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Lessons from a coachNovember 8, 2021
Executive coaching is a tool to support your professional growth. An executive coach can help in a multitude of situations which hinder or delay getting to where you want to be in your career. For some individuals, executive coaching can help determine how to get to the “next level” in their professional progress. For others, it might be a tool to support how to be more effective or productive in their roles. Executive coaching can also help determine the cognitive roadblocks which create detrimental effects in a person’s professional trajectory. This might be particularly important in times of transition: after being laid off or resigning from a job, re-entering the workforce, transitioning to a new role within an organization.
The challenge with executive coaching is knowing who to work with. Since the term “coach” is not a protected term, like “therapist” or “attorney”, anyone can call themselves a coach. You want to ensure that your time and financial investment in coaching is with someone qualified to support your needs and goals. Because of this it is important to consider variables which will impact your work with the executive coach you select:
- Expertise. Find someone who has training in cognitive behavioral strategies. You want a coach who understands the connection between thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Ask your prospective coach how long and what type of training they went through. Some coaches learned about cognitive behavioral approaches over a 2- to 4-year graduate program, with supervised experiences; others learn these strategies in a weekend course.
- Training. Consider coaches who have training through programs such as those accredited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). These programs are focused on training people to specialize in the most effective coaching methods and strategies. Many people enter into coaching using their own experiences as the background for their work instead of going through a specific coach training program. Ask yourself: do you use the same approach with other professionals you hire? Is the person who does your taxes someone who is good at doing their own taxes, or did you hire a certified public accountant? When you had to go to court, did you hire someone who has dealt with their own civil court case or did you hire an attorney? When you were dealing with some mental health issues, did you go to someone who went through their own mental health issues, or someone who was trained as a therapist?
- Goals. What are you looking to get in your work with an executive coach? This question is important because many people confuse an executive coach with a business advisor. With a coach, you will be developing skills and mindsets which are directed by your goals. With an advisor, you will be relying on that person’s specific expertise in an area of business in order to obtain solutions. While there is some overlap, the executive coach has no agenda while the advisor does. An advisor will help you analyze specific business decisions and scenarios, offering expertise from her or his professional experiences. An executive coach is going to help you make changes in your thoughts and behaviors in order to accomplish specific professional goals based on her or his education, training and expertise.
- Methodology. All coaches are not the same. There are different tools and strategies to support clients’ goals so finding a coach whose approach works with how you receive guidance and process information is important. Some coaches rely on solely a Socratic method of working with their clients, relying on questions to get to the clients’ goals. Other coaches integrate mindfulness and appreciation into their approach. Still others blend direct questioning with some guidance. As the expert, you will know whether a coaching methodology aligns with your developmental approach or not.
- Personality. Since you will be establishing a confidential, safe space with your coach, and often discussing vulnerable or personal topics, it is important to have a fit between their personality and yours. For example, if you tend to like a direct approach with little “sugar coating”, you might not work well with a coach who has a gentler approach. A client of mine described the first coach she attempted to work with. “She was so nice and I really liked talking to her, but it always seemed like she was being careful about what she said to me. I needed someone to call me out on my assumptions and we never seemed to get there.” Sometimes choosing which executive coach is best for you is simply about who you are comfortable opening up to.
- Time. You want your coach available to you according to your schedule. Some clients want to meet weekly. Some want monthly sessions. Others want access to quick “check-ins” with their coach. Determining whether the executive coach you are considering aligns with the schedule that works best for you is a logistical detail to consider. If the coach is not available in the way that works best for you, that is not a relationship to form.
Hiring anyone simply based on the title they label themselves is not the approach most of us take for the professionals we hire. We do our research, ask questions, get referrals from trusted people and get a feel from the professional. Hiring an executive coach requires the same approach. By clearly articulating the criteria you are looking for in your work with an executive coach, you establish a higher likelihood of success and the opportunity to achieve the goals you want.