How to Select a Quality Coach to Start 2021 With Power

Vasco Patrício
7 min readDec 29, 2020

The New Year is always a time of the year when countless clients seek coaches (personal, executive or other) to help them achieve their dreams, usually in the form of New Year’s Resolutions.

Although there are countless advantages to having a coach (including accountability, diagnosing blind spots, challenging your ways of thinking and others), not all coaches are the same! It’s important that, before you make any decision, you vet prospect coaches according to a set of guidelines.

1. Focus on Results

There are many different coaches with different sets of credentials. Some certified (by different institutions), some not, with different years of experience and specializations.

So, at the end of the day, your goal should be just one: to uncover whether this coach can generate results for you or not. It’s that simple.

Regardless of the years of experience and certification, coach performance varies greatly. And that performance varies even more if the coach’s experience in generating results is not for your exact purpose (for example, a career coach for senior executives working with a startup founder).

You should have to key questions that are the keys to the kingdom:

  • Can this person generate results?
  • Can this person generate results for my specific purpose?

Honestly, nothing else matters.

2. Do a Reference Check

As a good segue to the last point, the best way to know whether a coach will generate results for you is to know what results they have generated for others in the past. Regardless of credentials, experience, or others, a good coach will have quality testimonials, and a bad one won’t. It’s that simple.

Your coach should have a list of client testimonials. Their name should not be hidden, nor should their photo, and they should be easily identifiable. Furthermore, even if they are not contactable, they should at least be authentic.

Let’s say you have two different coaches:

  • One has 5 testimonials. No photo on any of them. Some of them don’t even have names. “Senior Executive at Apple”;
  • The other has 5 testimonials as well. But all of them have a name and photo — possibly are even on LinkedIn as recommendations — and you know they are authentic people;

Which coach should you choose? Exactly.

Another tip that comes from the interviewing world, and is an excellent one, is to not settle for the references the coach will suggest. If they have a list of testimonials, pick the person you want to talk with yourself. The coach will likely suggest the client that sheds the best light on them. The experienced client will ask to speak with someone else.

And obviously, if the coach says the person is mysteriously not available, or not willing to give a reference, seriously consider walking away. Just like in a job candidate’s CV, a coach should never place a reference there that they’re not willing to have contacted. Because, otherwise, why is it there in the first place?

3. Ask for a Trial Session

Even if you check for references and results, at the end of the day, there’s no better way to know whether a coach can deliver results or not than actually having a session with them.

For example, I’m an executive coach, and I’ve worked with over 50 senior leaders. But their problems are so specific, so unique, so context-based, that, when I meet an executive, I have no idea whether I can help them or not. The only way to know is to jump on a session and check for fit.

In the coaching and consulting world, there’s the concept of a “Strategy Session”. In short, the coach or consultant will spend an hour with you doing a diagnostic of your needs, but won’t deliver value. Their goal is to simply get to know everything about you, use it against you in terms of driving your desire up, and getting you to buy on the spot. Hey, I’ve done it. I recommend it in my persuasion courses as a sales weapon. And for coaches with enough abundance, it’s excellent. But for the client? Not so good.

So, if you can find a coach that will deliver results in that hour, instead of just spiking up your desire and persuading you to buy first, in my opinion that is a much better predictor of your results.

4. Check for Insights

Considering you’re on a session with a coach that will provide value to you in that hour instead of just trying to sell (and that’s a big “if”), your goal should be insights.

What I mean by this is the following: your coach is not going to do your work for you. They’re not going to spoon-feed you instructions to your goals (nor should they), but they should not only be a reactive resource as well, with accountability or state management.

A true coach will help clarify and discover what you didn’t know about yourself. They dig deep inside you, and they pull out pearls of knowledge you didn’t even realize.

So, with any prospective coach, your number one goal should be insights. Or, in short, “Can this person actually understand me better than I understand myself, and dig out something that I didn’t know before?”.

That’s the best vetting technique for any coach, in my opinion. You’re testing whether this person can really understand you, your goals, and generate actionable information for you. All else pales in comparison.

5. Beware of (Most) One-Dimensional Coaches

Although this may seem aggressive, I particularly dislike the concept of “Accountability Coaches”. These are (ostensible) coaches that charge a fee simply to hold you accountable. That’s it.

Any quality coach must be armed with a comprehensive set of instruments that help you in multiple dimensions. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Challenging your way of thinking and presenting alternatives;
  • Assessing your core strengths and goals and helping you move towards them;
  • Helping measure progress and accountability;
  • Helping reframe problems and discharge emotions to clear the path for you to move forwards;
  • Push you past what you think are your “acceptable goals”;

In many cases, the value of the coaching comes from the synergy between these elements. Just presenting alternatives is somewhat useful. Just keeping you accountable is as well. And so on. But having someone do all of the above? That’s when true change occurs.

This doesn’t mean that all “one-dimensional coaches” are bad. For example, there may be a coach that does seem to present only one service on the surface, but actually has complementary skill sets and strategies. So, when I mean “one-dimensional”, it’s not in terms of how the coach brands themselves, but in terms of the actual results you will obtain.

If you encounter a coach that only provides a one-dimensional service, please beware.

6. Ask for a “Goodbye Plan”

Many coaches base their revenue model on the client being dependent. To me (apologies for the aggressive language), that seems disgusting. The ideal goal of the coach is for them to not be needed anymore.

Coaching that is based on the client depending on the coach works a lot like certain pharmaceutical products. The goal is not to “cure” the person, but to keep them “somewhat healthy”, so that they keep depending on you.

Any quality coach accepts, from the get-go, that this relationship may have an expiration date — usually, when you achieve your goals, and they will happily design a “Goodbye plan” so that you can continue the work on your own.

These coaches accept that, if the relationship is to continue, then it will be a new program, with new goals. Every quality coach knows that they have to bring it in every program, every session, and fully expects the client to walk away if they don’t deliver.

Beware of coaches that are not prepared to let you go on your own afterwards — this means their priority is not your evolution, but keeping you paying.

Summary: Do Your Diligence

Any technique presented here is useful in its own right, but it’s the combination of these that will truly validate whether you find a quality coach or not.

You will have a tendency to think “Oh, these are good steps”, but then skip them. Please don’t. I’m a big fan of Atul Gawande’s “The Checklist Manifesto” book, where he presents different profiles of people. Whether in interviewing, doing due diligence on a company, or any other purpose, there are some key types:

  • The “Art Critic”, that takes one look at the person (at the coach, in this case), and immediately decides whether it’s for them or not;
  • The “Prosecutor”, that will interrogate and try to “break” the coach until they get the information they want;
  • And the “Airline Pilot”, that runs through a checklist, objectively and without emotion. This is what you should aim for. Does the coach have references? Check. Is their service more than one-dimensional? Check. Do they seem to have generated results for people with challenges similar to mine? Check. Did they generate actionable insights on a call? Check;

This short checklist won’t stop you from making a bad decision. But it will make it much harder.

And out of curiosity, you may be thinking why would a coach deliver so much information that is, in a way, “against” coaches. Well, it’s because this generates quality clients. As a coach myself, I would much rather have a client that went through the checklist and knows this is exactly what they want, than somebody that buys on impulse and then asks for their money back and wastes time for both.

Start your 2021 with excellence — and make the effort to choose an excellent coach to do that.



Vasco Patrício

Executive performance coach. Mostly work with senior, C-Level executives. Specialized in Alternative Investment Fund Managers (HF, PE, VC).