Hiring an executive coach is something that crosses many people’s minds as they advance in their career. But how do you hire an executive coach? And why should you hire an executive coach? As with many things when you advance in your career, these questions don’t have obvious answers.
It is not always easy to know where to turn when you have questions or issues in your career. This becomes especially true the higher up in management you are. Others expect you to know how to resolve problems and be amazing at your job, and you have fewer obvious resources to help you answer the increasingly complex problems and situations you face.
Figuring out how to hire or fire an amazing engineer has a lot more grey area and personal struggle than learning how to enter data a CRM tool in your first job.
But everyone needs help at one point or another, and when it’s not as readily available the further you get in your career, it’s harder to know if and when you need outside help. You don’t necessarily have a manager or boss to turn to anymore—you are the boss. Similarly, you might not have as many mentors who, to you, seem to have endless knowledge. Instead, you have more peers.
So what happens when you run into a problem as a leader that you could use some assistance with?
One route that many professionals take is to hire an executive coach: an individual who has the training to help you with professional development, performance, and resolving problems in your career.
Of course, hiring a coach sounds like a big commitment. How do you know when you need one? How do you find the right one?
That’s what this post is here to help answer.
Before you hire an executive coach though, it’s important to know:
- Whether you really need one at all, and what alternatives you have
- What types of issues an executive coach can help you with
- What types of executive coaches exist
- How to hire the best coach for you
Do you need to hire an executive coach?
Ultimately this is a question you’ll have to answer on your own. And there’s no real right or wrong answer, either. If you hire one, you’ll find out quickly whether it’s something that is working for you or not; and if you don’t hire one, you’ll continue to face the same problems you haven’t been able to solve on your own yet.
A lot of people resist the idea of hiring a coach because it feels like a cop out. You made it this far on your own, right? But the truth is — you didn’t. You had input, advice, and help from lots of people, managers, and mentors all along the way, and the tasks you were doing required more technical skill knowledge than soft skill knowledge.
You can brute force your way into learning technical skills, for the most part. Soft skills are a bit more complicated, and having guidance from an outside expert voice can help you navigate the tricky decisions you have to make more and more often.
As you consider whether hiring an executive coach is the right choice for you, there are a few questions you should ask yourself to help get a clearer picture of what you need and what will be most helpful for you moving forward.
The more you know why you need or want an executive coach, the better you’ll leverage their time and expertise. Or if you decide you don’t need one, you’ll know exactly why, and what you need to do on your own. Let’s get started.
Why would you hire an executive coach?
In case you’ve never had a peer or boss work with a coach, here are a few of the kinds of things they usually work on with clients (though this list is by no means the only things a coach can help you with):
- Working towards a specific professional goal (like working towards a promotion you’re aiming for)
- Career transitions — a new role, new industry, new company, etc.
- Improving interpersonal and professional communication
- Developing executive presence, leadership skills, etc.
- Dealing effectively with conflict(s)
- Hiring and maintaining an awesome team
- Enhancing your strategic thinking, helping you be more innovative, etc.
- Managing relationships in your career
- Implementing behavioral changes for specific issues like time management or productivity
Are the stresses or issues you’re facing stemming from a part of your job?
Some situations where you need an executive coach at obvious. You just joined a new team and want to hit the ground running; you need to rebuild an entire department and don’t know where to begin; you had a bad performance review and want to shape up fast. But executive coaches can help you with problems that may feel more personal, too — especially when they stem from work issues.
Maybe you’re stressed because you have no time for a personal life — this is something an executive coach can actually help you with, by helping you understand where your time is going and finding solutions that will allow you to balance your work life and personal life. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed in your first-ever VP role and it’s keeping you up at night, making you feel insecure, and causing you to start hiding out in your office a little too often.
If you have a problem that is at least in part related to your leadership role, things related to that role (travel, speaking, hiring a team, etc), or finding a leadership role that works for you, then a coach can help you identify what is causing that problem and help you create steps to resolve it.
Is this an issue that can be solved in one or two conversations, or do you need to dive really deep?
Mentors and advisors are wonderful resources, but their time for you is not unlimited. Most of your mentors have careers and lives of their own, and can only devote so much energy and assistance to you.
This is great for one-off problems, or getting advice or perspective in a broader sense. But when you need to really focus down on an issue — if you’re thinking about switching careers, if you want to do an in-depth 360 review, if you want to achieve a really big goal in the next year — then an executive coach is a way better person to invest time in, because they’ll be able to invest just as much time back into you.
Take your own problems seriously enough to consider if ongoing coaching could be valuable. It’s easy to brush things aside and think, “Nah, I’ll just read a book or ask so-and-so about this”, but some problems are just not solved so easily and really require outside support and input.
Do you have a big picture issue you need help with?
If you need help with a big goal (making a big transition, implementing behavioral changes, etc), then an executive coach can help you identify tactical strategies and to-do’s that will help you actually make progress on these bigger, more complicated ideas.
If you’re working through a big idea, it helps to have someone else’s input to break it into actual work items you can make progress on. Otherwise they often feel so big that it’s easier just not to start.
Do you want an executive coach going to solve all your problems?
No — and you shouldn’t expect them to. A great executive coach will help you solve your own problems, by giving you the tools, insight, and feedback to help you make informed choices about your career.
You got this far by being smart and ambitious. Getting help from a coach isn’t like cheating or getting all the answers slipped to you. It’s more like bringing along a helpful sidekick who has special knowledge they can share with you, and always asks just the right question to help you see exactly what you need to do in big situations.
