I know the power of a good coach. I have been around the coaching field for a long time. I have not only hired a lot of coaches for myself and the organizations in which I have worked, but I have also trained them. I’ve hired over ten coaches for myself and over fifty for other executives. And I’ve coached over a hundred executives throughout my career.
In the 1990s, I was one of the first certified coaches to work with Thomas Leonard, who is considered a pioneer of the coaching world. He founded the first formal coach-training program, Coach University (“CoachU”). I had the great fortune of being his first employee. We created a full-scale coaching curriculum for CoachU. People from San Francisco to Tokyo signed up to be certified through the tele-classes. We also worked to create a governing body for the coaching profession, which is today called the International Coach Federation (ICF).
Part of the ICF’s charge is to continue to advance the legitimacy of the profession such that coaching “becomes an integral part of our society.” Thanks to their efforts and many great coaches along the way, what used to be deemed an on-the-side, easy-way-to-make-money hustle is now a credible profession.
The ICF defines coaching as a partnership to maximize personal and professional potential. With this definition, the ICF acknowledges that the world continues to integrate our personal and professional lives. This leaves the door open for the many “life coaches” out there, but traditional coaching still skews towards the professional. And while I am considered an executive coach, I recognize that our personal and professional lives are inextricably linked. Therefore, I work with executives more holistically, integrating both sides. Coaching executives this way allows for a more meaningful & successful coaching experience, with sustainable results.
Executive coaching has become an integral part of leadership development solutions for many organizations. Coaches are often hired to be a sounding board, help leaders through transitions, or help an executive scale their responsibilities. Coaches are also often hired to guide executives through the vulnerable demands of leading others, a process that often requires taking a look at one’s underlying patterns and limiting beliefs in order to create a system of new and supporting habits.
I often get asked about executive coaching—both how to find a good coach and how I describe my own coaching methodology.
First, how to find a good coach. Three big components of this process are certification, experience, and approach.
There are many programs that train and certify coaches. Each one has a different philosophy and approach to coaching, but all of them have helped bring legitimacy to the field of coaching. CoachU has added Corporate Coach University to its offering. The Hudson Institute is known to be more academic, likening the coaching certification to a masters degree. New Ventures West focuses extensively on small group training. Co-Active teaches “Co-Active Coaching.” The Newfield Network takes an ontological approach to coaching. These are just a few of the more popular programs.
All of these are good, but a coach should not get hired based on the training program or certification that comes with it alone. Being a certified coach does not make for a better coach. I have worked with several certified coaches, some from whom I learned a lot, others I had to fire. I have also worked with several coaches who aren’t certified; some of them rank among the best coaches in the industry. Others have had, in my view, questionable coaching approaches.
Certification is a good indicator of a good coach, but it does not guarantee one.
More important than a coach’s formal training or certification is their experience.
Not all executive coaches have been executives themselves. In some cases, a coach might have spent most of her career as an external consultant, or a therapist, professor, or even an actor. I’m biased toward hiring executive coaches who have some experience or context of working inside of an organization. The coach does not need to have the same experience as the executive they are coaching–that’s called mentoring. But if the coach has experienced the inner workings of a company, a richer context for the coaching is shared between the coach and the client.
Finding a good coach involves interviewing several of them. Be aware that coaches can have similar backgrounds, experiences, and certifications, and their styles can still vary greatly. Interview at least a few coaches to understand each one’s approach. To get a sense of a coach’s approach, share a situation you are going through and see what questions the coach asks. See if or how they shares their own assertions and point of view. Above all, look for chemistry because as with most things (everything) in life, chemistry matters when choosing a coach.
It’s also important to clarify how the coaching will be done. Typical contracts are for six months with an initial 1.5 hour meeting, a 360 feedback process, two 45-minute calls each month, and availability in between sessions. Many clients tell me that the “just-in-time, in-between sessions” are sometimes more valuable than the scheduled ones. They allow us to work through real-time situations so that the client can do less reacting and more intentional responding at the exact moment it counts. Not all coaches include this kind of access with their coaching so it’s important to clarify up front.
My Coaching Approach
The word “coaching” originated with the word “carriage,” as in helping people get from where they are to where they want to be. I define coaching as an integrated process to clarify who you are, what you want, and how to get it.
Specifically, my approach integrates the following perspectives:
- Questions & Assertions
- Personal & Professional
- Short & Long-term
Questions & Assertions
I had a coach once who was fresh out of a training program. I was dealing with a tough situation with one of my employees. She was frustrated about not having gotten a promotion. After a 1:1 with this employee, I recounted to my coach what I said in our exchange and asked her how she would have addressed the situation. I could tell my coach was uncomfortable with my question. She kept asking me, “How do YOU think you could have approached that situation better?” Fair. And a good question. But after a few rounds, I really wanted her point of view and never got it.
Good coaching is questions mixed with assertions. Dare I say, even a little consulting. While coaching is working primarily with the person’s beliefs and assumptions, it can work with the person’s issue itself. I want a coach to tell me how they would have approached a situation, what they think of an idea, or how they might do it differently next time. It’s useful. It provokes good thinking and, ultimately, more questions.
My current coach asks good questions. He started our first call with classic ones:
- What are your expectations?
- What are the positive things happening with you and your business right now?
- Any burning issues?
- What are your Q2/6-month goals?
He also gives me his point of view when I ask for it. He tells me what he has done in certain situations and how we might leverage that experience for my situation.
When I coach executives, I ask a lot of questions—usually the ones that others don’t ask. I also share my perspective at the right time. The right time is key. If I share it too soon, I don’t give my client enough time to think on their own. When I do share how I might approach a situation, we may build on what I have done in a similar situation. We dissect it and figure out how to create an even better outcome for their situation. It’s not giving answers. It’s helping someone learn by sharing a point of view so that we can co-create an even better outcome than either of us had experienced before.
Personal & Professional
One of the exercises I often do with clients is help them identify their domains. Domains are not values or goals. They are areas of focus that align with values and provide a contextual anchor for goals.
Here are my 2019 domains:
- Work (writing, speaking, consulting)
- Health (gym, meditation, eating/cooking)
- Learning (books, courses, conferences, hobbies)
- Relationships (my husband, family, friends)
- Systems (habits, technology, processes)
I encourage people to get creative with their domains. Mine have more specific titles that align with my overall theme for each year. One of my clients wanted to build her leadership brand to be more focused on innovation. So she named one of her domains “Innovative Leader.” We focused her goals around how she could be more curious with her team, more creative with her solutions, and even more innovative with how she designed her days. Words matter, especially when it comes to intentionally defining our goals and inspiring us daily to reach them.
Short & Long Term
“I had a team meeting this morning and it did not go well. Can we talk through it?”
“I know what my strategy is over the next year, but I want to talk through how I can best leverage my team.”
These are two conversations I had with the same client over two weeks. We talked about his short-term and long-term objectives. We kept his domains and objectives at the forefront of both conversations. We discussed the big picture and we also dealt with the here and now. Dealing with real-time situations while also keeping longer term objectives at the forefront is a key part of the coaching process.
There are so many coaches out there today—47,500, per a report from ICF in partnership with Price Waterhouse Cooper. The preponderance of coaches makes it that much more crucial to understand the different components of hiring a good one. It’s a process that takes time, but it’s worth it. I credit my coaches over the years with helping me get through some stressful situations while also helping me carve out what I want to do next in my life. I hope the same for you.
Good luck! I’d love to hear your #coachingstories.