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What is an Executive Coach Anyway?

My decision to become an Executive Coach is rooted in two experiences. 

The first is the incredible benefit I received from my Executive Coach. She helped me gain perspective on challenging issues, reduced the feeling of isolation that all leaders face, and challenged my assumptions.

The second is that what I ultimately found most rewarding in my career was seeing people develop—and helping people see the potential they did not recognize in themselves. I don’t believe in natural-born leaders. Everyone has the potential to lead; they just do not realize it. Helping people see that in themselves and working alongside them to find a clear path forward to becoming the leader they have the potential to be is the ultimate reward for me.

This post will dive into more detail on what an executive coach is, how to find one, and choosing the best one for you.

So, What is an Executive Coach?

I see people confusing coaching, consulting, and mentoring. These are not interchangeable terms. They are, in fact, very different experiences and intentions.

  • Mentoring – A business mentor is typically an experienced business person who enters into an informal relationship with you, providing advice, support, and connections for you. Typically there is no fee involved. The mentor sees it as a way to give back after their success.
  • Consulting – A business consultant is a professional who analyzes businesses or strategies, creates solutions to problems, and helps business owners develop plans to meet their goals. They charge a fee for their service and could be with the business for a short or long period.
  • Coaching – An executive or business coach is a professional who works alongside business owners and executives to help them clarify their goals, assist them as they think through plans and hold them accountable for the results they committed to.  You can work with a business coach for a short time or be with you throughout your career.

Your needs and preferences will drive which of these is most helpful and attractive to you. For example, if it’s your first time growing a business, a mentor can help you. You can learn from their lessons and take advantage of their network. A consultant can help if you have a problem in your business you can’t solve or there is a process you don’t know how or have the staff to do. An executive coach is helpful when you have the mentor’s guidance or the consultant’s plan and struggle to execute. A coach can be because you either don’t know what you want to do or something is blocking you internally from following through.

How Do I Find an Executive Coach?

After reviewing those definitions, you decided you need an executive coach. Where in the world do you find one, and how do you choose which one to use? There are several ways to approach this question. A great place to start could be your network. There’s a good chance someone knows or knows of a great executive coach. You can also search through LinkedIn.

What I recommend is starting with where coaches get their professional certification, the International Coaching Federation. They offer a searchable database of certified coaches with various filters, including rate, location, and experience. You are guaranteed a coach who has received formal training and has the background and experience you are looking for.

How Do I Decide Which Who is Right for Me?

This is a crucial decision for you. It’s essential to find someone who is the right fit for you and has the experience you are looking for. In some ways, all it takes to become a coach is to hang out a sign that says “executive coach,” so it’s worth your time to interview a few. As a baseline, I recommend you find a coach who has

  1. Corporate leadership experience, the higher the position, the better
  2. Formal training in coaching
  3. Coaching certification from the International Coaching Federation

The next step is to prepare a list of questions for them. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Have you run a successful business?
  2. What makes you a good fit for me?
  3. What kind of results can I expect, and how long might those results take?
  4. What exactly are you offering, and what do you charge?
  5. Can I talk with some of your current or prior clients as a referral?

Consider their answers to those questions and how comfortable you feel with them. As much as you want to ask them questions, here’s a red flag to watch out for. Suppose the prospective coach isn’t asking you questions; that is a problem. A great coach is an expert at asking you questions that probe your thinking and give you pause to consider. If they spend the whole interview talking about themselves, they’re likely not a great coach.

Good luck in your search. If you’d like some help thinking through the process, set up an introductory call, and let’s discuss it. You can learn more about me here.