How to Choose the Right Executive Coach



A key theme I have found with high performers is a thirst for self-development. Throughout your career, you will have a variety of options to boost your professional growth. So what makes sense for you given the investment of time and money? During my 14-year career at Deloitte, I attended top-notch training programs year after year. I got tremendous value from each of them, but, after a certain point, I needed something tailored to my situation and needs.  

I vividly recall my first experience working with an executive coach. I was a director leading a politically charged global initiative, so it was invaluable to have access to someone who could give me perspective from the outside looking in. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what to look for in a coaching relationship. So, I want to arm you with some key criteria to consider as you forge ahead in your career.

In case you are wondering, there is a tangible ROI for coaching. This is not about just talking through things with an executive coach. According to a survey by the International Coach Federation, an investment in coaching pays off in a big way for both companies and individuals, with results including stronger performance, more cohesive teams, improved relationships and greater work-life balance.

Because the world of coaching has relatively few barriers to entry, do your homework when choosing a coach.

What kind of formal training or certifications does the coach have?

With over 20,000 members worldwide, the International Coach Federation advances the coaching profession by setting high professional standards, providing independent certifications and building a network of credentialed coaches.

Check to see whether the coach you're considering has formal training from an ICF-accredited program or an ICF certification. There are three types of ICF certifications: Associated Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and Master Certified Coach (MCC).

What is the coach's background?

Research shows that when organizations hire coaches, they often look for people with strong consulting or business backgrounds. Ask whether the executive coach you're considering has successfully coached people facing similar issues to yours and whether she can relate to your business environment. Review the coach’s website or LinkedIn page for testimonials, representative clients and results.

What is the coach's philosophy?

Before engaging an executive coach, learn more about her philosophy and whether it will work for you. For example, I approach coaching as a partnership where the client and I each bring our collective experiences and expertise to the table. This helps us develop various options to tackle the situation at hand. As a former executive, I also have a bias toward simplicity, so I can make it as easy as possible for my clients to take action and get results.

What results can you expect to see?

Coaching is all about getting results, whether we're talking about hard dollars or soft skills. Look for a coach who will work with you to set concrete goals and outcomes for the coaching and has a proven track record of success. From working with high performers over and over again, I know the common themes that come up and I have a methodology to work through them. Ask any coach you're considering about her approach. But remember, you own the results. If the coach is taking more ownership of them than you are, the coaching won’t result in long-term change.

Is the coaching tailored or "one size fits all"?

When you look at it through the lens of lasting change, coaching has a much higher ROI compared with development methods like books or seminars because it is tailored to your specific situation. Executive coaching can feel like a big investment, especially if your company isn’t paying for the coaching on your behalf. Ask yourself what would have to happen or what you would have to achieve to make the investment worthwhile for you.

Is this coach a good fit?

Clients get the most out of the coaching when they feel that they can truly be open. If you feel judged, it will hold you back from sharing important information. Remember that even when working with a coach on business-related issues, it’s natural for personal issues to surface.

What happens after coaching ends?

I close out coaching with a client by coming full circle to review progress against the original coaching goals. Over 50 percent of my clients get promoted, so we usually have plenty to be excited about! We also identify their personal best practices (in other words, what really worked for them), and identify ways to sustain the progress on their own after coaching ends.

To learn more, visit the About Coaching page of our website. If you're looking for a coach, a couple of great next steps are consulting the ICF directory and exploring our own services for individuals and organizations. Got more questions about coaching? Get in touch via email, Facebook or Twitter to let me know what you'd like to see covered in future blog posts.