Let’s face it. Today, executive coaches are popping up all over the place, and we are seeing a bigger need than ever for extra leadership coaching support. If you spend even a small amount of time on LinkedIn, or other social media outlets, it seems that many professionals, seeking that next career transition, are hanging shingles claiming to be executive coaches. Because it is so noisy in this space currently, and to ensure you give yourself the optimal chance for the right outcomes, I suggest you consider two things before stroking a check:
- Is the coach I am considering certified?
- Am I clear on the criteria to use in selecting a coach?
In a previous post, I offered insights and distinctions about executive coaching versus athletic coaching, as the practices and implied outcomes in each respective context are vastly different. In this article, I’ll focus specifically on business–or professional–coaching, with an emphasis on choosing the right resource to help you achieve the best outcomes.
Firstly, what does it mean to be a certified executive coach? While some articles lament the lack of regulation and the proliferation of coaches, the International Coach Federation (ICF) is a well-known governing body that offers appropriate rigor and self-regulation. When considering an executive coach, relying on ICF certification is an excellent start to choosing the right resource. At a minimum, the coach should have completed the 125 hours of course work under an ICF certified coach training program. As such, they will be able to produce an ACTP (Accredited Coach Training Program) certificate. This means the individual will have been trained under the rigors of ICF standards by a master coach and will have hours and hours of practice under their belt. To achieve the next level in becoming fully ICF certified, the individual will have also completed 100 hours of coaching work and passed the ICF “ACC” level exam. (Note, PCC is a further level which requires over 500 hours of coaching practice and recertification.) These levels of additional certification may or may not be as critical to your personal selection criteria, but it’s important to understand these nuances of accreditation.
If a person cannot produce some viable evidence of training, I suggest you carefully scrutinize their credentials, as they may really be business mentors or consultants and not really executive coaches. While there is nothing inherently wrong with mentoring or consulting—both can improve developmental outcomes—coaching creates a very special impact, based on the coach’s ability to drive fresh insights and challenge existing thinking through careful questioning and targeted self-reflection on the part of the coachee. If you’re paying for a coach, you want to ensure you’re receiving the appropriate outcomes from that work.
Once you have cleared the certification hurdle, other criteria you should consider includes:
- Chemistry: This is probably one of the more critical elements beyond certification. How well do you connect with your prospective coach? Does the coach make you feel comfortable and relaxed? Do you feel you can trust this person? Since confidentiality is a core principle of a good coaching practice, trust is necessary.
- Experience: What life and/or business experience does your prospective coach have? Is it relevant to you and will it enhance their ability to remain “in it” with you? It may be that you want the opposite: that you would consider someone with quite different experiences from yourself?
- Demographics: As individuals and organizations continue to work on the very necessary effort of diversity, equity and inclusion, executive coaching can and should appropriately reflect this need. Tied to the chemistry criterion is often that the “coachee” wants to work with a coach who is very much like them, with similar life experiences and relevant background.
- Objectivity: There are two things to consider here. One, is this an internal coach from your organization? If so, do you trust their objectivity and confidentiality? Many times, this is a simple “yes”, but I have heard executives say they prefer an external partner. Second, is the coaching predicated on objective data and does the coach use appropriate assessments to paint a clear picture of who you are and what you may want to work on? These can take the form of 360 tools, validated personality assessments and emotional intelligence assessments, among others.
- Recommendations: Do you have friends or colleagues who have used a particular coach in the past? How highly recommended is that person? Can they point to specific style or personality elements that they appreciate; and can they point to specific outcomes the coach helped them to achieve?
If you are looking for a coach or a cadre of coaches, my final thought on selecting a coach is to trust your instincts. If it feels right, then it probably is right. Since most coaching engagements can last from 6 months or more, you will be working with this person on a regular basis for a long time and you must feel good about it so that you can also feel good about doing the work. Ultimately, the key to any successful coaching engagement will be for you (and others) to be able to observe and articulate change in the areas of focus that you and your coach agree are the most important.
Being selective about your choice of coach, including a reliance on certified coaching resources, an awareness of the chemistry connection between you, confidence that the coach has the right level of experience and diversity of experience to add value to your work together, and, finally, that the coach is capable of appropriate objectivity and confidentiality, will help ensure that the investment you make is well spent and the outcomes achieved meet the demands you have placed on that relationship.