In recent years, executive coaching has evolved into a highly sought-after competitive advantage for professionals in all industries, levels, and functions. Effective coaching unlocks individual potential, exposes areas for improvement, and guides motivated leaders to better understand themselves and approach their work in a new light. However, not all coaches are created equal and not all coaching experiences result in meaningful change. To help you navigate the process of vetting prospective coaches, we’ve highlighted the four most important things to look for in an executive coach.
1. Rigorous Methodology
A good coach should be able to clearly articulate their approach to leadership development, so don’t be afraid to ask a prospective coach how their process works and why they’ve chosen their particular methodology. Ideally, you want a coach whose process is structured and rooted in a guiding philosophy or framework, but can be easily adapted to fit your specific needs. Additionally, skilled coaches leverage reliable diagnostic tools (e.g., DISC assessment) and integrate the perspectives of those you work closely with (i.e., supervisors, peers, and direct reports) to help you better understand yourself and uncover patterns in how you’re perceived by others. This is a crucial step in the development process, so seek out a coach who offers 360-degree assessments or diagnostic interviewing to determine what skill development or behavioral adjustments would be most impactful in your role.
As with any successful relationship, trust and chemistry with a coach are must-haves. Scheduling an initial meeting with a prospective coach is a great way to gauge your fit, both in terms of personal connection and expectations for the relationship. Following this meeting, ask yourself: Did they ask thoughtful questions? Did they pick up on meaningful patterns in my responses? Are they more direct or more nurturing, and how does their style align with my preferences? Ultimately, you want to feel comfortable disclosing personal ambitions in your conversations together and should get the sense that your coach will equally support and challenge you in reaching those goals. Aside from gauging personal fit, be sure to discuss the logistics of the relationships before making a decision. When choosing a coach, you’ll need to consider how the length of the engagement (e.g., 3-month vs 6-month), frequency of sessions (e.g., weekly or bi-monthly) and the type of sessions (e.g., face-to-face or virtual) will fit with your current schedule and needs.
3. Real Results
Successful coaching results in clear and measurable outcomes, so any general or overly enthusiastic selling points from prospective coaches are likely red flags. Steer clear of coaches who promise to “change your life!” or help you “become your best self!”. Rather, pay attention to those who promote personalized guidance towards goals that are specific, attainable, and contingent on your identified areas of improvement. Additionally, one of the most valuable contributions a coach can make is holding you accountable for your own developmental commitments. Make it a point to probe a prospective coach on how they might help you clarify progress towards your desired behavior change and serve as your accountability partner throughout the process.
4. Credentials & Experience
Unlike clinical psychology or law professions, executive coaching is an unregulated industry. As a result, you will likely find potential coaches with a vast diversity of backgrounds and prior experiences. Instead of getting hung up on comparing apples to oranges, embrace the variety and focus on qualifications that align with your needs and expectations. Professional credentials and coaching-specific training are nice-to-have, but not entirely necessary. More importantly, pay attention to previous coaching experiences and former clients. Effective coaching is a skill, and, like any other skill, it is refined with long-term practice and experience. Don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials or examples of past successful coaching relationships, especially with clients in similar positions or industries as yourself.
Executive coaching can offer extensive benefits in terms of individual growth and organizational performance, but it can be challenging to find the right coach. Simply put, the best coach for you is one that can offer the expertise, personal connection, and results that suit your work style and current developmental needs.
Not sure if coaching is the best option for you? Take our Coaching Readiness Inventory to find out if now is the right time to invest in your professional self!