I am privileged to have experienced the benefits of an Executive Coach and to say it has been life changing is an understatement. Stephen Gribben is his name, and oh boy did he teach me a lot! It has been nearly 10 years since Stephen and I had a formal coaching relationship, but I know he is always there for me, and at this point he is more friend than coach (that tends to happen when you bare your soul and most intimate philosophies with someone and they reciprocate). To this very day, I always have the copious amount of notes I took during the many hours spent together close at hand. These musings usually provide a light at the end of the tunnel for even the most significant challenges I may face.
So how does one go about choosing a coach when the consequences of getting it right or wrong are so significant?
What areas am I seeking coaching support in?
- You may find yourself in a situation (a new team perhaps), where you are experiencing challenges in the leadership of new people. There is an abundance of ‘life coaches’ and equally as many former executives, neither of whom are necessarily appropriate for business or organizational leadership coaching. Think carefully about what your needs are, and be clear on the areas you feel that you need support in.
Does my coach have relevant professional experience?
- Identify a coach who has had enough experience that you feel that the person will add value. Make a choice not only on the breadth of experience they have, measured by the number of years of experience, but more importantly the depth of relevant experience. The number of years of coaching experience while on the surface is helpful, is not the only thing you should be focused on.
What results have they achieved?
- Choose a coach who can answer questions about and evidence the results that they have helped their clients achieve. Also, present an area where you feel challenged and ask your coach how he or she would approach it. Coaching should take place to some extent right there and then, during your initial “chemistry meeting”. Is the coach presenting a credible and convincing approach to your challenge, and is your intuition telling you that it would work?
Relevant Experience/Are they interested in my business sector?
- It sounds obvious, but make sure the potential coach has (at the very least) a basic understanding of your industry. If they don’t, assess their genuine level of interest in learning about your world of work, and their ability to learn and understand it quickly. A good coach will close their knowledge-gap quickly through research and good lines of questioning.
- In my opinion, this is one of the most important areas where you need to be 100% happy. After all, you are going to be baring your soul to this person. Is their style compatible with yours?
More than your point of view
- A good coach will tell you that his or her approach includes gathering feedback about you from those who work with you most and ‘patterning’ that feedback to draw a clear picture of how you’re seen by them, and then working with you to decide the areas where the two of you can have the greatest positive impact on how you’re viewed, your capabilities and your success.
Track record/Actual success
- Effective coaching enables clients to be better at their jobs, and to create the future they want for themselves. Good coaches help their clients get clearer about how they can best contribute to their organization’s success, and then to achieve better results and become highly marketable (if that’s what they want). If a coach can’t point to actual case studies with demonstrable results, I would be concerned.
Clarity about the process
- Really skilled coaches will be able to walk you through their process. That process should include helping you define your core challenges, see where you’re starting from, and where you want to go. It’s also essential that they can describe how you’ll learn new skills and behaviors, and how they’ll support you to transfer those skills back to work.
Am I clear on what the contract with my coach will cover?
- Ensure there is a form of contract between you and your coach before commencing the program. As a minimum, this should include:
- Timelines and deliverables that work for you. Most contracts are for 6-9 sessions of 1.5-2 hours each. Ideally, these are held on a monthly basis.
- A confidentiality clause or a non-disclosure agreement to protect your sensitive information.
- Reviews on progress against objectives. There should also be a review of coach performance in supporting you goal achievement.
- This is huge!
The number one person you can invest in over the course of a long career is yourself. Good luck finding your own Stephen Gribben.