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So, You Think You Need a Coach?
CTDO Magazine

So, You Think You Need a Coach?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Executive coaching can pay out dividends—if you put in the effort.

You've probably heard of executive coaching. Maybe you've considered it or your boss, HR professional, or a colleague suggested you'd benefit from coaching. Perhaps you are considering a coach for one of your direct reports.


By various estimates, 55—80 percent of American Fortune 500 companies now use executive coaches, and growth in this industry has been rapid for the past 20 years. The majority of coaching assignments today are reserved for high—potential, high—performing leaders. Gone are the early days of assigning a coach to someone as a last—ditch effort prior to dismissal. If your company has recommended you for coaching, congratulations—it must view you as worth the investment.

While many training options require missing work and often use hypothetical classroom examples with little after—class follow—up, executive coaching is conducted on the job, in a highly personalized and real—time environment with built—in accountability over time. Research is increasingly proving that coaching works.

But how do you make the most of this powerful—albeit pricey—growth opportunity? First, start by asking yourself this question: Are you ready to do the work?

At CoachSource, we ask this of any chief human resource officer who requests a coach for an executive. If your answer is yes, continue reading for more about executive coaching. If your answer is no, skip ahead to the last section.

What a coach is for

There are countless types of coaches for endless reasons, from building leadership skills, assisting with a key career transition, and improving public speaking to discovering a new career path, enhancing executive presence, or improving your personal life.

What do you want to improve, or what do others say you need to improve? If you aren't sure, the coach will interview others to determine that. Executive coaching is highly effective for tackling a vast list of leadership topics, such as enhancing communication skills, inspiring others, treating people better, holding others accountable, managing up, making tough decisions, transitioning positions, or gaining more self—insight.

However, coaching is not for such aspects as fixing integrity problems, learning functional content, or improving those who aren't motivated to change. Further, coaching is not designed to provide advice on such areas as how to run your company—that's a consultant's role.

Sourcing coaches

Different types of coaches focus on different areas. Typically, C—level executives are looking for an executive coach as opposed to a life, career, or other type of coach. The company nearly always pays for executive coaching, rather than you paying from your personal pocket.

When selecting a coach, oftentimes, the HR or executive or leadership development functions may have established relationships with coaches. If not, coaching firms can learn about your specific needs and recommend coaches for you to interview. The International Coach Federation also offers a coach finder search tool on its website.

Based on CoachSource's research, executives' top preferences for coaches include:

  • the ability to build rapport—will you feel safe and trust this coach?
  • business experience—can the coach understand your work context?
  • coaching skills and experience—is this coach a good coach?
  • specialty area—does this coach specialize in the area in which you are trying to improve?

Other less—important attributes can include a coach's location, prior experience with your company's culture or industry, an official coaching certification, and an advanced degree.

It is unnecessary for your coach to have previously done your job. In fact, a former executive who has recently become a coach may not have the deep expertise and training in coaching skills that a longtime professional coach will possess.

Chemistry is key

If you've received recommendations for a coach—I recommend three to four—request to interview each. If the coach is local, meet in person with the individual. Reputable executive coaches live in most major business cities worldwide.


For the interview, ask practical questions surrounding the individual's background, years of experience coaching, specific coach training, and methodology. You may also consider asking:

  • What do you consider your coaching specialty—what areas do you specialize in particularly?
  • I'd like to work on X. Can you tell me about coaching assignments where you've helped an individual with similar development objectives?
  • Have you worked with other leaders in similar C—suite positions as mine? What were they working on and how did the coaching go?

    Even though you will ask questions, anticipate that a good coach may ask you questions about your development goals. Sometimes the dialogue turns into an impromptu coaching session—this is a great way to get a feel of how the individual coaches.

    Executives I have met with often point to chemistry as being one of the most important criteria in a successful engagement. You need to feel safe and comfortable with your coach, yet you also want to feel like the individual can challenge you and keep you growing. While most coaches you interview will have the skills to do a fine job, ultimately you may end up choosing based on your own gut feeling.

    Do the work—or save the money

    I worked with a chief operating officer not long ago who liked the idea of having a coach more than doing the work with a coach. Coaching is now seen as a status symbol, and this leader wanted to brag about having a coach, yet canceled countless meetings, never did the homework, and ended the relationship early.

    Research by Marshall Goldsmith and others repeatedly show that an executive's effort is the single greatest predictor to successful coaching outcomes. Ninety—four percent of executive coaches recently surveyed for the Executive Coaching Industry Research 2018 report cite lack of leader commitment as the largest reason they will not take a particular assignment.

    Coaching takes openness, time, and discomfort in an effort to achieve greater change. Most coaches will want to be in touch with you every one to three weeks for 30 to 120 minutes at a time with various assignments for you to complete between sessions. Meetings with your manager, HR, and other stakeholders are often part of the process too. Real work is involved, and how much you get out of it is directly related to what you put into it.

    The results of coaching can be career changing, career saving, and even life altering. Ninety—five percent of the surveyed executives said they would hire a coach again. One executive said, "I would say if you have coaching done well, it can change your life, and your life as a business leader." Imagine the possibilities as you delve into this opportunity.

    Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected]

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