Choosing the right Executive Coach for you

Choosing an Executive Coach for yourself can be a little confusing, to say the least. Your Executive Coach is going to be your confidant and you will need to open up to get the best from the relationship. So whether you are spending your own money or your organization is providing you with a coach, it’s helpful to have more than just a ‘gut-feel’ to go on.

Most coaches will give you a no-obligation, 30 to 60-minute ‘chemistry’ meeting to assess if there is a fit for both parties. That’s right, an experienced coach may spot you are not committed to the process, or the organization has misaligned expectations and so excuse themselves from the assignment.

I recommend that you meet with at least two coaches but no more than four. Meetings can be face-to-face, by video conference, or by phone. Try and ask each coach the same questions, and take note of the questions they ask you. A good coach is going to get you to step back and think. You will find yourself saying, “That’s a good question.”

Here are some simple opening questions:

  1. How long have you been coaching?
  2. What were you doing before coaching?
  3. What prompted you to get into coaching?
  4. Have you worked with people in my industry/organization before?

You want to know the coach's background and experience to build your level of trust. Your Executive Coach does not need to have worked for your organization before or be from the same background – in fact sometimes, for perspective, it’s better if they haven’t, but it is important that he or she has an understanding of the type of work you do and challenges and opportunities you are facing.

Being Clear about Coaching Objectives:

You may not have all your objectives clarified at the time of the chemistry meeting, but it is important that you and your prospective coach talk about what a successful outcome would look like. This gives you a chance to discuss whether these objectives will be achievable in the agreed time-frame (typically 6-months).

Coaching objectives are usually feeling and behavior-based rather than measured in financial numbers. Some examples are:

  • To feel more confident to influence my boss / the board / peers / clients
  • To have clarity about how to lead through current ambiguity and have laser focus around execution
  • To think and behave as a natural successor
  • To have Executive Presence in global meetings and calls
  • To have strategies to step back from tactical work and think more strategically

When executive coaching is paid for by the company, there is usually a sponsor in the form of a line manager or sometimes HR. Whist coaching conversations are confidential, it's usual for the sponsor to ask the coach to report-out progress towards the stated objectives. You should clarify with your prospective Executive Coach, how they will handle confidentiality in these situations.

Choosing an Executive Coaching Style:

Gender should not really be an issue in selecting a coach. You might think you would prefer a same-gender coach, but an experienced coach will make their gender irrelevant to the process. That said, it’s your right to choose what you feel comfortable with, up to a point. And that point is, that too much comfort may not get you the results you are looking for.

This diagram shows that you should assess your coach on two criteria, supportive and challenging.

  • If there is no support and no challenge, there is no interaction.
  • If there is high support but a low challenge, there will be confirmation of existing mindsets and behaviors and therefore little or no change.
  • If there is a high challenge with low support, the coaching can be overwhelming and the coachee will likely retreat from the engagement.

The conclusion is that there must be the right combination of support and challenge for coaching to facilitate growth. Most coaches are supportive, therefore you should consider a coach that has the right level of challenge for you.

Coach, Consultant, or Mentor?

If you think of a tennis coach, you can imagine them teaching you how to stand, how to hold the racket, how to swing, and how to move. As you develop your tennis, a great coach transitions from telling you how to do the physical things, and helps you play a better ‘inner or mental game’ such as; how to read your opponent, how to come back from a lost set, and why winning is important to you.

An effective executive coach is like an experienced tennis coach; they won’t be telling you how to the fundamentals of your job, they will be asking you questions about your ‘inner game’. Your ideal coach will help you explore your identity as a leader, facilitate you with thinking strategically, consider your next career move, and not get hijacked by out of date thinking patterns.

If you need help on the ‘how to’ of your work then you are better to hire a consultant. Consultants are paid to tell you what to do, coaches are hired to help you work it out yourself.

Mentors are individuals more experienced than you in the same field. A good mentor is somewhere between coach and consultant. A mentor can share their experience as a way of guiding you to navigate your environment. A coach doesn't have to be from the same domain of expertise as you, but it’s helpful if a mentor has.

So the moral of this story is, choose an executive coach who is going to help you think differently rather than one who is just going to teach you stuff.

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