Executive Coaching

How to Select an Executive Coach

Executive coaching has come a long way in recent years. It used to be that coaching was a last-ditch effort to save a derailed executive. But today, coaching has evolved from a stigma to a status symbol. Coaching is used largely for developing high-potential leaders and executives, and who would want to hide that?

But coaching is more than just a nice amenity for up-and-coming leaders. A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers found the ROI of coaching to be 7 times the initial investment. Another survey of Fortune 1000 companies found an average return on coaching of 5.7 times investment. Finally, the Harvard Business Review reports that 3 portfolios of companies who spent aggressively on employee development outperformed the S&P 500 by 17-35%. With those stats, it’s no wonder that, according to a study by human capital firm, Manchester, nearly 60% of companies today use coaching. And 20% plan to start using it in the next year.

So, if coaching is being used more, and studies show it has a good return on investment, how do you select an executive coach?  Here are 7 considerations to help you get the best coach for your situation.

1) Determine whether you need a leadership coach or a business coach

Leadership coaches leverage behavioral science training and real-world business experience to enable the growth and development of senior executives and high potentials. Business coaches, on the other hand, are experienced leaders in specific industries and can provide insight and developmental support in specific content areas.

If you’re dealing with any of these situations, then you want a leadership coach:  You want to develop a high potential leader; you want the person to gain increased self-awareness, improve co-worker relations, and/or improve their leadership skills.

On the other hand, if the person is new to a senior role, and you want her to be the best she can in that position, then you probably want a business coach. A former C-suite executive who has been in this role can help your newcomer navigate the challenges effectively, avoid pitfalls, and get off to a strong start.

2) Get a great listener, not an advice-giver

We all like to hear ourselves talk. In a leadership coach, you want someone who is a great listener, will empathize with the coachee, and who listens more than they advise. A great coach is expert at pulling information out of people—leading them to discover solutions. They provide advice when appropriate. But overall, they are trying to develop the coachee’s confidence and skills so that at some point down the road, the coach is no longer needed. If the coach gives advice all the time, the coachee will be dependent on the coach and will never stand up on their own.

3) Find a coach skilled in dealing with tough situations and who can provide self-awareness

Leadership coaches are often asked to provide their coachees with greater self-awareness, improved people skills, and stronger leadership skills.  These can be challenging issues to tackle. It is not uncommon for coachees, at times, to not want to deal with some of these things, to clam up, become argumentative and not listen, get emotional, etc. You want a coach who can skillfully bring the coachee through these challenges and get them to be a more effective, self-aware, leader.

4) Support your coachee with an integrated tool system from which the coach can draw

Typically, a coaching engagement includes an intake to size up the coachee’s strengths, opportunities for improvement, and potential. 360˚ surveys provide valuable insight on how others view the coachee. Best practice is using one that not only shows what the coachee does, but how. An intake would also include psychological assessments, which can surface hidden potential that may not be apparent. Your coach should be skilled at utilizing these tools. If they are integrated in a common system that provides continuity, this can enhance and speed up development. Leadership skill training, paired with coaching, has been shown to increase a leader’s productivity 400%!  If your coach has leadership skill training available—ideally as part of the assessment and 360˚ survey system—this can be a big plus.

5) Look for two types of goal-setting

Clear goals for the coachee’s development should be set with input from the coachee, her boss, the coach, and, if appropriate, HR. Involving the boss involved in this process helps ensure that her goals and company goals are being met.

At the end of each coaching session, the coach and coachee should set a clear action plan due the next meeting. The coach needs to hold the coachee accountable and check progress next meeting. You don’t want a coach who asks the coachee “So, what issues do you want to talk about today?” and off they go on an issue of the month tangent. Current issues are important to cover. But there also needs to be developmental continuity—a consistent thread—if the coachee is going to hit developmental goals.

6) Have a way to measure the coachee’s progress.

If you can’t measure progress, how do you know if the coaching is meeting objectives?  Additionally, it is helpful if the coach periodically touches base with the coachee’s boss. Coachee confidentiality must be maintained, of course. The boss is important in the process, and periodic touch bases are part of an effective coaching process.

7) Don’t engage a coach if…

If the person is not willing to be coached, don’t waste your money. Sure, a good coach is able to spin up receptivity for coaching and motivate a coachee to grow and develop—within reason. But if the coachee does not think they need to change (or want to), it’s not going to happen.

Coaching is also not the answer if you need a regular venting session, or if the issues at hand are of a clinical nature. E.g. if the individual is chronically depressed, he needs a therapist, not a coach.


Address these considerations, and you will be on the path to successful coaching. Good luck! 


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