“Who do you work with?” is the question I get when people find out I’m an Executive Coach. This makes me laugh because I wonder if they think I’m the executive. Or, to be a client they have to be an executive!
The answer is muddy. Yes I do coach executives in C-Suites. But I also work with business owners, new leaders, senior leaders, professionals such as doctors and high-performers heading upward in their careers and business. And lets put an emphasis on high-performers.
As a coach, I’m not in it to performance manage anyone. That responsibility lies with the employee’s direct manager. From time to time I do however, coach those same managers on their people-managing and communication skills.
I digress. The name Executive Coach has become part of the industry nomenclature distinguishing it from other forms of coaching (life, performance, career, sales, retirement and the list goes on).
Lewis R. Stern, in his article Executive Coaching: A Working Definition, explains the difference between Executive Coaching and other forms of coaching; there’s a dual focus on working one-on-one to develop the executive as a leader while helping that them to achieve business results.
You may be wondering why does an executive even need a coach?
For the seasoned leader, Executive Coaching provides a methodology to slow down, gain awareness and notice the effects of their words and actions. The objective is to make explicit to the coachee that they have choices in their approach rather than simply reacting to events.
And let’s face it, executives and business owners are people like everyone else. They have their doubts, their egos, and their own beliefs or habits that trip them up. I become their thinking and strategy partner because believe it or not, it can be lonely at the top.
With the newer leader heading toward the C-Suite floor, we most commonly work toward letting go of the “expertise” that got them to their new position. The objective is to help them realize they’re now required to lift their head toward a bigger vista. What they view and how they approach their work means shifting to a broader orientation to understand how to influence, who to influence and why this matters.
For successful coaching it’s critical to understand it takes commitment, regular sessions and work in-between. While I’ve got my clients’ backs, executive or not, I’ll challenge the thinking, beliefs or habits that may not be serving them anymore.
How, may you ask am I qualified to work with this clientele? Was I an executive myself? Did I train for this or take an introductory weekend course?
These are exactly the kinds of questions you and any leader must ask when hiring a potential executive coach.
I recently re-read an article in Harvard Bazaar from thirteen years ago, The Wild West of Executive Coaching. The authors described executive coaching as a chaotic frontier largely unexplored, fraught with risk, yet immensely promising. They were drawing attention to the many self-proclaimed coaches with wildly diverse qualifications.
The profession has come a long way since 2004. The International Coaching Federation has become the profession’s governing body. It assesses not only potential coaches, but the executive coach training institutions as well. Since 2007 it has invested in over 8 international coaching studies to demonstrate the highly effective nature of coaching.
Are all executive coaches now certified? Not yet, which is why it’s so important to check credentials.
In my case I was a senior leader in public service, back-filling for my executive boss in her absence. So yes, I’ve sat at the executive table. But more important, I completed a university masters level executive coaching program. I’ve combined experience with the skills and methodology of coaching to provide an optimum experience for my clients.
Whether or not you’re at the top or halfway up the ladder, executive coaching promotes reflection, produces learning, behavioral change and growth. Executive or not, that produces a solid financial return on investment for both the coachee and the business.
I remember the first time I hired a coach. I had no idea what to expect, nor did I know what coaching was really about. Our first meeting was like getting to know a friend. Sure there was trust building through our conversation, and he was super nice. But when I left I didn’t feel challenged.
I returned to our next meeting and again it was more of the same – great listening on his part, but I still wasn’t sure where we were going. Eventually I realized that I had entered into this arrangement without enough information to give me the greatest impact. Was the coaching helpful? Yes, but I believe it would have been way more powerful if I’d asked the right questions at the beginning to make the most of the experience and to really get the “right fit” with my coach.
It’s common practice to interview a coach before signing on. Here are 7 critical questions to ask to make sure you get the most out of your experience – after all, you or your company are paying good money for the service so why not get the absolute best for you?
- What are her credentials and work history?
I don’t know about you, but knowing my coach is trained and credentialed is really important for me. It tells me she isn’t a flash in the pan or someone who’s just decided to hang out a shingle. Knowing my coach’s background is key. I want to know there are common milestones we can both relate to. After all, you wouldn’t hire a CEO who doesn’t have the requisite credentials.
- Does she give advice?
If I’m going to work with a coach on my vision and goals, I don’t want advice. I want the focus to be on my story. I’m looking for clarity and direction that works for me. I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of friends waiting to give me advice. For my coach, I want them to listen and ask me the powerful questions so I can figure things out.
- Is she available in between sessions if something important comes up?
Life doesn’t just happen in a one-hour time slot every few weeks. It happens constantly and sometimes we find our self in a sticky situation. If that occurs in between our sessions, I want to know I can email or call her to talk about the issue. That’s what I’m paying my coach to do; be my thinking partner when the going gets tough.
- Is she willing to challenge me?
I’m looking for change. I want to shift my perspective and find out what I don’t know. I know this will be tough work, but I’m committed so I want to make sure my coach is comfortable challenging me with tough questions. It’s like peeling an onion and if I’m not challenged we’ll be sitting with a smelly vegetable rather than getting to the essence of the issues.
- Will she be my champion?
This is especially critical if my company is paying for my coaching. I want to know that she’s in my corner, and even though there may be common goals with my organization that we work on, the sessions are about my success and me. Having a champion thinking partner will enable me to be open and know that even when the going gets rough, I have her in my corner.
- What is the process of coaching and what can I expect will happen?
Would you leap off a cliff edge into a cold river without asking what to expect? Not likely. So why enter into a coaching relationship without knowing what the process will be. I use the Essential C process that clearly describes how the client and I move toward sustained change (check out my Essential C blog). I want to know my clients are in expert hands and that we aren’t just meeting for tea.
- Will the coaching sessions be confidential?
This is the most important question of all. Like question five, if my company is paying for the coaching, I need to know that anything we discuss is completely confidential. Confidentiality creates trust and safety, and believe me, coaching can bring out deep ideas and emotions that most of us would prefer not be made public.
Let’s face it, coaching costs money and getting the most from it requires entering into the relationship with eyes wide open. Not every coach will be the right coach for you. So before you hire a coach, take in your list and don’t be afraid to ask your tough questions.
You deserve the “right fit”!