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How to select the best executive coach for you?

Updated: Jan 2, 2021

So you want to find your ideal coaching partner.

So you have decided to find an executive coach to help you create change in your life. Yet you are not sure how to go about finding a coach with which to partner.

If that is not the case, please check out part 1 to the "Buyers guide to coaching" as you should read that first before continuing. Part 1 will lead you through the questions to ask yourself, so you understand what coaching is and whether it can help you.

Part 2 of the "Buyers guide to coaching" is for when you have decided coaching is the help you need. Part 2 focuses on how to find the best coach for you. It can be a daunting task to search for and select a provider of professional services, be it a coach, or consultant. How can you be confident you are buying the best intangible service from the many coaching providers out there?

Follow these five steps to reduce the risk inherent in finding and selecting a coach and increase your chances of finding that ideal, independent strategic partner who will help you to achieve your goals.

Before we get started, this guide focuses on executive coaching, also referred to as leadership or business coaching.

Paraphrasing Ann Scoular from the FT guide "Business Coaching."

"Life coaching covers the whole of your life: diet, fitness, relationships etc. In terms of the skills used, there is some overlap, as both draws on the same basic skills. With business (or executive or leadership) coaching, there are several clients (individual, often a sponsoring manager, a corporate HR or L&D department etc.), sometimes with conflicting demands. Therefore business coaching involves considerably greater complexity."

1 - Coaching style and roles you want the coach to provide

Coaches will have different styles, the ways they approach working with their clients. I like to think of it as what roles are provided by the coaching.

The Heron Model of coaching behaviours informs my approach. I am equally comfortable being facilitative, supportive and "pulling" the ideas, solutions and so on from my clients as I am authoritative which can be more challenging but allows me to "push" information to my clients through challenges, suggestions and brainstorming together. Some coaches will not be comfortable pushing and pulling; their approach is what is called non-directive and relies solely on drawing out (pulling) ideas and information.

I believe being able to use both "push" and "pull" approaches depending on the situation is not only a valuable skillset to have but an essential one. My collaborative and pragmatic coaching style utilises stories and insights from a successful, eventful, and yet a humbling 22-year corporate career. My approach leverages this track record, and so I can push and appropriately challenge my clients when I believe it is in their best interest.

When researching coaches, you should aim to understand their coaching style, approach and the essential role their coaching provides.

2 - The practice of coaching - core competencies

The practice of executive coaching demands a broad and deep array of knowledge that spans four core competencies:

Psychological knowledge: understanding of psychological theories and concepts as well as emotional intelligence.

Business acumen: how different businesses work, their functional areas, business models, industry knowledge along with the specifics about a given company.

Organisational knowledge: understanding of how systems work in the context of organisations, organisational structures, processes and how to assess these connected and individual elements.

Coaching experience: knowledge of theory, research and practice in the field of executive coaching such as coaching models, boundaries, contracting, goal setting.

Coaches will have deep expertise in each of the areas, often across several but rarely all four. Developing subject mastery takes place over different stages of one's career.

For example, I bring a range of experience across these competencies having built and led highly effective teams within financial services and working at senior executive levels in New York and London as a Chief Operating Officer. My continuing professional development (CPD) is helping me to develop my psychological knowledge, which I will continue growing in the years to come.

Coaching qualifications are in no small part based on psychology and therapy. As an emerging profession, it has tended to attract a disproportionate amount of people from human resources, and therefore psychologists and therapists. These coaches are likely to be weaker in the business acumen and practical organisational competencies. If you are familiar with the coach's history, earlier career and background, it will help you to understand better whether they are going to be a good fit for you.

3 - Coaching specialisms

It is essential that when carrying out your research that you understand the coach's speciality, and the focus for their coaching.

Coaching executives isn't a specialism.

Experienced coaches focus and specialise. Why work with a generalist, when you can partner with someone that specialises in the area that you are seeking help? Any coach worth their salt will have a niche, a set of challenges that they can help work with you to overcome and solve.

4 - How to search and find your coach

It can be daunting to buy an intangible service, such as executive coaching. There are several ways to reduce the risk and save time rather than trusting that your online search engine ranking knows best:

Word of mouth, recommendations: If someone in your network is recommending a coach, then it will be worth your time to speak with them. Check with your network and ask for recommendations.

Coach training organisations: high-quality coach training schools will be able to recommend coaches from their alumni.

Accreditation bodies: such as Association for Coaching (AC), European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and International Coach Federation (ICF) have resources for searching coach directories.

LinkedIn: A quick search on LinkedIn, filtering for 1st or 2nd-second degree connections and location will supply you with an initial list of coaches that you can then review.

5 - Questions to ask a prospective coach

So with all that in mind, let's distil it down to a set of questions you could ask when you finally speak. This first introductory or exploratory meeting with a coach, either in person, via phone or Zoom is commonly referred to as a "Chemistry session". Chemistry sessions should always be free of charge - it gives both you and the coach a chance to get to know each other and mutually assess fit. It would be best if you aimed to speak to several coaches - I recommend speaking with three.

Seven questions to ask:

  1. Who do you work best with - the seniority, experience and type of person? Aim to draw out their coaching style, approach and the essential role their coaching provides.

  2. What is your coaching specialism? The challenges that the coach has made their specialism and they spend most of their time working with clients.

  3. Describe a recent coaching success story. I recommend reading available client testimonials for additional insights to questions 1-3.

  4. Describe a problematic coaching engagement. What didn't go according to plan, and why? What would you do differently next time? Doing so will help you discover how honest they are and their level of humility. A coach who claims never to have struggled with a client should be treated with caution.

  5. How will the coaching process work and the likely structure you would recommend?

  6. What and when was your formal training, are you accredited and which body of coaching ethics do you follow? Coaching credentials are essential as coaching is still an unregulated industry - an emerging profession. Which means anyone can refer to themselves as a coach. Look for coaches who have graduated from programs that are approved by one of the following: AC, EMCC or ICF. You can quickly vet credentials by searching online to find out if the coach went to an accredited coaching school.

  7. Lastly but not least, do you have a coach? Trained coaches are obligated to do deep inner work and development before they begin coaching others and should always have a focus on their continued journey. Being coached is one way for a coach to grow and bring new skills and ideas back into our practices.

Conditions for coaching success:

To finish up, I will leave you with some final thoughts to help you with your journey.

  • There needs to be a desire for creating change in your life. If there is no desire for change, then no need for a coach.

  • Your focus should be on the development and growth required to get the best outcomes. You often will have little control over outcomes such as gaining a promotion, or a new role, instead focus on the things you have more control over, that will lead to the desired results.

  • Coaching will challenge you, providing an outside perspective which can help you see yourself as others see you - you need to be open to feedback and willing to try new things.

  • Play the hand you're dealt. You are busy, often juggling multiple, sometimes competing demands, threading the needle is the norm. Coaching is a commitment in terms of time, energy and emotions.

  • Keep your promises. You are accountable for your change and responsible for follow-through. Otherwise, you won't progress and make positive, lasting change.

  • Select a coach that you are comfortable partnering with to do the challenging work of change. Trust, openness and honesty are essential to an effective coaching partnership.

  • Find a coach that provides the roles you seek and has the specialism and experience that aligns with your field.

  • There should be no self-serving behaviour from the coach. At every stage, they should be comfortable sharing tools and techniques for the coaching to continue between sessions and after they finish.

Get in touch for a free exploratory call to see if working with me could help -

If you want to find out more about coaching, check out:


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