5 Things to Look for When Choosing an Executive Coach

by Herb Dyer, Principal Consultant, Strategy & Leadership Practice, AXIOM Learning Solutions

One of the most important decisions an executive needs to make in their career is when and how to choose a coach. Coaching is part of the professional development regimen for senior leaders at the world’s largest companies: up to 40 percent of executives at Fortune 500 companies have engaged executive coaches during their careers to continue developing their leadership skills.

Selecting an Executive Coach: What to Look For

An effective coach’s role is to facilitate learning, to ask compelling questions and to collaboratively get the client to identify weaknesses and strengths, while maintaining confidentiality.

For an executive, or for a senior leader who wishes to advance to executive leadership, an executive coach can help you improve your effectiveness through improved self-awareness, emotional intelligence, social awareness and self-regulation, preparing you to cultivate a more engaged workforce and a more effective organization.

Here are the five things you should  keep in mind when choosing an executive coach.

  1. An effective coach is an excellent communicator.
  2. An effective coach is trusting and trustworthy.
  3. An effective coach is observant.
  4. An effective coach is positive and enthusiastic.
  5. An excellent coach is goal-oriented.

An Effective Coach is an Excellent Communicator

Effective communication is the most important of the five things that defines an excellent coach. The art of asking questions, coupled with critical listening skills and reflection, will facilitate your learning and development. A coach who is an excellent communicator will apply critical listening to what you say, helping you to clarify and improve poorly-formed thoughts and ideas, and will provide feedback to you that summarizes and encapsulates what you are thinking, and support your development of executive communication skills.

An Effective Coach is Trusting and Trustworthy

To meet the goals you and your executive coach mutually agree on, you will need to establish rapport and a trusting relationship. Building trust comes from mutual respect, which promotes trust and sincerity. An excellent coach is able to demonstrate empathy and support. You should expect to see your executive coach demonstrate stellar work habits, and to help you develop stellar work habits for yourself.

An Effective Coach is Observant

Beyond actively listening to what you say, your executive coach will assess your gestures and emotional behaviors. Often, people working with an executive coach will believe they can separate their professional and personal lives, but this is not often the case. Your executive coach, as a good observant, should be able to discern when a your feelings or emotions cause you to behave irrationally and potentially make poor decisions. You should expect your executive coach to develop a program that is tailored to you, individually, and not use the same approach for every client (cookie cutter models do not work). An effective coach masters the art of listening and asking tough questions.

An Effective Coach is Positive and Enthusiastic

An excellent coach will remain non-judgmental throughout the coaching relationship. You should expect your executive coach to show genuine interest and remain in the present: often, this will often unearth discoveries. Maximizing efforts toward being curious and not making assumptions, while always providing honest feedback to a client defines an ideal relationship. When your executive coach asks the right questions, it will help you effectively communicate and to achieve the moments of discovery — the “light bulb moments” — that produce behavioral change

An Effective Coach is Goal-Oriented

At the start of the coaching relationship, your executive coach should clearly draft and communicate a contract between client and coach, after an initial consultation. This contract will outline expectations and the importance of working collaboratively to achieve the best outcomes. The primary purpose is to encourage development in one’s personal and professional lives, because one can deeply affect the other and vice versa.

About the Author

Herb Dyer is a leadership and organizational change management consultant, focused on helping people to excel by coaching, teaching, motivating and inspiring people to be their very best. He is a Principal Consultant with the Strategy & Leadership Practice of AXIOM Learning Solutions, and previously served in senior leadership roles in healthcare, including as COO and Vice President of the largest non-profit health system in the United States.

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