Questions to answer before you hire an executive coach
Once you’ve decided that hiring an executive coach is the right decision for you, you need to know how to pick a coach. Which can be a daunting process in and of itself! Not all coaches are created equal, and some have certain specialties that can help you with specific needs (for example, if you need someone who can help you become a great interviewer).
Start by writing down the top three things you want to work on (think back to why you wanted to hire a coach in the first place)
It doesn’t have to be complex, but you should go into your coaching relationship with realistic expectations. If your only goal is “to get better”, then you won’t necessarily get there, since being better at your job can mean a lot of things.
If you know what you want to achieve when you enter a coaching relationship, you’re so much more likely to get what you want.
Think about what prompted your choice to find a coach. Was it a situation? A piece of feedback? Pick a few issues or goals you want the coach to help you address.
(Even if your work with the coach goes beyond these issues — which is very possible — it is really useful to have a starting point for them to work from.)
Write out goals before you start researching and interviewing coaches, so that you can pick people whose expertise matches your needs. For example:
I want to work on….
1. expressing myself better in front of our board of advisors because I clam up during presentations but I want them to take me seriously
2. communicating with my team better because I worry that they don’t trust me as someone they can share their goals, problems, etc with
3. managing upward and sharing wins with my leadership because I want to get promoted
Make sure you include a “because” statement so that your coach can see why you think this issue is important and what aspects of the problem are most critical to address first.
How to hire the right executive coach for you
The best way to find a coach is to get a referral from a friend or colleague. They can give you so much more (and more useful) information than a website, so ask around before you start researching on your own.
You can also look online for executive coaches in your area; they don’t have to be someone you can meet in person, but it is useful for most people to be able to meet with their coach face to face.
Once you have a few suggestions from peers or potential coaches that you’ve found online that you like, look into their:
Make sure they have the appropriate training, experience, and certification to do their job.
The International Coaching Federation certifies executive coaches, so that’s one certification you can look for when vetting candidates.
You can also check their LinkedIn page or website to see what credentials and expertise they have.
If this person is employed with a firm, you might have to do less research on their individual background if it’s a reputable firm.
Area(s) of expertise
Remember when you jotted down notes about whether or not you needed a coach, and what you wanted to get out of your coaching experience?
Those notes should now help you narrow down what kind of executive coach you need. Some people specialize in startup leaders, and others are more corporate. Some are all about helping with people skills, whereas others know all about one area of leadership like hiring, being culture, managing boards, etc.
Previous work history/experience
It’s really important to know, beyond education and credentials, what your coach is capable of handling.
Ask for references of people that they’ve worked with so that you can get more information about the candidates you’re considering.
Look for coaches who have worked with people in positions are similar to yours. Pay particular attention to what industries they have knowledge of and experience with. You want to hire a coach that will understand your specific issues/concerns so it’s best to find someone that either has first hand experience in your field and position or has helped individuals in that field and/or position.
Getting started with your perfect executive coach
Once you’ve done all the background work, all that’s left to do is hire someone.
Just like hiring anyone else, the first candidate you interview isn’t necessarily going to be the person you want to hire. We strongly recommend doing an in-person interview with your top 2-3 candidates, so you can get a feel for how this person interacts, what their ideas are for working with you, and how well you two communicate.
(After all, you don’t want to pay to work with someone who you don’t understand or don’t like hearing from.)
You want to pick someone who has the credentials, a solid track record, but also someone who will work well with you and your needs. Meeting them in person (or via a video Skype call, if they’re not local) will allow you to gauge their compatibility with you more accurately, and let you get a sense of their personality before you commit hundreds of dollars and hours of time to the person.
You also should ask about things like:
- ideas they have for when you start working together
- how often they will be able to meet
- what a typical meeting with them looks like
- what kind of homework/action items they typically give out
Touching base on logistics will help you prepare to hit the ground running when you say yes to a coach you feel good about.
Set yourself up for success
Hiring an executive coach is only half the equation. You are the other half.
The goal of any good executive coach is to eventually make you self-reliant. They aren’t going to be around forever, but they want to help you build sustainable habits so that you can really achieve results. Which means that you have to set yourself up for success too. Then let your coach do the rest.
In order to set yourself up for success you really need to identify what you want to work on.
Talk through what you want to work on, and any potential solutions you’ve come up with, with your coach. They can’t set your goals for you, but they can ask questions and offer you expertise to help you work towards solutions that make sense for you.
Set goals with regular checkpoints and deadlines
Executive coaches typically work with clients for 3-12 months; usually on the shorter side of that scale. They are brought in for a specific purpose and once it’s resolved, their job is done.
It’s important that you and your coach develop a timeline so that you know you’re making progress before their time with you is up. That way you are spending your time and your money wisely, and not dragging out the coaching relationship longer than it needs to be.
Most executive coaches will want to meet with every 2-3 weeks, so you have time to make progress between each session. However, it varies depending on what you want to do and how they want to go about it.
Just make sure you communicate with your coach about when and how you want to check in, and what metrics you want to use to gauge success. It’s something that the two of you can even work on together in one of your first sessions, so you both know exactly what you’re working towards — and when you get it.
Get ready to be even more awesome
A lot of work goes into finding the right executive coach and identifying what you need to work on, but a good executive coach can really enhance your career. With all of the background work out of the way, all you have to do is work with your coach and become more awesome every day. It’s not going to be easy work, but it’ll push you forward, and that is what becoming a great leader is all about.