Using a coach and/or mentor for business success

Many in business today are looking to improve their skills, grow both personally and professionally and achieve peak performance in their careers.

Although there are several ways to reach these goals -- formal education, workshops, on-the-job experience, training programs, role-playing, or practice and repetition -- there is no substitute for one-on-one interaction with an expert.

Choosing to work with a respected mentor or a coaching professional will help you reach your personal and professional goals more efficiently and effectively, increasing your effectiveness both on the job and as an individual.

How can you benefit from a mentor?

A mentor often works within your field (though perhaps not at your same company) and has years of experience from which to draw. They are someone whose work or accomplishments you admire and would like to model in your own career. The mentor relationship is one that is built on respect and is exclusively focused on your professional development and success. He or she can offer unbiased advice and share wisdom that will allow you to grow and reach your full potential.

Your mentor can also help you to avoid mistakes many young professionals make, steer clear of common pitfalls and serve as an unbiased beacon with your best interest at heart. Additionally, a relationship with a mentor helps you to utilize two of the quickest methods for personal development: modeling and emulation. The success principles that work for one person will usually work for another. Therefore, as you model and emulate the desired behavior(s) of your mentor, you will quickly improve your skill set, expand your professional and business knowledge and jump-start your results.

What can a coach do for you?

A coach, on the other hand, is a professional whose work is focused on helping you manifest your inner self -- your needs, passion and desire to contribute -- to achieve success. The coach's guidance is more personal and specific, often providing constructive support through challenging situations like dealing with employees or handling a merger. The results are often quick and dramatic and considering that most coaching is done primarily on the phone, it's also very time-efficient. Some of the more-common areas for guidance include helping you balance your personal and professional life, clarifying and implementing true values and creating a plan for excelling in the workplace or moving up the corporate hierarchy.

"The decision to work with a coach is intimate, personal and totally confidential," said Anneli Driessen, author of "Ultimate Success: Seven Secrets to Spiritually-Based Leadership."

"It is based upon the integrity of both people involved. If the client is willing to be absolutely open, honest and to offer complete disclosure, the results can be staggering," Driessen said.

Driessen believes coaching is a one-to-one relationship between an individual and a professional coach who can assist you in articulating, prioritizing and achieving your goals.

Coaching can help increase the results the client wants in life, work, spirit and relationships as well as to overcome obstacles, circumstances and resistance. Coaching is not a substitute for therapy, nor is it intended for people in emotional crisis.

Rooted in sports, coaching is, instead, about creating results and reaching peak performance.

Making the best choice

Before seeking out a coach or mentor, it is important to evaluate your goals and objectives. Why would you like to work with a coach or mentor? What results are you looking for? What skills do you want to learn or improve upon? In what areas would you like to see personal development and growth? What is your time frame?

Answering these questions will give you an assessment of not only your own needs but of which professional will be best at helping you address them. Then you will be ready to seek out the most appropriate advisor.

Finding the right fit

To find and approach a mentor, you should first make a list of the successful professionals you know through your business relationships, networking efforts, family, friends and personal encounters. Does anyone stand out? If not, ask colleagues, business associates, family and friends for recommendations.

Once your list is compiled, approach these individuals, let them know why you're contacting them, what you hope to accomplish and what you can offer them. By this I don't mean monetary payment. Your goal should be to do as much for your mentor as he or she can do for you. The relationship should be reciprocal so let them

know you intend to give as much as you receive. In doing so, you'll find that most people will be flattered and happy to help.

Next, review your goals with your mentor and reach an agreement on the parameters of the relationship, specifically the duration, frequency of meetings and areas of focus. Prepare an agenda for each meeting to guide the conversation and identify goals. Finally, be certain to honor all commitments and always ask, "Has anything changed?" at the beginning of each meeting. This will eliminate surprises, allow you to make adjustments and keep you on track. Finally, consider this relationship seriously before pursuing it. Attend to it with as much care as you would your best client.

When seeking out a coach, Driessen warns that anyone can use the title "coach." To guard against fraud, thoroughly research a coach's credentials. Most credible coaches offer complimentary engagement conversations, during which you can get to know one another and better determine whether your working together will generate the desired outcome.

Contact a master certified coach (MCC) who's certified by the International Coach Federation. The ICF offers the MCC designation to assure that officially certified coaches meet or exceed clearly defined standards and competencies. An MCC pledges to operate within the ICF Code of Ethics and Standards of Conduct, can document at least 200 hours of coach-specific training and 20 hours of individual mentoring, supply at least 10 client references, document at least 2,500 coaching client hours and has passed a written and oral exam.

Whether it's personal or career improvements you're looking for, an effective coach or expert mentor could be the key to your continued success and long-term career development. Finding one who will be the best fit for you is a matter of individual preference based on the goals you're looking to achieve. Regardless of which type of advisor you seek out, the potential for long-term growth and improvement can be the key to success and happiness in all aspects of your life.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.