Choosing an executive coach; five things you need to know

by | 4 March 2021 | Action

Choosing to work with an executive coach is not something you should rush into, and if you haven’t done it before – or if you have, and it wasn’t a great experience – these five suggestions should help you make a well-informed choice.

#1 Try before you buy

The price of an executive coaching session is about the same as a great pair of shoes, but you wouldn’t buy shoes without trying them on first would you?  When you buy a pair of shoes, they might be for a particular occasion, or they might be for everyday.  Coaches are the same – some specialise, others will work with you on everyday leadership challenges.  And when you buy shoes, you want to know quite a lot about them. What are they made of, will they go with particular outfits, but mostly, will they pinch after a while? 

If you want leadership coaching and are trying to find a coach, the only way to be sure that you’ll get the fit that you’re after is to ask coaches about the way they work.  I am always happy to spend time with a prospective client, answering  their questions before they make such an important decision. Coaches call this a chemistry call.

#2 Check out the small print

Coaching is still an unregulated industry; anyone can call themselves a coach, and charge for their services.  There are four things you should ask about when selecting an executive coach: their qualification, whether they are accredited by one of the leading coaching bodies, whether they abide by a code of ethics, and whether they receive regular supervision.  Coach training ensures that coaches have a grounding in the “how” of coaching – how it works and how to do it.  Accreditation means that coaches meet an external standard and abide by a code of ethics.  These should inform everything from how they handle confidentiality right through to how they deal with conflicts of interest.  In regular supervision coaches discuss their work confidentially with a qualified coaching supervisor. They can reflect on what’s working and what’s not, both for them and for their client. 

Any executive coach worth the name should be happy to discuss all these issues with you.

#3 Great expectations

We live in a world of performance measurement. In order to get the most out of executive or leadership coaching you or your boss may want to measure progress, or see that they’re getting a bang for their buck!  It is notoriously difficult to quantify progress purely in terms of finance, though there are several easy metrics that you might want to use.  If three coaching sessions make you 10% more effective, is that worth 10% of your salary?  If you don’t become more effective and your company lets you go or you walk, the cost to them could be more than a year’s salary. 

However, this approach misses a trick or two!  Some businesses have come up with more innovative, qualitative approaches. The soft drinks company Britvic evaluates its executive coaching program not by trying to assign it an ROI number but by tracking participants’ careers for a year. Many coaches find it more useful to discuss ROE – Return on Expectations – than Return on Investment.  If you articulate your expectations at the start of your coaching, it’s easier to decide whether or not they have been met by the end .  Explaining how you will gauge the effectiveness of coaching is a great conversation to have with anyone who you might choose to coach you!

#4 Sometimes it’s about the journey…

I’m good at setting targets and objectives and achieving them. I’ve done so all my working life. But I’m also a firm believer that sometimes the most meaningful goals are those which emerge once we’re doing the work. You know those light bulb moments, where you thought you knew vaguely what the problem was, but in conversation clarity comes from left of field?  That’s exactly what working with an executive coach can be like, so if you don’t have a specific goal, panic not.  Good coaches will work with you purposefully and allow goals to emerge, in fact, some of us enjoy the challenge of venturing intentionally into the unknown with a client…

#5 Who’s in the driving seat?

People often compare their working life to a journey employing different forms of transport. Perhaps you see work like a race track? You’re cornering at speed, feeling the wheels slip.  Or maybe you’re a cyclist, struggling up steep hills on two wheels with aching legs.  What do you want from the person who’s got your back?  Do you want them to be setting the pace, driving you forwards?  If so, when you’re on your own again, will you miss them and see your performance drop again?  Of, do you want a co-driver who will help you learn how to corner safely at speed and which gear to select for a long hard climb? If it’s the latter, choose an executive coach who sees you as equal in the relationship, who lets you set the pace and who puts the co- into coaching.