5 Essential Qualities to Look For in an Executive Coach

Although it’s becoming more mainstream for business people to engage executive coaches, it’s still a new concept for many. In addition, not knowing what to look for in an executive coach can make the decision daunting.

There are life coaches, business coaches, specialty coaches… How do you know which one to choose? What do you look for?  How do you sort through the variables that matter? How do you go about finding the best executive coach for you?

Executive Coaches Aren’t For Everyone

The first thing you need to be aware of is that working with an executive coach is not a good fit for everyone and you should consider your own mindset before starting. You may think you’re a great candidate for coaching, but you may not be.

A great executive coach will expect that you are sincere about wanting to make a change. In order to get results, you must be willing to face and work on your weaknesses.

This sounds simple but you’ll need to be vulnerable, open and ready to talk about your issues, warts and all.

You also need to be clear about what you are looking for.

  • Why, specifically, are you interested in working with an executive coach?
  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • How motivated are you and is the timing right?

Time and Money

Of course, there’s also the matter of time and money.

The best executive coaches are not cheap and it is unlikely you will receive any real long term benefit in just 1 or 2 sessions. A typical assignment will be 3-6 months, meeting at least twice a month. Anything less than twice a month results in loss of sustained focus, reduced sense of urgency and accountability. Think seriously about whether you are ready to make this commitment. Be sure the timing is right for you.

Throughout my career, I’ve worked with some exceptional corporate mentors and business coaches. If you’ve thought about the above questions and you’re ready to proceed, the following is my opinion as to the best way to get started.

What to Look For to Find the Right Executive Coach For You:

1. Real World Experience & Results. Does the coach have actual experience in your current role or in the role you aspire to? Or is the coach theoretical, academic and certificate laden? Maybe both?

Some people may disagree with me on this one, but for me, when it comes to working with business owners and CEOs, having real-world experience is critical and absolutely necessary.

Speaking from experience, you just don’t know what it’s like unless you’ve sat in that chair yourself.

Now, of course, if the person is coming in as a certain type of specialty coach, like a speaking or presentation coach, then I do not think it is necessary for that person to have held a CEO position.

However, if someone is coming in as an executive coach working on general management issues, specific to the CEO/President level, then I believe that prior experience is an absolute requirement. You want someone who can relate to your issues, someone who’s actually done the job before and has achieved the kind of results you’re looking for. And, of course, ask about the results they’ve gotten for their clients.

2. Comfort level.  Is this person easy to talk to and someone you can open up to? During your initial interview, throw out a sample scenario and ask the person how he or she would recommend handling the situation. Are you comfortable with the response?

3. Trust, Integrity, Confidentiality.  You’ll need to check references for these.

4. References.  The person should have a significant number of references. Call them. Ask about the overall experience, what kind of issues the person worked on with the coach and would they work with that coach again? What kind of results were obtained? In a nutshell, was it worthwhile?

5. Location.  Is the coach coming to your office or are you meeting the coach at another location? You may not have thought of this one, but in a big city this can be an issue. Since you will be getting together with a coach on a regular basis, the location will have to work for an extended period of time.

How will the coaching be done – phone, video conference or in person?

I think it’s fine to work with a coach over the phone or via video conference as well as in-person. One thing the Covid-19 period taught us is to never accept routine as the best way to get things done. Everybody’s different and what’s best for you is what’s really important. The chemistry between you and your executive coach needs to be strong. A close, trusting relationship is the cornerstone for good work. So you choose the meeting arrangement you’re most comfortable with. They all have pros and cons. Which trade-offs matter the least to you should help guide your choice.

So, there you have it. That’s how I would go about choosing an executive coach.

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Brian Oken has helped dozens of business owners and CEOs become better leaders, build more effective teams and grow bottom-line profits.

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