Have you met my coach?

Professional sports teams have them, and Olympic athletes can’t live without them. So why shouldn’t business owners and other corporate executives use them as well?

Coaches, that is.

“Coaching works with leaders who need communication skills,” says Brenda Smith, a former executive at Merrill Lynch and PNC Bank and founder of professional coaching consulting firm Peoplesmith. “It works with entrepreneurs who come in with strong engineering, technical or computer backgrounds but don’t know how to hire, fire, sell or market their companies.

“People hire a personal coach much as they would hire a personal trainer, only the skills they acquire are different: starting a new business or making a career transition, for instance,” Smith says.

Smith is certified to coach by the International Coach Federation, the industry’s self-regulating body. But, she says, an official license is not required to coach. Smith says a legitimate coach can be discerned by the results achieved for clients and subsequent recommendations.

And it does appear to help.

“I was at a plateau for a period of time, and I needed someone from the outside to help me refocus,” says Parker Hunter stockbroker Mike Wiedt, who hired Smith to get him focused. “It’s so important to have someone outside analyze your business and yourself to point you in the direction you really want to go. She’s just great at helping you plan your day around your strengths.”

To choose a coach, says Smith, talk to at least three before you hire one. Get credentials and references. Find out how much they know about your line of work and make sure a personal chemistry exists.

Ask if they have ever referred a client to another coach whom they felt was more knowledgeable of a client’s profession. If they haven’t, cross them off your list. An ethical coach, she says, knows his or her limitations; a coach who claims an ability to solve any problem is about as trustworthy as that old time peddler who sold whiskey-based elixirs for all that ailed you.

Patrick Rodgers