Choosing an Executive Coach

Choosing the Right Executive Coach

If you're a successful business leader, you probably already have an executive coach... If, however you don't, there's a chance that you need one, but just don't know it.

The simple fact is... Leadership is lonely, and it gets lonelier the higher you get. Executive Coaches play a pivotal role in filling this gap, by acting as a trusted confidant and mental sparring partner. They're the person you go to when you need help thinking through an issue.


I already have a mentor. Isn't that the same?

No. This is a common misconception by many. Whilst coaching and mentoring may have some similarities, they are in fact very very different. To explain this, let’s look at the coaching continuum.

Coaching Continuum 

As you can see from the above diagram, instructing is a very directive, one-way form of communication. It requires very little thought on the part of the recipient.

Mentoring falls in the centre of the continuum as it involves a combination of directive (sharing, guiding and suggesting) and indirective (questioning and listening) communication. Whilst it does require thought on the part of the mentee, much of this thought is influenced by the mentor.

Counselling is also quite similar to coaching, in that it revolves around listening and questioning. That said, it is more focussed on understanding the past in order to understand the present. Counsellors also have a deeper understanding of human psychology.

Coaching revolves entirely around the needs of the coachee, does not attempt to influence, and is focussed on making positive and sustainable change for the future.

To quote Sir John Whitmore, “Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”


How Can the Right Executive Coach Help Me?

Coaching Objectives

A coach is not going to give you advice, make suggestions, share experiences or tell you what you need to do... At the very least, they should help you to identify where you are now, where you want to go and how you are going to get there.

The right Executive Coach will also:

  • Help you to identify and focus on what's really important.
  • Help you to identify the gaps that exist between where you are now and where you need or want to be.
  • Help you to accelerate your success by identifying the behaviours that are impeding it.
  • Help you to challenge and motivate yourself to move beyond your comfort zone.
  • Help you to hold yourself accountable.


How Do I Choose The Right Executive Coach?

Engaging an Executive Coach is a highly personal decision, and whilst it may seem like a relatively simple task, finding someone who is right for you is not so simple. With this in mind, here's a list of things to consider:


Be Realistic

One of the common mistakes that people make is that a coach will do the heavy lifting and instantly solve their problems. At the end of the day, only one person can solve your problems, and that is you. The right Executive Coach will help by challenging you to rethink your thought process and rationale. They will challenge you to look at issues from different perspectives. They will challenge you to assess your own performance. They will challenge you to see the things you need to see and act in the way you need to act.

  • Change does not happen overnight. Changing behaviour takes even longer. Sustainable change takes even longer. The length of your coaching engagement will depend on the complexity of this change.
  • The coach may act as an accountability partner, but you are ultimately accountable for ensuring that the change occurs and sticks. This requires courage, determination and discipline.


The Chemistry Session

Have a 15 - 30 minute 'Chemistry Session' to get to know one another. The purpose of the session is for you to ascertain if they are the right coach for you, and for them to ascertain if you are the right coachee for them. What does your 'gut' tell you?

  • What sort of professional background do they have, are there any similarities to yours, and how might that background benefit or hinder your coaching needs?
  • What sort of personality do you click with best, and how might this benefit or hinder your coaching needs? For example, do you click more with someone who is logic or people focussed?
  • What do they value, and how might these values benefit or hinder your coaching needs?


Real-World Experience

Has the coach walked in your shoes? This may be a contentious point for some, but don't buy into the myth that a coach doesn't need to have experienced what you are going through. The right Executive Coach should have a basic understanding of the challenges that you have faced or are going to face. It’s this real-world experience that will enable them to ask the right questions at the right time.

  • What sort of positions have they held?
  • What sort of responsibilities have they had?
  • What sort of organisations have they worked for?
  • What sort of industries have they worked in?
  • How many reports have they managed?
  • What level of reports have they managed?
  • What achievements have they had in leadership roles?


Know What You Need

The coach and coachee relationship is very personal, so it’s important that you be very clear about the type of Executive Coach you need. Do you need someone who is highly energetic and expressive or someone who is moderate paced and less expressive? Do you need a 'yes person', or someone who will always push and challenge you?

  • Do you need a coach who is logic/task oriented or people/emotion oriented?
  • Do you need a coach who is fast-paced or moderate-paced?
  • Do you need a coach who will kick your butt when it’s needed, or one that will be more understanding?
  • Do you need a coach with lots of enthusiasm, or one with a very calm demeanour?
  • Do you need a coach that will just listen to your thoughts or one that will challenge them?

Please note: The coach’s work experience doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be an effective coach for you… It does however provide an indication as to whether they are likely to understand the challenges you are currently facing or are likely to face.


Coaching Experience

Do they have the right coaching experience? Do they have a breadth of experience coaching different types of leaders? Do they have a depth of experience coaching leaders with similar backgrounds and challenges to you?

  • How many leaders have they coached?
  • What level of leaders have they coached?
  • What are the demographic profiles of the leaders they have coached?
  • What industries do the leaders they have coached come from?

The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the leading global organisation dedicated to advancing the coaching profession. At present there are 3 levels of certification, all of which are tied to very stringent criteria:

Associate Certified Coach Professional Certified Coach Master Certified Coach
60+ Training Hours 125+ Training Hours 500+ Training Hours
100+ Coaching Hours 500+ Coaching Hours 2,500+ Coaching Hours

Please note: Having a coaching certification from a credible organisations does not necessarily mean they will be an effective coach for you… It does however provide an indication as to their level of competence.


Are They Listening?

Do they listen? Listening is not a break in-between talking... The right coach will listen more than they talk. They won't just listen to what you say, they will also be listening to what you feel and what you think. They will listen to the hidden messages you want to say but aren't saying.

The right Executive Coach will be listening on 4 levels:

Level 1: Facts
What was said… Specific information provided, including: addresses, dates, names, numbers, timelines etc.
Level 2: Feelings
What was felt… Feelings and emotions expressed through physical displays, changes in energy levels, tone, choice of words and breathing.
Level 3: Fiction
What was thought… Subjective interpretations, opinions, personal views and perspectives.
Level 4: Future
What was hoped… The reason ‘why’ are they telling us? What do they hope to achieve from telling us?

Please note: If the coach is unable to listen on 4 levels, there is a high chance that they will not be able to ask the right questions.


In Summary

Choosing the right Executive Coach is critical to positive sustainable behavioural change, and whilst this may not be the definitive list, it will certainly increase your chances.