Nobody needs a coach.

Sure, Michael Phelps and Serena Williams have coaches, but if you only want to tread water or hit a tennis ball around casually, you don't need a coach.

But if you want to love what you do in a performance-based field--which business is, par excellence--a coach becomes increasingly necessary. You're the only person you can't see from another's perspective. A coach does. You can't have more experience than you do. A coach can.

Everyone recognizes the value of coaching where performance matters: sports, playing music, acting, and so on. An actor may have a voice coach, a movement coach, an acting coach, a business coach, and so on. Coaches are standard in these fields, at every level.

Why coaching?

It's not that a person needs a coach. More that reaching a level of success does.

In business, like in other performance-based fields, your performance determines your compensation, rank, and joy in interacting with colleagues. For some reason, many still see coaching in business as a weakness or something to be earned at a higher level.

To their credit, many corporations have coaching programs, but often a perk reserved for high performers, leaving out many with potential to perform well. Mentoring programs help fill the gap, but can't replace experienced, skilled coaches.

If I've noticed one thing in years of coaching, the top performers tend to have the most coaching. It's only anecdotal, but the desire to improve, passion to perform, empathy for coworkers, and humility that motivate hiring a coach correlate well with excelling on the job.

Beyond external results: Joy and freedom that come with mastery

I don't want to harp too much on external results. A coach helps you find and create internal joy and freedom that comes with mastery.

Think of great performers on stage. Beyond delivering results of great music, great acting, and so on, the best love what they do. They show freedom, joy, genuineness, authenticity, and more that come with mastery. Very difficult to achieve without a voice with more experience and an external perspective.

Say your issue is confrontation and resolving conflict. Do you want to just be able to tolerate it? Do you want to be able to handle it effectively?

Or do you want to master it, so you enjoy and look forward to handling this necessary part of human interactions, so people thank you for it and higher-ups want you solving such problems at a higher level and want to promote you?

A coach can make the difference between mere performance and internal joy, what recharges you, and what results in you feeling great when you go home at night.

You've decided you want a coach. How can you tell quality and fit?

Many certifications exist. You want to know a potential coach came from a reputable school or program, or passed certain criteria of a reputable service, but in performance-based fields, certifications only mean so much.

It's like a casting director knowing an actor went to a great school. It means something, but you want to know if he or she can play this part. Can he or she work with this cast.

You want to know more than if the coach is good in general. Is the coach good with you, on your challenges, and your goals.

Actors, musicians, athletes, and so on all try out for their roles--not just to tell if they're skilled, but to see if they match the role, the personalities of the rest of the cast, group, or team, and so on.

I suggest that your coach should try out for you. Over years of coaching, I've concluded that any coach confident in his or her ability to lead you to greatness, success, or whatever your goals should offer

  1. A free first session
  2. A money-back guarantee
  3. A clear, obvious public presence that their in-person character matches

A free first session

Coaches enjoy working in a low-capital field. Some may have paid a lot for their education. Some may spend a lot on marketing, ghost writers, publicists, and so on.

But most of those costs are optional and we certainly don't have to build factories, file patents, or hire big teams.

Would you hire a lawyer or architect without a first session?

From a coach's perspective, our time is valuable. So is yours, and it doesn't help anyone for a coach and client who don't match, no matter how great each is with others, to work together. If you respond to someone who cracks the whip with you, a gentle, soft-spoken coach may never help (and vice versa), even if he or she is the best in the world.

A free first session helps you find out if you match. Use those first sessions. Find a coach who is right for you. Don't take for granted that a coach being helpful for others or writing a bestselling book or appearing on Oprah means that he or she will be right for you.

A money-back guarantee

Some coaches bristle at the thought of risking working with a client for months and having to return their payment: "I put out my time, that's what I charge for. That's my inventory. I can't get it back."

Well, you put out your time too.

The more confident a coach, the more confident he or she will be in guaranteeing his or her work. A guarantee also motivates us to choose clients we can help.

My mentor, #1 leadership coach, author, and all-around guru, Marshall Goldsmith, is clear: he only gets paid if his client improves. If he can offer it, you can expect your coach to.

As a client, you should also take responsibility to contribute your share of the effort. If you don't get the results you wanted but you didn't put in the effort you said you would, you probably shouldn't use the guarantee, but that doesn't mean the coach shouldn't offer it.

You should also expect a potential coach to scrutinize you and ask you challenging questions in the first free session.

A clear, obvious public presence

You should know a coach before you contact him or her. Is he or she friendly? Confident? Skilled? Eloquent? Supportive?

Each client has unique needs. You should be able to tell if a coach meets yours. There are many ways a coach can share his or her bedside manner:

  • A web page
  • Books
  • Videos
  • Testimonials
  • A blog
  • Magazine or journal articles

and so on.

The public presence shouldn't replace that free first hour, but should make that hour productive and focused on your needs and the quality of the match.

Good luck, star performer!

Reading this far means you care about your performance, your passion for your work, and your enjoyment, freedom, genuineness, and authenticity in it.

Are these three criteria everything you need to tell if a coach will match you? Not usually. You have to prepare for that first free session--to know your needs, to allow yourself to be vulnerable, and so on. Approaching passively will help no one.

Prepare and search actively.

Good luck finding your coach and accelerating your results!