Find the Right Coach: 8 Guidelines for Executives

Dr. Robert Karlsberg

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It seems that coaches are everywhere these days. Senior Executives are hiring coaches in increasing numbers, and for a wider variety of reasons. In the past, coaching was viewed primarily as a remedial tool for executives whose careers were skidding. Today more and more leaders use coaches on a consultative basis, for everything from accelerating leadership transitions to facilitating board, shareholder and employee relations.

Today’s leaders proactively seek coaching to build on strengths, accelerate initiatives and identify potential derailing obstacles before they cause serious damage While locating a coach may be as simple as asking a colleague or entering a few words in a search engine, finding the right one for your specific needs can be a bit more difficult. So how do you locate a coach with the right skills and expertise that match your needs? And once you get started how can you work with your coach to benefit the most from the experience? Over many years of working with senior executives, we have formulated 9 practical suggestions. To gain the most from your coaching experience, follow these guidelines: 1.

Define your goals What are your most immediate goals? What long-term results are you seeking? By considering your objectives in advance, you’ll more rapidly identify the best person to work with. Some common reasons why Executives seek coaching:

  • accelerate career advancement
  • increase leadership effectiveness
  • improve presentation and communication skills
  • improve negotiation skills
  • reduce stress
  • enhance career transitions
  • provide insight for more objective decisions
  • improve interpersonal and team relationships
  • assist with crisis or change leadership
  • help lead culture change
  • enhance executive hiring decisions
  • improve delegation and reduce time constraints
  • plan retirement or the next career
2. Establish Rapport You want a coach who listens. The best coaches are objective and unbiased. They save insights and recommendations until they have listened, assessed and fully understood your situation. There’s no formula for assessing rapport in advance.

And no credentials or testimonials will allow you to figure this out. You’ll get a “gut feeling" in your initial conversation or two whether this is the right collaborative relationship. If the feeling isn’t there, don’t make the assumption that things will get better over time - keep looking.

3. Be Yourself The right coach will help bring out your best, not try to change you into someone else. One sure way to recognize a poorly trained coach is if he or she recommends a categorical change based on a textbook standard.

Experienced coaches can pinpoint specific areas where a small change can lead to a significant result. There’s no point in trying to become someone you’re not. You’ll squander precious energy and become less effective.

The right coach won’t try to change you just for the sake of change. Find a coach who’ll help you be your best self. 4. Look for a positive focus A coach is there to help you improve your game, not to ferret out and fix every flaw. The best results are achieved by focusing on strengths, not weaknesses. Of course the right coach will help you identify and correct major stumbling blocks to progress. However, the primary focus should be maximizing your strengths, so that your weaknesses become irrelevant. 5. Confidentiality Is Key A sense of trust and safety is critical to a productive coaching experience. Coaching isn’t therapy, but you should feel comfortable revealing any relevant information to your coach. It’s not uncommon for personal issues to arise that are not entirely business-related, but affect outcomes for better or worse. Make sure your coach has a confidentiality policy with which you’re comfortable. 6. Look for Psychological Savvy While advanced degrees aren’t any guarantee of effectiveness, a psychologically informed coach can help you use interpersonal dynamics to finesse conflicts and reduce any negative impact on company performance. A good coach will be multifaceted – able to combine one-on-one coaching with effective team intervention as needed. Knowledge of both interpersonal and group dynamics is important to successful outcomes. 7. Value Honesty The best coach isn’t afraid to tell you the things you need to hear Remember, the higher up you are in the company, the harder it is to get honest information. People around you have a vested interest in keeping you happy. Many of them may also fear a “kill the messenger" response. It’s easy for coaches with minimal training to fall into a trap of giving feel-good answers. After all they risk being fired if they give advice the client doesn’t like. Dr. Steven Berglas, former Harvard psychiatrist and instructor at UCLA’s Anderson school, explained in an interview with Chief Executive Magazine, “A lot of times consultants and coaches are deemed great because they’re adding syrup to a sundae. They just go along; they’re ‘gaysayers’ and proponents. " The CEO may feel good, but little progress is made. In fact, according to Berglas, an “alarming number" of coaches who lack psychological training hurt their clients more than they help them. Instead of looking for consensus, weigh your coach’s input before you make your own decision. After all, that’s what you’re paying for. 8. Give your coach access. Make it easy for your consultant to do his or her job. Allow ample rein to inquire, research, survey, whatever it takes to thoroughly understand the issues and, most importantly, get you the information you need. Locating the right coach for your needs can be tricky but these guidelines can increase your chances for success. They will help you launch an ongoing, beneficial partnership with your coach and keep it that way. With the right collaboration, you’ll find that you can significantly compress the time you need to achieve your most important goals. © 2005 Dr. Robert Karlsberg & Dr. Jane Adler
Dr. Robert Karlsberg and Dr. Jane Adler are senior leadership consultants and founders of Strategic Leadership LLC. They coach senior executives who want to maximize performance, facilitate transitions and accelerate major change initiatives. Contact them at 301-530-5611 or visit .


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