Saturday, February 23, 2008

Five Questions to Ask When Choosing an Executive Coach

Choosing a good coach is likely to be the best thing you could do for your professional development because the return on good coaching is higher than for any comparable form of development.

Coaching used to be just for boardroom executives, but now senior executives, family business owners and many mid-level managers wanting to develop an edge on their peers are turning to an external coach. As the business of coaching business leaders grows larger each year it is becoming more important to chose wisely from the many coaches marketing their services.

The greater number of coaches available makes it more difficult to find a truly exceptional coach. A great coach will provide returns worth many times the investment of time and money. The following questions cover the range of issues needed to establish a good coaching relationship and are designed to help you make a smart choice.

What are my goals? 

Decide if you are looking to achieve personal or business goals. Some life coaches specialize in personal goals, while many executive coaches focus on business and commercial objectives. You can talk through with the coach whether you are looking to overcome a current challenge, find professional growth, compensate for a perceived weakness or identify ways to capitalize on your strengths. Do you need help identifying goals? This can be a good place to start with the potential coach.

What standards and qualifications does the coach have?

Many people say they have had coaching training when they are really a speaker, trainer or consultant. Unfortunately, there are many short courses certifying people who claim to be coaches after a few days or weeks of training. Most of these courses do not require either training in psychology or executive experience.

One way to identify a credible professional is to look for membership of the International Coach Federation, the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches, American Psychological Society or a similar professional body in your area. These organizations provide certification for members and require adherence to strict ethical and professional practices.

Does the coach have common sense and practical business experience?

Find out what relevant pre-coaching background and experiences the coach has that you can relate to. Knowing what they did before they became a coach will help you determine if you will feel comfortable that you can discuss your issues freely with a coach who will be supportive and understanding.

An indication that the coach will have practical business sense is their experience as an executive. Coaching is a special relationship that relies heavily on trust. Perspective and feedback are part of the coach’s role, so you need to feel their judgment is sound and you can value their perspective on your business issues.

Do we have rapport?

Coaching is a very personal interaction. Not every coach will be right for you, even if their qualifications, experience and credentials look ideal. Make sure the chemistry is right so you have the basis for a lasting relationship.

What are the deliverables?

A credible coach should be able to explain a process that shows they have a high concern for both task issues and people issues. A typical process will involve a warm up, an assessment of your situation, focused action planning, opportunities for feedback, self-learning and teachable moments as you follow through on your development.

The personal benefits of good coaching are threefold:

1. Focus on achieving what matters most to you and your organization
2. Growth toward personal and organizational goals
3. Relationships to provide mutual support, resources and opportunities

And if you wonder about the hard return on investment, I’ll leave the last word to Fortune magazine, (19th Feb., 2001, "Executive Coaching--With Returns a CFO Could Love"):

"Asked for a conservative estimate of the monetary payoff from the coaching they got, managers described an average return of more than $100,000, or about six times what the coaching had cost their companies."

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