I have had the opportunity to work with a career coach and have also had the opportunity to participate in a number of leadership development programs both of which have merits. Here are a few thoughts on career coaches:
1) Outside perspective: Career Coaches provide a good outside perspective of your work, your life, your background, experiences, strengths and weaknesses and when used over time, can be very helpful in assisting with career decisions as well as major life decisions.
2) Duration: Career coaches are most effective from my experience when working collaboratively for more than six months with an individual. It takes time to get to know each other, share relevant facts, and dig deeper.
3) "Part" of a Career Development Program: Career coaches are not the sole answer for career and personal development. Career coaches are a good complement to other leadership and learning/development programs.
4) Everyone is Not a Career Coach: It seems that with a number of people losing their jobs, they "suddenly" feel like they are experts and can be career coaches. Check references and do your homework before signing a contract with someone that says they are a career coach. Years of business experience does not translate to effective coaching talent.