You may think you know what a coach is, but each one is different.

Based upon my own experiences being coached, I've already formed an opinion about coaching which is that, in the right hands, it can be a powerful tool. Your coach can help you discover things about yourself you never knew├Žlong-suppressed goals and dreams-and show you how to reach them. He may hold your hand during the journey but, once you tell your coach you're going to do something, you'd darn well better do it.

What I didn't know is that, while the above may be true for most coaches, the experience you'll have and the particular emphasis placed on one or another aspect of the process varies greatly from one coach to the next. That will become apparent as we take a close look at the coaching programs of Dan Sullivan, Tracy Beckes, Tom Gau and MastermindYourIdeal. All you need to know at this stage is that any of these coaches can help you be better than you already are, if you're not afraid of a little hard work.

Dan Sullivan: "The Strategic Coach"

All of the coaches we'll be looking at have excellent reputations in the financial services industry, but Sullivan's reputation verges on a saint-like status to many who have worked with him. I remember reading an article by him in the early '90s and thinking how very astute he was, and later hearing from friends and industry veterans who'd used his services about the progress they'd made while under his care.

Surely, such a reputation must be built on a solid foundation of training, or maybe a profound coaching experience of his own. "In fact," says Sullivan, who is based in Toronto, "I have extensive experience as a theater producer and director, which allowed me to zero in on what was required for a performer to do a superb job. I began to see a direct parallel between performers on stage and in the marketplace, so I created an entertainment-based coaching model for entrepreneurs. We get them thinking that they're essentially performers, and that life is a series of performances."

Sullivan expanded his metaphor even further to develop a "frontstage/backstage" model. The entrepreneur's "frontstage" is the kind of experience he's creating for his clients, how he must package himself, and the unique value he's creating. His "backstage" is where Sullivan and the client find out those unique capabilities the client must possess to make the front stage happen.

This is Sullivan's "Strategic Coach" program, where the main emphasis is on productivity. Time management and organizational skills are critical to improving one's productivity. Advisors who go to quarterly meetings with Sullivan frequently report both higher income and more free time.

And Strategic Coach might be the program for you if one or more of these complaints strikes a chord: Have you reached your "ceiling of complexity," that point where working longer and harder produces negative, not positive, results? Do you want a higher quality of life, such as more time to spend with your children and spouse? Do you find yourself not doing what you love, for example, not being in front of and building relationships with clients, but getting bogged down, instead, in "backstage" details?

Ron Kelemen of The H Group Inc. in Salem, Ore., says he had reached his ceiling of complexity. "I'm in my tenth year now with Dan and, for me, the big benefit has been helping me be clear about my goals and priorities ... holding myself accountable every 90 days. I now know what kind of business I'm prepared to walk away from [in order to] have a more balanced life."

Michael Leonetti of Leonetti & Associates Inc. in Buffalo Grove, Ill., has a similar story. Also in his tenth year with Sullivan, Leonetti says, "It's now a way for me to get out of the office one full day each quarter, meet with people in similar businesses, and do some planning for the next quarter." Leonetti has discovered his "unique ability," to use one of Sullivan's concepts, which is taking complex scenarios and breaking them down so others can understand them.

"My biggest value to my company is bringing clients into the firm," he declares. "I'll sit in on presentation meetings, but another planner in the firm will be the clients' main contact."