What should you look for in a Executive Coach?

Finding the right Executive Coach can be a confusing and time consuming business.

This page is some tips and ideas about how to go about looking for an Executive Coach and what to look for when you find one

The coaching profession does not yet have a standardisation of practice, and coaches come from a variety of different backgrounds as diverse as psychology, management consulting, training and human resources.

Some have never had any coach training per se, but have adopted their own personal styles of coaching. Unfortunately, some have simply changed their professional titles and are doing consulting or counselling and calling it “executive coaching"

You have 2 main options on finding a coach:

Go to an established Coaching Consultancyve
Likely to use a structured methodology, may have quality management and accreditation processes. Shuould have testimonials.

Find an Individual Coach
May have all of the above or alternatively nothing, will have testimonials,

Neither option is a guarantee of success; the coaching industry is new and still fragmented, and great coaches often come from very eclectic career

Three essential competencies of the effective Executive coach.

They must be interpersonally skilled at coaching and influencing others. This requires an extreme self-awareness, excellent listening and observing skills, empathy, and ability to deliver feedback in a tough yet non-judgmental way.

Secondly, good coaches must have a sufficient understanding of business practices and organizational politics to help their clients decipher, understand, and address organizational complexities.

Thirdly, they must be highly trustworthy. This becomes particularly important when navigating complex confidentiality boundaries.



Some principles of the masterful coaching experience

As stated Executive coaching as a profession is in its emergent stages. At the moment it is not possible for any one person or group to say they have the definitive coaching model and approach.

However, experienced Coaches will agree there are some principles and standards that make for a masterful coaching experience.

Mary Beth O’Neill in her book Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart (Jossey-Bass 2000) suggests the following:

§ Keep business results and human processes linked

§ Encourage a stronger relationship between the executive and his or her team

§ Build the leader’s capacities to state positions clearly (backbone) and to stay in strong relationship with the team (heart)

§ Create real time feedback opportunities

Results Coaching Systems an International Coaching and Training Consultancy bases its coaching principles on contemporary neuroscience.

• Self directed learning
Coaching helps people think better. The person being coached is the expert in their work - the coach uses a questioning approach to help the person find their own answers.

• Solutions focus
Coaching is not about what's wrong and trying to fix it. Coaching focusses firmly on solutions - where are you now, where do you want to be and how can you get there.


• Positive feedbackCriticism shrinks our confidence and stop us taking action. Encouragement and belief does the opposite. Coaching is a way of delivering encouragement and belief in people that really moves them forward.


• Systematic approach to delivering behavioural changeReal change takes time, commitment and focus. Coaching is effective because it provides a step by step and systematic approach that slowly produces real change.


• StretchPeople perform at their best when they are appropriately challenged. Too much stretch causes stress, too little produces boredom. In coaching, we focus on empowering the individual to develop their own answers, maintain a firm focus on solutions and then challenge them to be the best they can be.


Tips from Leaders that have been coached on getting the most out of coaching

Make sure your boss is supportive, and keep them involved. Executive coaching is not the same as life coaching as a leader you operate in a complex system and have multiple stakeholders to manage. Get your manager on your side and manage upwards at the same time. Let them buy into your goals and check in with them to see what they are noticing.

Work hard, and smart. Being coached can be a profoundly positive experience if you put the work in. You will need to balance your busy role with getting the thinking and actions done from your coaching. Be prepared to be challenged and don’t always expect to feel comfortable as you stretch yourself. Try and accomplish your goals as quickly as possible. You need to do the heavy lifting so don’t become dependant on your coach

Look for a good fit but not your mirror image. Always review at least 2-3 prospective coaches. Review their Bios and telephone interview if necessary. Some Executive Coaches offer a free no obligation trial session so be prepared “try before you buy” and take up this opportunity. Leader’s feedback indicates that rapport and business experience matters most about the coach. Pick a coach you can relate to but will also keep you on your toes.

Measuring ROI: It’s about you. Everyone seems to be scrambling to identify a coaching return-on-investment; 73% of organizations would like one. However, you can measure whether you have improved your skills as a leader. Use items like follow-up 360-degree leadership feedback surveys or short “mini surveys” or structured interviews to measure perceptions of your improvement as a leader as identified by those working around you

Don’t drag it on. You can get diminishing returns from working with a coach long term. Whilst most coaching assignments seem to last 6-12 months some leaders are happy for it to continue. That might be fine but make sure you have stretch golas to work to and are still getting value from the process. Coaching is an empowering experience and some of the learning you should continue with on your own.

Four key conditions to be met before you work with an executive coach.

1. You have at least one coachable goal A "Coachable Goal" is a future place you want to be as a person that requires you to grow or improve as a person to reach it. You either need some thinking on goals or your prospective Executive Coach has a process to help you develop your goals. No goals mean you are doing something else apart from coaching.

2. You are ready to be coached. It is about timing and a state of mind. Being ready is something only you control. You cannot be forced, sold, or tricked into being ready. Want to check if you are ready then consider the following questrions:


A. How committed are you to achieving your "Coachable Goals?"
B. How willing are you to accept new perspectives about you?
C. How willing are you to invest money in you?
D. How willing and able are you to take action?

Coaching is a though driven and action oriented process. You have to do the thinking and the practice in order to learn.

3. You are matched with the executive coach who is best suited (ideal) for you. Coaching is a very personal process and fit is critical . Working successfully with a coach develops a strong sense of connection and trust. What other field of human endeavor do you get to work with another human being whose only agenda is to help you be successful.

4. Your executive coach has considerable business and coaching experience and integrity.




This is how the International Coach Federation defines the basic coaching competencies:


• Meet ethical guidelines of the profession
• Ability to establish a coaching agreement
• Ability to establish an intimate and trusting relationship with the client
• Ability to be fully present, conscious and spontaneous
• Ability to express active listening
• Ability to ask powerful questions
• Ability to be a direct communicator
• Ability to create and raise the client's awareness
• Ability to design and create action plans and action behaviours
• Ability to develop plans and establish goals with the client
• Ability to manage the client's progress and hold him/her responsible for action

10 Tips for selecting a coach


1. Do they belong to a professional body and are they supervised?
2. What is their coaching experience and are they qualified?
3. Has the coach got a track record of success?
4. Do they have relevant business or industry experience?
5. Does the coach have a clear coaching process?
6. Do they use proven coaching models and approaches?
7. Does the coach ask you to clarify what you want or expect from the coaching process?
8. How do they monitor progress and quality?
9. What are their rapport skills like?
10. Does the coach fit in with your organisation?

Linking Coaching To Business Results

Before you start working with your new Executive Coach please reflect on the fact that there are times when coaching does not work. To be effective Executive Coaching needs to creating some changes in the leaders behaviour and that of their direct reports and peers. Executive Coaching has its private aspects but can't all be done behind closed doors otherwise the danger is that the coaching occurs in a vacuum and is not aligned with the business strategy.

To be optimally effective, coaching must be well managed and aligned with other organizational goals and processes.

Equally, no amount of individual coaching will improve a situation that has its basis in broader organizational problems. What might have looked like an executive needing coaching may actually turn out to really be an organizational problem

Coaching is not a panacea for all that is wrong in an organization. There will always be a need for a combination of individual and group initiatives.



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