Finding a good coach

I’ve lately started thinking about my mission in life as getting as many people as possible into positive feedback loops.

One high-leveraged way to do so is to match someone with a great coach. Coaching over the last few years has become more mainstream—for instance, see Atul Gawande’s great piece in The New Yorker on his experience using a coach to help him get better as a surgeon late in his career.

Over the last year, I’ve had over a dozen people reach out to me for help finding a coach, and I get a strong sense of satisfaction from intuiting a good match depending on someone’s current context.

I’ve noticed that the coaching profession—perhaps like any field, and definitely like investment management—has a real bell curve of talent. Finding a coach who fits a friend’s specific need and way of thinking about the world, or their “aesthetic,” is a subtle art.

I often think about what criteria you should use to select a coach. Years ago, I spoke to Bob Kegan, a professor at the Harvard school of Education and one of the, if not the, foremost thinkers in adult development, who himself has coached partners at fancy management consulting firms. We were puzzling through why Josh Waitzkin is so unusually effective at coaching high performers to achieve greater heights, and Bob observed that a coach can be measured on two fundamental dimensions: challenge and support.

In my sample of roughly 200 coaches, the vast majority are an 8 or 9 on support, and a 3 or 4 on challenge. I suspect the same dominant phenotype is found among therapists and shrinks. What distinguishes Waitzkin and the handful of the other extraordinary coaches I’ve encountered is they are a “10” on support AND a “10” on challenge. When you interact with a coach in this category, it’s like a really good emotional and mental work-out — they’re pushing you hard, in a loving way.

If you have a real budget for coaching and want my quick attempt at a match, DM me on Twitter with a short description of your context and I’ll try to respond. If I don’t respond or you want a place to start, the Conscious Leadership Group and Cultivating Leadership are two pockets of coaching quality (high support, high challenge). I like the Upbuild guys in NYC too.

A friend named Dris Upitis, who was a top college basketball player and then worked at a hedge fund called Viking Global, has also set up a coaching framework in the form of a weekend called Atlas; I haven’t attended, but have heard good things about it from multiple people.

I’ll post others as I come across them.