08/10/2012 08:10 EDT | Updated 10/09/2012 05:12 EDT

What to Look for in a Great Business Coach

What makes a good coach great? I finally know the answer to that question. As a serious cyclist, I have had my share of trainers and coaches over the years. Each time I began to work with a new coach, I had high hopes that this person was The One.

Inevitably, after working together for a period of time, I would find that I wasn't making as much progress as I had hoped. I was always at a stubborn plateau that I couldn't seem to escape from. I would get discouraged and wonder if the program that was designed for me was the right one. I hated always second-guessing my coaches and constantly be re-evaluating my program. I just wanted to feel confident that all of my hard efforts would pay off and I'd achieve the goals I set out for myself.

When I look back at my previous coaches, I realize that I never asked them the right questions. You don't know what you don't know, and that was the situation for me. Coaches have their own approaches and coaching philosophy and your success is dependent on making sure that their approach aligns with your goals. Also, there are temperaments to take into account and personalities. The irony is that I am a coach/advisor to others and yet I couldn't assess my own coaching needs.

Here are some tips for you to think about when considering hiring a coach.

1) Your coach must not only know your business; your coach needs to have walked with you through it.

Unless your coach experiences your culture, your conversations, your decisions and your relationships, she will never really understand what it takes to be successful in your environment. It's all theoretical to the outsider and your coach needs to get inside the organization to really understand it and your reality. Without doing that, your coach can never really be effective for you. I like the philosophy of Canadian Tire Hockey School: A coach has to know and love the game. Coaching somebody in a sport is no different than coaching business. You have to know and love not only what you do as a coach; you have to understand your coachee's world.

2) Your coach should always be connected to you.

Coaching is a shared experience where both the coach and coachee bring themselves to the experience. As Ben-Shahar et al state in their paper, A Shared Space, "The coachee's consciousness and our own are no longer merely personal entities but also a singular dialectic field, within which we construct and deconstruct feelings, beliefs, opinions, and wishes." Coaching is fundamentally about trust. You have to know you can count on your coach to be there for you including times when the metre is off.

Typically, coaches meet with their clients on a set schedule. What happens in between isn't usually part of the contract. Yet, the in-between times are some of the most critical. My experience as an executive coach has taught me that the most important learning takes place in those informal interactions. My coaching client would often call me late at night, when she was wrestling with a particularly tough decision or after a hard day. Those conversations were so meaningful to both of us. We were able to work through a pressing issue and my client would be able to implement her change the next day. This is real-time coaching and the only way you can effectively test, tweak and react to situations.

4) Your coach has to be your cheerleader.

Your coach has to be as committed to your success as you are. She should demonstrate that through her encouragement, her ability to challenge your thinking and her willingness to speak the truth. A coach has to say what needs to be said, not what the client wants to hear.

I work with a cycling coach who has been instrumental in helping me to reach the next level in my development. More than once I've called her to complain that my goal is too big, the going is too tough and I question my ability to reach the next level. Diane reminds me of how far I have come, acknowledges how tough it is and tells me that she knows I can do it. I always do. Diane doesn't let me make excuses but she empathizes with the challenges I face.

5) Each coach has a coaching or training philosophy.

It's important that you find out what your coach's philosophy is. What is an ideal coaching relationship to your coach? How do they see things going? Where do they draw their influences from and is there a school of thought which they follow. There are so many coaches and programs available that you really have to do your due diligence. Coaches focus on life skills, communication, personal image, and strategy. Some coaches view themselves as advisors rather than coaches; ensure you clarify the difference. Their philosophy will affect your outcome.

Finding the right coach can mean the difference between not only loving your business/career/sport or not. It can mean the difference between success and failure. The wrong coach can take your aspirations and crush them. The right coach can take your doubts and lead you to victory.