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How to choose an executive coach

Jackie Brown 8th February 2021

You are a senior manager in your organisation (or hope to be) and you have decided to engage the services of an executive coach to help with your personal development, manage a transition or help prepare you for that all important promotion opportunity.  Congratulations! Partnering with the right executive coach can be a powerful opportunity to help you achieve your goals.

But how do you choose one?

Google “Executive Coach” and there are 408 million suggestions ranging from independent coaches, coaching organisations or business schools.  The choice is endless.  Whether you are looking for coaching accreditations, recommendations or industry experience, here are five questions to ask yourself so you can find the right executive coach for you.

Do I trust them?

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Of course, it’s important that you have chemistry with your coach and the only way to do this is have a conversation with them. Chemistry is not just about whether you like or can connect with them.  It is about trust.  Check in with how you feel right after your conversation.  Do you feel excited and inspired? Good, that means you are ready to grow and commit to the process. Are you feeling a little bit of trepidation? It probably means that you will know already there will be some stretching involved, which means you already trust that the coach will help you move beyond your comfort zone.

What is their intention?

An executive coach’s whose intention is to do the best for you and in service of you is critical. An executive coach will be actively considering how they can support you with what you need to do and so in that spirit they will be seeking to work out if your intentions and expectations are realistic. When considering an executive coach asking them to talk to you about how they contract will give you a better understanding as to whether you will be able to have a constructive and meaningful experience with them. I find it fascinating to hear how people have become coaches and if your coach is open to sharing this with you, you will learn a lot about their purpose and intentionality.

Will they offer me the right type of challenge and stretch?

I often describe a good coach as someone who can hold a mirror up to yourself and allow you to see those parts of you that are hidden.  Self-reflection can be difficult. An adept coach will help you stretch your boundaries through reflection but will understand the limits of your ability. A coach’s role is to help you stretch and grow but not break you in the process.

Are they qualified?

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Although there is no one best qualification for a coach you can assess their credentials by exploring their background and their formal qualifications. Supervision and ethics also play an important role in the practice of a professional coach. Many professional coaches are members of a professional body such as the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, which means they are continually practicing towards a set of standards. This offers a level of reassurance that you are in the right hands, but they are not the only thing to look for because some of the best coaches I know hold no formal qualification.

Have they got relevant experience?

There is a widely held belief by people that a good executive coach needs to have direct experience of the challenges that you are experiencing to be able to help you work through and towards a solution. Having shared experience is often a way to quickly build rapport and credibility.  My experience of coaching is that a coach does need to have this level of technical expertise.  A strong executive coach will use their practice and process to ask great questions and help you identify a path forward without any shared experience to refer to.

The final question is one that you need to ask yourself before looking for an executive coach. And that is Am I ready to be pushed and not just supported? Coaching is a powerful development tool, but your coach is not there to just support you.  They are there to challenge you to step up, take risks, stretch yourself and growth.  This can mean you will spend a great deal of time outside of your comfort zone, so there is no point choosing an executive coach if you are not prepared to grab the learning that you will receive and enjoy the journey.