Yesterday, I was enjoying a wonderful “wrap-up” phone call with a client of mine who recently landed a CEO job here in the area.  This individual had some very flattering things to say about my firm’s support of his job search process and the breakthroughs he was able to achieve along the way, which is always nice to hear.  It was near the end of the conversation, however, that he made the statement that I found most interesting.  Essentially, his comment was “My only regret, Matt, is that you didn’t kick my butt even harder along the way and force me to do the things I needed to be doing!”

This observation got me thinking, and after mulling the topic over all day, I thought it might be helpful if I were to share a couple of ideas about how people can optimize their success working with any type of “coach” in a professional capacity — be it a career coach, life coach, executive coach, or professional adviser of any similar variety.

For starters, it’s important to realize that good coaches are able to wear a TON of different hats in terms of how they approach the relationship with a client and the type of assistance they’re able to provide.  Depending on the situation, they can function as your own personal cheerleader.  Or mentor.  Or taskmaster.  Or thought partner.  Or confidant.  Or campaign strategist.  Or sounding board.  Or copy editor.  Or devil’s advocate. Or  conscience.  Or even possibly your priest, as one of my clients once characterized our relationship!  (let me assure you, though, that this last designation is one that I don’t feel even remotely qualified to fulfill…)

So whether you’re seeking out a great new coach to work with, or simply looking to maximize the productivity level with your current adviser, the key is to THINK REALLY HARD UP FRONT about the ideal role or roles (pick from the above menu or create your own!) that you need a coach to play in working with you.  You’ll find that some coaches are deep specialists in one particular area, while others have a more generalized bag of tricks and can truly “meet you where you’re at” no matter what role you need them to play.  And while most good coaches will ask lots of clarifying questions up front, or can instinctively figure out how best to work with you, it never hurts for you to initiate some dialogue around this issue right from the outset — informing the coach about your specific needs and guiding them on how to work with you most effectively, based on the lifetime of knowledge, insight, and awareness you’ve amassed about yourself.

The above element, in my opinion, is the single most important factor in ensuring a great “match” with a prospective coach.  Here are a few other suggestions that come to mind, however, that might help you prosper even more from the coach/coachee relationship:

1. Prior to each coaching session, e-mail the coach your desired agenda; it’s very important to arrive at each meeting with a clear focus and some specific outcomes to achieve, so that the coach can prepare some thoughts/resources in advance and make sure the time is invested as wisely as possible.  And if you’re not sure what the agenda should be, that’s a perfectly valid question to ask your coach for help with, too!

2.  Take detailed notes or consider tape-recording the session; if you’ve got the right coach, they’re going to be rattling off a lot of great advice for you to follow in a fairly short period of time, so don’t rely on your memory alone to sponge it all up!  Coaches will take it as a sign of respect, and commitment, if you routinely write down some of the advice they provide or you bring a recording device to each session (they’re getting smaller and less expensive every day) so that you can replay the session, later, in the comfort of your own home.

3.  Reschedule a session if you’re not prepared; rather than waste everybody’s time, most coaches will appreciate it (and won’t penalize you) if you inform them when you’re not feeling prepared for a particular session and would prefer to push it back to a later date.  As long as this doesn’t become a chronic habit, or reveal a deep-seated motivational issue that needs to be addressed, rescheduling the occasional meeting will be the best move for all concerned.

4.  Do your part and don’t expect miracles; while coaches should obviously be providing you with sound advice and demonstrable value at every step along the way, don’t forget that they’re merely the coach, not the player, and that the responsibility for implementing the successful game plan (in whatever context applies) ultimately falls in your court.  Phil Jackson, for example, has played an indispensable role in helping the Bulls and Lakers win a combined nine NBA championships in recent years, but don’t forget, he wasn’t the one out there on the court playing defense or scoring the basketball!

5.  Communicate, communicate, communicate; last but certainly not least, it’s imperative that you provide regular feedback (including both positive and negative developments) to your coach as the process unfolds if you want to get the most out of the exchange.  Effective coaches need to hear about your setbacks, as well as your successes, in order to be able to counsel you effectively.  So don’t hold back or be shy about sharing your progress, even if this just means the occasional phone call or e-mail update.  Every top-notch coach I know will always go the extra mile to help those clients who keep them in the loop and demonstrate that they’re taking the process seriously.  They wouldn’t be coaching in the first place, after all, if their #1 driver wasn’t to see people land on their feet — and ultimately reach their goals!

Hopefully this list will prove useful to some of you out there, and if any of the coaches in my network want to chime in with even more suggestions on how their clients can help engineer a terrific outcome, I’d certainly love to share your thoughts!  My apologies, too, to the client I mentioned earlier who felt I went a little too easy on him.  I’ll have to work on my “drill sergeant” persona a little more in the future, since admittedly, it’s not my strong suit…