Five Tips for Selecting an Executive/Leadership Coach

You are a high potential who wants to become more politically astute to navigate your way through the organization. You're a senior leader who needs a sounding board. You're a talented executive who makes solid contributions yet is ineffective in your communication style. You are an up and comer who needs more 'executive presence'. These are but a few of the reasons we see a growing demand for executive and leadership coaching. In fact, according to a Harvard Business Review Research Report, the number one reason to engage a corporate/executive coach is to "develop high potentials or facilitate a transition (48%)". (See chart below.)


Source: "HBR Research Report: What Can Coaches Do For You," Harvard Business Review, Coutu and Kauffman, January 2009.


In the recent past, coaching was reserved for a select few in the organization. In some organizations it was reserved for senior executives; more often, it was 'administered' to those who were having performance problems. Times have changed. Now, coaching is being used across the leadership ranks in many organizations. In fact, executive coaching has grown to an estimated annual industry expenditure of $1 billion (Source: MarketData).

Organizations have seen first-hand the value executive and leadership coaching can provide. Qualified, effective coaches can:

  • Be a confidential, unbiased sounding board and provide an objective (outsider’s) perspective
  • Ask empowering questions; the questions that help you find the answers (they should also be great listeners)
  • Provide real-time feedback and guidance (especially at a senior level where it can be difficult to obtain candid feedback)
  • Help sharpen skills and overcome roadblocks
  • Help leverage strengths, close gaps and provide accountability for goals and development plans
  • Develop leaders in the context of their current jobs without removing them from their day-to-day responsibilities

If you know you want an executive or business/leadership coach, how do you go about finding the right one? Here are some tips to help you engage the coach that is right for you:

  1. Look for good fit. One of the key ingredients to a successful coaching relationship is the chemistry/fit between the coach and the client. One way to help establish "fit" is to ask your potential coach for a "complimentary" session to help determine style and further explore the relationship. You need to feel comfortable with your coach. You will be working with this individual for several weeks if not months. If s/he isn't willing to provide a complimentary session where a go/no go decision is made, be wary. This hour will tell you a lot about fit, style, insight, relationship, etc.
  2. Ask about methodology. Will they interview others (e.g., collect 360 degree feedback)? What other instruments will they use? What kinds of questions do they ask? Do they do most of the talking or are they doing more listening? Beware of the coach who talks more than listens! A good coach should be exploring your motivation, asking about your reasons/interests in coaching, your expectations, your outcome goals, etc. S/he knows that along with chemistry/fit, a highly motivated executive will make the coaching relationship successful. The coach can't learn this by talking...only listening.
  3. Discuss expectations, roles/responsibilities, accountabilities, etc. The coach should be able to discuss action planning, respective roles in the process, confidentiality, overall expectations, ways to monitor progress, establishing rapport, building trust, partnering with a Board Chair, HR and/or others in the organization (while respecting the confidentiality of the relationship) in detail.
  4. Ask probing questions of your prospective coach during the interview/selection process. Some examples include:
    1. Describe your coaching methodology (e.g., look for process, tools, philosophy, time commitment, resources, availability and accessibility beyond the actual meetings, etc.).
    2. How would your client’s describe your coaching style?
    3. Tell me about a coaching success story. What made it a success?
    4. Tell me about a coaching situation that wasn't as successful? Why wasn’t it successful?
    5. Describe how you go about defining your clients' needs?
    6. Describe how you measure success? (Look for a results-focused, disciplined approach. You want to be able to identify and measure coaching goals.)
  5. Ask for testimonials and/or references from existing and past clients. Look for tangible and intangible benefits and rewards. A results-driven coach will provide you with proven success stories as an indicator of your future success.

Remember that coaching is a tool; having an effective coach is part of a great plan. The plan cannot be executed if you are not committed. For coaching to be effective, you need to commit to making the change that is necessary. The coach can help guide you. The coach can help hold you accountable. Only you can execute the strategies and make the lasting change. You want a great coach/partner. Select that partner wisely and you will accomplish unbelievable results.

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