How to choose an executive coach

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There are countless examples of how a good executive coach can dramatically improve the performance of a senior leader, as well as research showing the same. Deciding to hire a coach is an important step, but just as important (if not more) is choosing a coach who’s the right fit for you.

Given our extensive experience in matching coaches and leaders, we’d like to offer a “buying guide” to leaders who have made the decision to work with an executive coach. Here are some key steps we’d suggest:

  1. Interview at least 2-3 coaches. This will give you an opportunity to compare and contrast, and also see how they handle the conversation. Prepare some questions in advance, and pay close attention to the questions they ask you. Get a good sense of their process, their experience, their previous successes and challenges in other coaching engagements. Notice how comfortable you feel in the conversation. Is this someone you will be open with?
  2. During the interview, try to have the coach work with you briefly on a challenge or a strategic decision you need to make. Seeing a coach in action can help to round out your impressions and can give you a better understanding of how they’d work with you.
  3. Use a broad set of criteria to decide which coach will be the best fit for you. You may have your own criteria, but we’d suggest the following “7 C’s”:
    • Chemistry – how well does their style fit with how you like to work? Can you envision enjoying the process with them? Can you build trust with them?
    • Candor – To what extent will this coach be honest with you, in a constructive way? Will they tell it like it is when that needs to happen?
    • Challenge – Is this coach willing to push you? To take you out of your comfort zone?
    • Clarity – Is the coach a clear communicator? Do they synthesize ideas and issues in a way that simplifies and enables you to prioritize and focus?
    • Context – While a coach doesn’t need to have been in your exact role, do they understand the dynamics of what it takes to be in your job, your company, your industry?
    • Colleagues – Does the coach work for an organization that enables you to give feedback about your coaching experience along the way and at the end of the process? In addition, does the coach benefit from increasing their own “toolkit” from their colleagues?
    • Course of action – Does the coach have a process or plan for how they’ll work with you? Are there tangible steps, milestones, methods and goals the coach will establish to make the process as structured as is needs to be?

By using clear criteria, you can rate your coaching options after your interview. And if you don’t feel excited about working with any of the coaches you interview, it’s probably time to consider others.

An effective coach who is a good fit for your leadership can help you to make quantum leaps in your performance: encouraging growth, providing candid feedback and enabling you to focus on the capabilities that will make you better. Invest the time in a good selection process. You’ll be glad you did.