Top tips on choosing an executive coach

As part of a series on coaching, we’re asking leaders and coaches for their advice and top tips on how to choose an executive coach.

First up is  Gary Buxton MBE, Manchester based Executive Coach, on working out what you actually need and the questions to ask to get the best coach for your career aspirations.

Check the assumption

So, you’re thinking about getting an executive coach? You’ve taken a quick look online and now you’re wondering which one to choose?  Here’s a guide on how to select the right coach for you.

First of all, is coaching really the right thing? The International Coaching Federation has developed a brilliant flow chart which will take you around various questions to identify which of the following might be the best fit:

  • Coaching
  • Consulting
  • Mentoring
  • Psychotherapy
  • Training

Once you’re confident that coaching is the right solution, you can get moving on selecting your coach.

Chemistry with your coach

One fundamental part of coaching is that you have ‘chemistry’ with the coach.  This is something you, and only you, can decide. Chemistry is a fusion of unquantifiable things that will help you to connect, trust and have confidence in the coaching experience.

Nearly all coaches will offer a free chemistry session so you can explore this in a little more detail.  The chemistry session is a good time to ask your prospective Coach about their style, experience and impact.  Don’t be afraid to have a chemistry session with a couple of different coaches to see which one feels right.

Coaching qualifications and accreditation

Coaching is currently a self-regulated industry and the professionals working in the field are diverse.  Knowing your coach is qualified brings the reassurance needed to gain the most impact from coaching.

In addition to qualifications, continued professional development and membership of a professional body are the gold standard in coaching. Look for coaches who are members of either the International Coaching Federation, or the European Mentoring and Coaching Council.

These coaches will be working to the highest professional standards and keeping their practice fresh with the latest research.  Coaching is built on the scientific foundations of psychology and counselling and those with an academic background in these fields can bring additional depth to the coaching experience.

Shared sector experience?

There are two schools of thought with experience and you will need to be the judge as to what feels right for you. Are you looking for the emphasis to be on familiarity or fresh thinking? Some people are keen to have a coach who has worked in the same industry or at the same level.

Having a shared experience offers familiarity, shared language and a way to quickly build rapport and credibility.

Others prefer to be coached by someone who has minimal experience of their sector, but is an incredible coach who asks all those disrupting but fundamental questions that others might omit by bringing a fresh perspective or sounding board to your situation.

Ultimately, a good coach is going to add value to you by asking great questions and using their intuition to identify the key blockers and enablers.

Researching your coach – testimonials and impact

Getting a coach is an investment of your time and money.  Doing some due diligence on the coach will give you assurance that you are investing wisely. Ask for testimonials or case studies.  Ask the coach about their successes and the impact that they’ve seen with their clients.

A coach will typically have a wide range of clients, who have faced all manner of issues, so asking for examples specific to your goals for coaching will help you to understand what being coached by this person might be like. Checking out a coach’s LinkedIn updates and recommendations is also a great source of insight.

Eight good questions to ask a coach when you meet them:

  1. How did you become a coach?
  2. Tell me about your professional experience?
  3. How would you describe your coaching style?
  4. What happens in a typical coaching session?
  5. What is your approach to confidentiality and ethics?
  6. How do you measure the impact of your coaching?
  7. Can you give me an example of a coaching success story?
  8. What kind of clients do you have the most success with?

Coaching can be one of the most powerful professional experiences available to leaders and managers.

Getting it right with the above ingredients should be a great start to a productive and personalised exploration of how to be brilliant!

Good luck!