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Coaching for Police, Fire, and Forensics – What To Expect

2024, marks the 10th anniversary of my coaching practice. Although I was formally trained as an executive coach two years prior to opening my business, 2014 was the year that I began my coaching journey by offering free coaching to forensic laboratory professionals in the crime laboratories of the western states. After that, it wasn’t long before I began coaching clients as a steady source of professional income.

Who I am as a coach today has been shaped by every client I’ve ever had the opportunity to serve.



my clients at a glance

Over the last ten years I’ve logged many hundreds of hours coaching clients in a variety of occupations. I’ve coached bankers, an athletic director, HR directors, lawyers, a law firm president, airport executives, an association president, athletes, engineers, architects, and accountants.

But the majority of my clients continue to come from the criminal justice system and for good reason – I know it so well, and I know the unique demands and pressures it produces. I’ve coached chiefs of police, police officers, military officers, forensic laboratory directors, forensic scientists, and prosecutors.

coaching for public safety authorities

One of the many reasons that coaching can be so beneficial for public safety officials is that the cultures of most criminal justice agencies are infused with hierarchy, and this has a profoundly important impact on professionals in this occupational domain.

As I wrote in my 2022 book, The New Superior – A Better Way to Be the One in Charge, hierarchy is a primitive and natural way for groups of human beings to ensure their long-term survival by organizing themselves into specific roles, responsibilities, and degrees of authority. And while hierarchical behaviors are an important and valid survival technique, they have an adverse impact on teamwork. And over time, hierarchical conditioning limits the ability of leaders to motivate and influence their team members.

Second, public safety is an enterprise that is much bigger and more important than any single individual. This is good because people working in our criminal justice system have at their disposal the opportunity to be inspired by the intrinsic rewards of their work. They matter, and people who feel like they matter tend to work with an elevated sense of purpose. But in doing so, they often lose themselves in that purpose, rarely taking time to pause, reflect, and reinvent themselves as professionals.

These repeating stages of reflection, reevaluation, and reinvention are vital to sustained professional growth and the ability to earn trust as leaders and authorities – which is vital to the public safety calling. Professional coaching can support the efforts of individuals and teams to rethink what they are doing, hold themselves accountable for what could be going better, and be more confident about the possibilities the future holds for them if they are willing to commit themselves to them.

GREAT COACHES

Despite how rapidly professional coaching has grown as an industry in the last 30 years, many people have never worked with a coach and, therefore, don’t know what to expect.

Coaching, without question, is a wonderful experience, and I make it a priority to optimize the coaching experience for each individual client.

When I say “optimize,” I am referring to the important responsibility all coaches have to accommodate the wide variety of clients and their unique blends of strength, personality, goals, challenges, and opportunities.

Great coaches don’t shoehorn clients into a rigid program or curriculum. Great coaches, in fact, tailor the coaching experience to maximize the positive outcomes enjoyed by their clients, while adhering to whatever fundamental principles guide the coach’s approach to engaging clients of all kinds.

MY COACHING PROGRAM

As I mentioned a moment ago, the fact that my coaching follows a standard protocol does not mean that it ignores the uniqueness of every client. In fact, my program is designed to accelerate my understanding of what makes each client unique.

For anyone curious about coaching or about working with me specifically, here is a sequential overview of my program, followed by a basic description of what it’s like to participate in coaching sessions:

