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Five Things To Do When You Interview Executive Coaches

Spring is on the verge of being sprung, New Year’s resolutions and their almost certain abandonment are long in the rearview mirror, and I am reflecting in this in between time about why executive coaching is so important year-round.

I guess it’s obvious that I think it’s important – I became an executive coach after all. People sometimes ask why I started an executive coaching practice. One big reason is that I benefited SO MUCH from the coaching process when I was a leader. I now want to help others in the way I was helped. 

Skilled executive coaches helped me clarify what changes I wanted to make to develop my skills, take concrete actions toward that development, and balance the day-to-day demands of my role.

Ultimately, coaching is about starting good habits and stopping bad ones at work (often with tangential bonus benefits in your personal life). And that process of building stronger habits is a year-round undertaking that can start on the first day of a new year, with the optimism that comes with melting snow, or on any day that you proclaim as day one – the day you are ready.

What does “ready” look like? “Ready” is when the prospect of issues remaining unchanged is more overwhelming than the thought of making the change. “Ready” is when YOU know you could be better, but you aren’t sure exactly what needs to change. “Ready” is the moment you stop saying, “there must be a better way” or “I cannot take this anymore” and take the important first step of finding an executive coach.

How do you know it is an executive coach you are looking for and not a shaman, rabbi, therapist, yogi, or good friend? How do you find a qualified coach that is a good fit for you?

A better understanding of what executive coaching is and what it isn’t may help you tell if that’s the call you need to make.

What Executive Coaching Is

  • Executive coaching is a trusting relationship with a person who is trained in helping executives identify where they want or need to be more effective and who then provides tools, encouragement, and direct feedback to support that change.

  • Coaching is time-limited; it has a beginning, middle, and end. Once your goals and objectives are clearly established, your coach will support you in building a plan that will guide you through whatever timeframe you have chosen. Although a coach may offer tune ups or some ongoing support, you should plan for the engagement to have a clear ending.

  • Coaching is an opportunity to improve your leadership and management skills or to set a clear vision for your career. Coaching can help you:

get unstuck by identifying the obstacles to your becoming the more effective leader you want to be.

hear honest feedback from the people you work with in a safe space with a caring individual.

build a concrete, ambitious, and attainable plan for your growth with a clear picture of what success will look like.

identify who can support you in your continued improvement after the coaching engagement is completed – whether people at work, your professional network, family, or friends.

What Executive Coaching Isn’t

  • Job Therapy. Yes, you need to discuss the events and relationships surrounding your job, but the processing you do should lead to clear goals and objectives for your work and a clear definition of success. Therapy is a valuable and different process.

  • A Last-Ditch Effort. If you think you are losing your job or if you are on a performance improvement plan, coaching probably will not help you make the level of change you need to make on the schedule you need to make it.

  • A Friendship. You and your coach should click but getting too personally interconnected may cloud their ability or yours to show up with full honesty and candor at key moments in the relationship.

  • A Complaint Session. Executive coaching is not about proving you’re right and that everyone else is wrong. It is about navigating whatever terrain you are on effectively. A coach will take you from victimhood and complaining to being at the center of your experience and empowered to act.

You need a coach who can help you bring more balance to your practice by moving you from:

  • talking about issues to working through issues.

  • feeling overwhelmed to clarifying your priorities.

  • responding reactively to planning proactively.

Depending on your energy and your particular situation, your coach may change from sympathetic ear to cheerleader to accountability buddy during a session.

How Do You Find a Coach?

If you can develop a rough idea of what you want from a coach before you start to look, your search will be more fruitful. You can reach out to your network and ask, “Does anyone know a good coach?” or you can reach out to your network and ask, “Does anyone know a good coach for managing issues with my micromanaging board of directors?”

Let me use myself as an example. The clearer I was from the outset about why I wanted coaching in the moment, the more valuable the experience was.

I worked with four wonderful coaches during my 10+ years as an executive director for four distinct reasons:

  • The first time, I needed to learn how to work effectively with and engage my board of directors – a key part of my role that I had no direct experience in (other than watching leaders I respected go about that work).

  • The second time, I needed help recentering around my purpose – the "why" that could help me stay grounded personally and professionally (the job was getting the better of me some days).

  • Next, I was focused on thinking about what might be next for me professionally. Was there a dream job worth pursuing? Did I want to launch a consulting practice? Did I want to stay put (I was happy, after all)?

  • My most recent coaching experience focused on managing the transition out of my leadership role and into the launch of my current coaching and consulting practice.

You do not have to be crystal clear on the reason for coaching, but a sense of what is concerning you will help speed the search. A coach will help you sift through the many issues you are facing and zero in on the issues you want to work on that would deliver the greatest change.

Now, with a sense of what you hope to achieve, where do you start your search?

This aspect of the process is pretty straightforward. Reach out to your network with a sense of what you are looking for in a coach and gather a list of names to get started. If you are a leader in a larger institution, your workplace may connect you with coaches they use regularly.

Now, here are the five things you should be sure to do when interviewing prospective coaches:

  • Interview at least three coaches. Chemistry does matter, although remember that chemistry is not about getting along. It is about feeling like someone is the right person to both support and push you toward your goal in a safe space – that they have the background and demeanor that works for you.

  • Ask prospective coaches for their approach to coaching. You should expect that someone you work with will be able to articulate their overall approach to coaching, the scope of the assignment, what will happen during the arc of your work together, and what deliverables you will produce with their support (a 360 report, a development plan, etc.).

  • Make sure the person you interview is an executive coach. There are many valuable types of coaching besides executive coaching – from life coaching to nutrition coaching to fitness coaching, to name just a few. If you’re looking to handle your role more effectively, find someone with experience in helping people do exactly that.

  • Optional: Find out about industry-specific experience. Just as there are different types of coaches, there are also people who specialize in one area, like nonprofits, tech companies, startups, law firms, etc. If one gap you are facing is knowledge in your industry specifically, this may be important to you. A good coach will also reveal during an interview whether they have experience in your field. They will want you to be able to make an informed decision.

  • Beware of hard sell. A willingness to be the wrong person to help you and to help you find the right person is an important ethical standard in coaching. If you ask all the questions above and get honest answers, this should not be an issue.

As you begin your search, remember that a coach does not play the game with you, they get you ready to play a better game than you did last time. Ultimately, the first key to success is your motivation to change. 

Executive coaching can be an incredibly effective way of improving your performance at work – helping you to be less overwhelmed, more balanced in your approach, and better able to deal with all the balls you need to juggle day in and day out.

If you want to learn more about my practice and explore whether coaching might be right for you, you learn more about my experience here or schedule a consultation here. 

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