How to Select an Executive Coach
Selecting an executive coach is equally as important as selecting an employee, if not more. Bill Gates once remarked, "Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player.” The process of selecting the "right" executive coach can be rife with challenges. Coaches run the full gamut in terms of their credentials, areas of expertise, and experience levels. It’s important that you’re judicious about the selection process.
Evaluate credentials when selecting an executive coach
Prior to engaging an executive coach, many people look for credentials. Don't merely look for coaches who are "certified" as some of these organizations can be marketing schemes, and most don’t usually even require a high school degree (and besides who certifies them?). Instead, try looking for certifications that are tied to colleges and universities. And as another marker of continued preparation, look for specific licenses, certifications, and other credentials. I, for example, am certified in Myers-Briggs (MBTI), 16PF, CPI, FIROB, TKI, Strong Interest Inventory, and the Culture Accelerator, etc.
Credentials, however, fail to reveal the full picture. Ideally, coaches have "walked the walk" and have assumed executive leadership positions in industry. According to research by Harvard Business Review (HBR), 27% of executive coaches believe that prior experience working in a role similar to that assumed by their coachee(s) is a very important factor in their clients' executive coaching selection process. Executive coaches who come gifted with prior industry experience tend to be more business savvy, and more effectively and quickly understand the organizational politics and dynamics that are at play.
Finally, research shows that executive coaches should have extensive preparation in psychology and/or psychiatry. Studies conducted by the University of Sydney revealed that between 25% and 50% of individuals seeking executive coaching exhibit clinically significant levels of anxiety, stress, and/or depression. Executive coaches must be able to tackle and address these issues.
Ensure alignment of values and culture
It's dangerous to engage an executive coach on the sole bases of reputation and experience. Executive coaching is a partnership and, according to research by HBR, will last for an average of 4 to 6 months. It's essential that executive coaches take the time to understand your organizational culture, values, and mission. You and your employees will only fully embrace executive coaching if strong mutual understanding and cultural alignment exist. If a coach is distracted or more focused on selling additional services as opposed to investing time to understand you and your organization, this should raise a red flag.
Conduct reference checks
Before signing on the dotted line, it's critical to conduct reference checks. Research by the Center for Creative Leadership has found that 50% of executive coaches believe that quality personal references are very important factors in their clients' executive coaching selection process. Ideally, executive coaches have worked with similar firms or similar industries. The research revealed that the most important factor underlying the executive coaching selection process is experiencing coaching in similar settings. In order to be fully successful, executive coaches must be aware of the intricacies associated with different types of companies. A professional services firm operates very differently than a biotechnology firm and, for example, faces different recruiting challenges, competitive dynamics, and regulatory requirements.
A few years ago, a potential coaching client called me to ascertain if we would be a good fit. I was impressed because she asked the following questions, and I recommend you do the same:
What types of clients do you typically work with?
What type of training and certification do you have?
Do you have credentials in psychology?
Do you have relevant business expertise?
How will you help me achieve my goals?
How do you measure progress and success?
What makes for a successful coaching relationship?
How are you the same or different than other executive coaches?
Can I speak with some of your past clients?
Some executive coaches liken executive coaching to dating. I suppose that working with the wrong coach is akin to finding oneself on a bad date for six months: You are holding your breath until the interaction is finished. In any case, avoid the Tinder or blind date approach. By doing your due diligence and homework, you'll be able to avoid an executive coach dating fiasco. And yes, I did end up working with that coaching client. Not only did I pass her test, but she passed mine. She was very motivated...but that is an article for a different day.
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner
Contact Information: Feel free to email Dr. Nadine San Francisco Executive Coaching at