  1. Preliminary Evaluations – To begin, I have my new clients complete some brief questionnaires that allow me to quickly evaluate how they are feeling and how much energy they seem to have in their lives and careers. These questionnaires provide me with a numerical rating that I can compare with other clients I’ve worked with in the past.
  2. Client History and Registration – This is an online form that my clients use to give me more detail about who they are, what they are trying to accomplish, and what challenges they may be encountering at the time. It also gives clients an opportunity to express exactly what they hope to get out of the coaching experience. Some clients, of course, have no clue what they want, which is the problem they want to solve. After reviewing the client history, we may elect to have a quick phone call or session to clarify the client’s goals, although this is optional.
  3. Gallup CliftonStrengths Assessment – This is among the most researched and well-established personal trait assessments that identify the client’s unique pattern of strengths. The 34 strengths described by Dr. Don Clifton are ranked, which helps us understand how my client is naturally wired to show up in a variety of situations and relationships. It also identifies the client’s primary style of leadership, which is an invaluable discovery for maximizing one’s effectiveness and influence on people.
  4. The Big Five Personality Assessment – Although many are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) of personality, it has largely been replaced by the Big Five as the most scientifically valid measure of a person’s personality profile. The assessment measures a client’s intensity within five dimensions of human personality and also provides insight into four sub-domains that are also of value. By combining the Big Five with the Gallup CliftonStrengths results, I am able to help clients understand themselves, their opportunities, and their challenges with a degree of resolution and clarity that is sometimes astonishing.
  5. Private Reflection Exercises – After completing the strength and personality assessments, I ask my clients to reflect privately on their results. This is important because this time for personal reflection helps to maximize the impact of the discovery and prepares clients to have more engaging and meaningful coaching sessions.
  6. Coaching Sessions – Clients generally participate in four sessions, which is the minimum preferred number of sessions to ensure the best possible experience. In some instances, we give hesitant clients an opportunity to test the waters with two sessions. For our 10th-anniversary program for police, fire, and forensic professionals, our goal is to commemorate this milestone in our coaching practice by introducing public safety professionals and leaders to coaching and to give them an opportunity to explore how coaching can be used by their agencies or teams. To accomplish this, we offer three sessions that provide clients with an opportunity to experience coaching for the first time and to enjoy the discoveries and possibilities that emerge for them.

coaching sessions

A coaching session is a strategic conversation. During a session, my client works in partnership with me to make the best use of our time together. The session belongs to the client, not the coach, although it’s the coach’s job to help support the client in assuming control of the session. This comes more naturally to some clients than others, and good coaching practices account for this. But clients should come to their sessions prepared to express what they wish to accomplish, what’s on their minds, and what events or insights may have occurred since the last session.

During coaching sessions, I like to invite my clients to begin the conversation, and they will notice that I ask questions as a way to influence thinking as the conversation unfolds. These questions draw from everything I’ve learned about my clients up to that point.

Clients can expect each coaching session to feel like a good, meaningful conversation that’s intended to produce progress, which means that it is oriented toward the future. This does not mean that reflections on the past or present are not a part of the experience, but even past reflections are only useful to the coaching experience if they have some relevance to what the client is trying to accomplish.

There is no way for me to predict exactly how a coaching session will unfold until I know my client and what my client wishes to gain from the overall experience. This is one of the exciting things about coaching for both coaches and clients – the sky is the limit, and we get to make the experience whatever we want it to be.

But it all begins by allowing each client to reveal himself or herself to me as their coach as quickly as possible. That is when the coaching truly begins.

Therapy vs. Coaching

There is an important distinction between therapy and coaching, although coaching can have a therapeutic impact, just as therapists can provide coaching in some instances.

The main difference, however, is that therapy focuses on normalizing dysfunction. Through therapy, clients can come to terms with problems or setbacks in their lives that are preventing what the client might consider a normal, natural way of functioning in life with as much ease as possible. This is to say that therapy helps people function normally.

Coaching, on the other hand, is a practice that helps people who are functioning normally to achieve above-normal results. Coaching is for people who expect more from themselves and believe they have the potential to become much more than they are right now. Like therapy, coaching certainly does provide opportunities for identifying problems, but these are usually problems that are encountered in the client’s strategic environment rather than mental and/or emotional problems that are carried and confronted within.

Get started

Clients can begin their coaching journey at any time, even before they have paid any coaching fees or agreed to participate in the coaching experience.

I’ve provided links to the initial questionnaires and the Client History and Registration that all clients complete before working with me. Simply by completing these assignments, prospective clients will begin to recognize some of the opportunities that coaching might afford them. From that point, it is just a matter of committing to the process and enjoying the unforgettable and satisfying journey toward some of the greatest personal insights and opportunities for professional growth that you’ve ever experienced.


John M. Collins is an Authoritative Leadership and Expertise Coach at Critical Victories in Southfield, Michigan. He specializes in supporting clients in authoritative, high-stakes occupations requiring high levels of expertise to earn and retain the trust of the public or other consequential stakeholders. John shares some of his unique philosophies and insights on high-stakes leadership in his 2022 book, THE NEW SUPERIOR – A BETTER WAY TO BE THE ONE IN CHARGE (www.thenewsuperior.com), available in hardcover and audio. 

John works with people, teams, and organizations across the United States and oversees. If you are serious about expanding your leadership effectiveness, click below to request a free client strategy call:

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