, a head coach, and sometimes even more specific coaches. This is because an athlete has one specific activity that they must be in ideal condition for, and they need specialists to optimize every part of their game.
Real life doesn’t work that way. Top performers, and especially leaders, don’t need to hone one skill, or be fully prepped to play one game. The are utility players who must bring excellence to every facet of their game. Constantly growing, taking on new challenges, finding themselves in new positions, their game is constantly changing, and they need an advisor who helps them win regardless of what game they play on what particular day.
Among other things, that person must be able to give them guidance on:
Setting Clear Goals: How do you get absolutely clear on what matters? How do you set your goals so that you can work towards a grand vision while driving action today?
Navigating Complexity: How do you navigate those incredibly difficult situations and decisions that most people will say, “yeah, that’s rough.” A situation is never rough to a top advisor, they’ve always seen “worse,” and always help you find a way.
Focus and Productivity: How do you get done what truly matters? How do you get away from useless distractions and condition your mind to focus on things that drive enormous value?
Development: How do you develop the skills you need to win? How do you get the most out of role models, mentors, and your network? A top coach won’t “tell you” what books to read or how to develop, but rapidly “install” the knowledge you need.
If your “coach” or “advisor” or whatever they call themselves isn’t at least excellent at all that, then save yourself the time and money, and call up your Mom instead…
How To Pick The Right Coach For You
Something that’s often overlooked in this discussion of coaching is the question of fit. If you’re a top executive looking for a top coach then someone like Marshall Goldsmith might be right for you. But if you’re a top 50 ranked golfer looking to get to number one, well, you likely want to go with someone who actually knows the game.
When deciding which coach to work with, you need to know that they fit your needs, and you need to verify their credibility.
You can do this by asking these 3 questions:
1. What are my specific goals?
Do you even have any? A lot of people are embarrassed to say this, but it’s totally normal to feel ambitious and aspirational, without having a strong sense of direction.
Personally, having spent 10 years answering the question “What Do I Want?” this is a topic that I can easily navigate, but nearly every coach I’ve ever met will be useless to you if you can’t go to them with a specific goal that they can help you achieve.
Ask yourself if this coach has the expertise and experience that you specifically need before wasting too much time with them.
2. Am I ready for this commitment?
How do I say this? Um, when you watch a professional athlete being coached, does it always look fun, or does it sometimes look like hell?
By definition you work with a coach because you want to stretch and grow, and, hopefully achieve a goal that in the past was way out of reach for you. That’s not always fun.
I remember a particular muay thai coach I had back in the day. I would curse that fucking guy’s name every time we trained, but nobody got me more fight ready than him.
If you’re not ready for that kind of commitment, or if you’re not at a place where you’re comfortable having someone so deeply involved in your life, don’t work with anyone. You won’t get anything out of it.
3. Have they helped people like me before?
Any coach with a real success record will have client stories to share with you. The key here is not to get excited by big names. Again, I’ve met people who claim to have “coached” some serious high profile people, but I wouldn’t let them coach my friend’s dog in a competition.
Get beyond the testimonials and the stories and ask if they’re comfortable connecting you with one of their clients who was in a similar place to you when they started.
The proof is in the pudding, as they say. And here you’re not just figuring out if the coach is right for you, but whether you are right for the coach.
Keep Looking for The Right Coach
As those of you who read my work know, I never left Wall Street with the intention to be an advisor. I left to write the one book that I wish someone had handed me when I was stuck in my own career, and advising others naturally came out of it.
Back when I was lost, and struggling, and had no clue how to go from Goldman Sachs to creating the life I truly wanted, I would have given anything to have had someone to help guide me through.
But I never found them. The world is full of so-called coaches, but when you’re already playing a top game and you want to take it to another level, you can hardly work with someone who has never even played a serious game.
This is why I don’t call what I do coaching. I offer an advisory service, where I dig into the fundamentals of success and getting what you want in life.
If you’re serious about winning, and you’re looking to do everything you can, you want an advisor on your team, and I suggest you keep looking for the person who is right for you.