From a sea of mediocrity, how do you identify a good executive coach? The coaching universe remains an unregulated Wild West. No license is required to call yourself a coach or to sell your coaching services. As a result, the quality of coaching available out there is widely variable. Fortunately, there are ways to pick out a well-trained and effective coach from the rest.
You may wonder about coaching credentials: there are a few well-established coaching credentialing organizations that provide good training and leveled credentials for coaches. There are also specific executive coaching credentials and professional organizations. I’m not going to name these organizations here because this post is not about credentials. I do have a corporate (executive) coaching credential, and it signals that I’ve had a certain level of training in that arena. With that said, one of the most talented executive coaches I know has no coaching credential. I believe that getting coaching credentials can be useful if the coach has no other relevant training (such as counseling or a background in HR). However, because coaching training is unregulated and uneven, coaching credentials alone don’t promise a good coach. You have to look beyond the credentials…
So, what else do you look for when hiring an executive coach? These five questions will help you identify an effective coach who fits for you:
Do you like her?
No one does it alone. The relationship between you and your coach is the most important variable in a successful coaching process. The connection between the two of you has to be strong or you will not make much progress on whatever you’re seeking to change. If the answer to the question, “Do I like this potential coach as a human being?” is no, then move on. You’ll eventually find a coach who “clicks” with you at the first meeting. She has to like you, too. Don’t compromise on this.
Does she have a plan?
A good coach will have a clear plan of action for working with clients. She should also be able to tell you how long your work together will last (at least an initial timeframe) and at what interval you’ll meet. It’s also good for the coach to have flexibility in her plan—that’s a sign of customized service. Important exception: I know one coach who operates without an articulated plan—this coach is highly sophisticated and will explain to his clients the reason he doesn’t state his plan. In this case, the coach still has a plan, but he is purposely not disclosing it. Stay away from a coach who can’t tell you a plan or a compelling reason why she’s not telling you the plan.
Can she describe her approach to coaching?
A good coach will be able to tell you about her approach to working with clients. The specifics of the approach will vary widely from coach to coach. Many different coaching styles work well, so it’s not as important how the coach works. What’s important is that the coach can tell you how she works and answer your questions in a way that demonstrates a firm grasp of the information. If a coach seems unclear about her approach, then she is likely inexperienced or poorly trained in coaching. Note: There are undoubtedly more and less effective coaching styles for you, but different styles work for different people. You’ll learn what coaching approaches work better for you over time. For now, finding a coach who knows her stuff is the key.
Can she explain how she’s helped other clients like you?
A good coach can immediately call to mind examples of other clients that she has helped and how she helped them. Ideally, the client story will relate specifically to you in some way. The coach will tell you this information without revealing the identity of the other client—if you are told another client’s identity, do not work with this coach. Keeping client confidentiality is a high ethical priority for coaches, and anyone who breaches this confidentiality is not worthy of your trust. Being able to talk about how she helps clients in a way that is relevant to you is a sign that the coach is very clear about her coaching technique and outcomes. It also shows how well a coach learns her clients. You want to work with a coach who learns a lot about you and thinks strategically about how to best help you.
Does she have a clear “why” behind her choice to be a coach?
Ask a prospective coach, “Why did you become a coach?” Note I use the word, “why.” “Why” questions get at purpose. If you are working with a coach who is in touch with her own purpose, then she will be able to help you get in touch (or stay in touch) with your purpose. If the idea of considering purpose in your coach’s work or in yours seems too touchy-feely, you’re not alone. With that said, I believe that connecting to purpose is the most important thing I can help my clients do. Without purpose, there is no sustainable source of motivation. Moving through life without motivation is a very tough grind indeed. So, even if you don’t see the point in purpose, humor me and look for a coach who can tell you her “why.” She will be a better coach whether you believe in purpose or not.
Do you feel a little itch at the back of your mind? Wondering what could be possible if you weren’t in it alone? Maybe it’s time to try executive coaching. Taking the first few steps are hard. I hope these five questions help you feel confident in finding a coaching wizard who is right for you.
The best is yet to come.