Everyone seems to have a coach these days, no matter the level of accomplishment. Even the greatest of the greats have one. Just look at Tiger Woods, who, despite his record-breaking number of championships, still considers swing coach Hank Haney a crucial element of his game. Luciano Pavarotti entrusts his voice to the discerning ear of opera coach Joan Dornemann every time he performs at the Met. Even heavy metal rock band Metallica sought out performance enhancement coach Phil Towle when its last couple of albums failed to impress even its biggest fans. The point is: No matter how good you are at what you do, you can always get better. So whether your practice has gone big-time or you’re just starting to work your way up the ladder, read on.

What’s a coach?
The coaching industry has expanded globally. The International Coaching Federation – the largest global, nonprofit, professional association of personal and business coaches – has nearly 10,000 members in 70 different countries. With a universally accepted accreditation process and a code of professional standards, ICF attempts to uphold the integrity of the coaching profession – a profession that works with other business people to help them realize their goals and improve both personally and professionally. In essence, a coach can help you recognize untapped potential and opportunities and provide guidance and support as you realize those opportunities.

Who needs a coach?
Coaches can be an essential part of any advisor’s practice – industry newbies and seasoned veterans alike. Susan Battley, Psy.D., Ph.D., chief executive and leadership psychologist of Stony Brook, N.Y.-based Battley Performance Consulting, agrees. A coach, she says, can help newcomers “identify a clear career strategy, create a project or business action plan, and monitor progress against the plan.”

But Battley says one of the great advantages to having a coach is that a coach can conduct a comprehensive individual behavioral assessment. This identifies how a person thinks, communicates and works. The results, Battley says, “can be profitable in determining how to optimize key relationships with business partners, colleagues and clients.”

There are endless advantages for industry newcomers who have a coach. But what about the guys who have been around for years and think they have seen it all? Believe it or not, even the most seasoned veterans can benefit from a coach’s help. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding a new, fresh approach to business; other times, it could be about breaking old bad habits. Look at Dick Vermeil. As head coach of the St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, even he used a coach – the same Phil Towle Metallica used. He swears Towle helped him re-hone his leadership skills and deal with his own personal hang-ups. For these reasons and more, he considers Towle a vital part of his staff. This, Vermeil says, is why Towle wears a Super Bowl ring.

Chances are you won’t be giving your coach a Super Bowl ring, but you might just find that given the chance, you would.

J. David Lewis is one industry veteran who uses a coach, and if he had the chance to give her a Super Bowl ring, he would. Fourteen years after starting his company, Resource Advisory Services in Knoxville, Tenn., Lewis found himself frustrated with the way he and his three-person staff worked together. At the time, he described his staff as a team but realized they were anything but. It was that realization that led Lewis to find a coach – a psychologist, in fact. His coach helped him realize he had not clearly communicated his mission and vision to his staff, nor had they communicated theirs. Everything was out of whack. The goals and visions of the individual team members weren’t consistent with his.

“As a result,” Lewis says, “we were all working in different directions.” Lewis countered this problem by creating a solid mission for his business and drew up management documents to serve as a guide. The results of his work were surprising, yet much needed. His staff didn’t share his vision and realized it wouldn’t work out. All three left voluntarily and he has since formed a new team, one that is in sync with the company’s overall vision and personifies the word team.

Industry insider or outsider?
Vermeil chose to work with a coach who had a background in psychotherapy – rather than sports – and it seemed to work for him. The same goes for Lewis, who chose to work with a psychologist rather than a financial advisor. This raises a valid question: Should a coach be an industry insider or an outsider? The debate behind this question goes on and on. But one thing is for sure: Each has its benefits.

When Jim Tyrpak, secretary of the Society of Financial Service Professionals, was looking for a coach, he wanted someone who would help him improve not only his business but his overall life.

“One of the reasons that I was looking for a coach was to increase my confidence and results in all the aspects of my life,” Tyrpak says, adding that a coach had less to do with “achieving high levels of production” and more to do with attaining “a sense of life direction and a sense of overall fulfillment.”

Tyrpak, president of Desmon, Kohnstamm and Tyrpak, a wealth preservation and business continuity firm in Buffalo, N.Y., brings up an important lesson. There is so much more to having a coach than simply improving one’s business. It is about a holistic improvement in some or all aspects of one’s life. This is why he chose to work with a coach from outside the financial industry.

“If part of your goal for hiring a coach is total self-improvement, not just business improvement,” Tyrpak says, “then an outsider can often provide a broader perspective on areas to be improved.”

Jason Papier prefers to use a coach from outside the industry, too. As managing partner at PWJohnson Wealth Management, a wealth and financial planning firm in Sunnyvale, Calif., Papier thinks it’s important to learn from people in other industries who are more knowledgeable in certain subjects than he is. By working with coaches from outside the industry, Papier says he gets “fantastic insights” into areas such as marketing, HR and organizational modeling. He credits this approach as the reason his business functions at a much higher level than his peers’ businesses.

What is Battley’s answer to the question of whether a coach should be an industry insider or outsider? “It depends on your coaching goals,” she says. On the side of using an industry insider, Battley argues that, often, the best coach to help you achieve your goals when it comes to managing, negotiating and sales is someone with complementary expertise. But she cautions two things. First, don’t assume a successful advisor equates to a good coach. There are different skills required for each. Second, when choosing a coach inside the financial services industry, choose someone with an open mind.

“An insider coach who closely mirrors your own background may also share your same attitudes and biases,” Battley says. Someone outside the industry is less likely to create these blind spots, as she calls them.

On the side of the industry outsider, remember to be practical when choosing a coach. Battley says it is crucial for the coach to understand the financial services industry and how success can be achieved.

“He or she should be familiar with trends, norms and key drivers in your field or be able to acquire a working knowledge of these quickly,” she says.

How do you pick a coach?
Before delving into the quest to find the perfect coach, make sure this is something you really want to do. Battley urges you to think about why you want a coach and whether you are ready for such a commitment. (See sidebar, page 52.) You must have clear and compelling goals, she says. You must be motivated to change and open to constructive criticism and feedback.

“If you think you’re already perfect, or if you’re very set in your ways, coaching is probably not for you,” Battley says.

Papier suggests searching for a coach the same way you approach hiring a new employee. He urges you to consider the coach’s credentials, how much experience he has, what results he has produced with other clients and whether or not he has good referrals.

As far as drawing up an official contract between the two of you, Papier thinks it is vital. “You are entering a relationship that is much the same as the relationship your own clients are entering into with you. It’s collaborative; it requires full disclosure and quite a bit of trust.”

In order to gain the most from the relationship, he says, “there should be an agreement protecting this trust and outlining the requirements of each party.” In the end, choosing a coach should come down to experience and, simply, whether you can work well together. Papier sums it up well.

“I tell prospects … there are many good planners available. It is important that they find someone they are comfortable with, they feel a good rapport with and who communicates in a manner that is effective for them. We only act on items if we are comfortable that it is a good decision. The greatest advice is no good if it goes unheeded. Working with a coach is the same. A planner should only work with a person they feel comfortable with – someone they feel they can trust. Otherwise, they won’t have a productive relationship regardless of how good the coach is.”