What to do when you don't know which executive coach to choose


You’ve received approval to engage an Executive Coach. Your manager is supportive and now you’re keen to get started. 

But here’s the problem… which coach do you choose?

Your manager may have recommended it for your leadership development. Maybe your HR advisor has given you a list of possible coaches or you’ve started searching online. 

Either way, it’s often difficult to compare and you can be forgiven for feeling confused and overwhelmed. They all look the same... but different!

Executive coaches work across a range of areas - leadership development, career planning, change management, team development or business performance and the list goes on. But, regardless of your goals, Executive Coaching is a highly personal experience and you’ll achieve way more with a coach who is right for you

Here’s how to sort through your options and find a coach who will support, challenge and help you succeed in the best possible way for you.

1. Decide WHY You Want an Executive Coach

Before you start it’s important to be clear about your reasons for getting a coach. This is an investment in you that will take time, money and effort and it’s important to know what you want and need to gain from it.

It also helps to be clear about what may currently be standing in your way – what it is that’s preventing you from achieving those results on your own.

Is coaching the best professional development option for you right now?

Based on what you want and need to achieve and your commitment to personal change, it's worth taking time to consider all your options. These could include consulting, mentoring, counselling and training. (Click here to see the difference between these different forms of support.)

Coaching works best for those who are willing to step outside their comfort zone, see and do things differently. You don't have to know how to do this. You just have to be willing to give it a go!

2. Define Success

I call this ‘starting with the end in mind’. The easiest way to know you’ve found the right coach and that it’s been an incredibly valuable experience, is to define what success means for you, before you start.

Maybe you’ll have mastered a new skill, solved a problem or changed a limiting belief or behaviour. Perhaps you’ll feel totally different – eg replaced self-doubt with self-confidence.

Identify the coach you need by asking yourself,

  • How will I know this has been a worthwhile experience?
  • What will be different after the coaching is finished?
  • My ideal coach would be someone who….

And, if you’re a classic high achiever:

  • How will I know this coaching has exceeded all my expectations?

3. Know What’s Possible

If your organisation is paying for the coaching, they may have a panel of pre-selected coaches to choose from, an approved number of sessions, professional development budget and/or set criteria.

This may include actively involving your manager in the coaching, writing a report, profiling or seeking feedback from your colleagues.

If you are paying for the coaching, research the range of rates and set a budget. Coaching rates are often based on industry sector, experience and track record; what the coach specialises in and whether they work independently or for a large firm.

Professional coaching may also be tax deductible – check with your accountant.

4. Check Background, Experience, Training, Expertise and Methods

Don’t limit yourself to a coach whose experience and background matches yours.

While it may be initially more comfortable to build a relationship with someone who knows your ‘world’, a professional coach with a varied background can expand your perspective, regardless of the industry or field they’ve worked in.

Executive Coaching is an unregulated and highly diverse industry – anyone can call themselves a ‘coach’. Look for a coach who is professionally accredited, trained in a range of recognised approaches and experienced.

The best coaches are those who are continuously learning and adding to their coaching repertoire. They continually learn, draw on and adapt the techniques most likely to help you achieve your desired outcomes.

5. What Results Have Past Clients Achieved?

Ask around!

Personal recommendations from people you trust and like will guide you in the right direction. A quick phone call, email or coffee with a colleague or friend who has worked with a coach you’re considering, will provide personal insight to guide you.

Look at potential coaches’ LinkedIn profiles and recommendations or read testimonials on their websites. Sure, they are unlikely to publish negative reviews, but you will get a sense of what other clients have achieved and experienced.

6. Connection and Chemistry are Critical

For your coaching to be successful, you want to work with a coach you ‘click’ with. This is someone who connects with you easily, quickly builds rapport, listens intently and asks astute questions. The best coach will put you instantly at ease and create a safe, confidential space for you to be open and honest.

Your ideal coach will be someone who just ‘gets’ you.

Research shows we make up our minds about someone within 15 seconds of meeting them! The quickest way to rule a possible coach ‘in’ our ‘out’ is to write down your questions, pick up the phone and have a conversation.

7. Ask Questions and Understand the Process

The more you know, the easier it will be to make the right choice. Ask yourself, ‘What would I need to know to be sure I’ve chosen the best coach?’

Here are questions I’m often asked by prospective clients to help you get started:

  • What are the different coaching options you offer and what’s included?
  • What organisations and levels of leadership do you work with?
  • What experience do you have coaching people who want to…. [insert goal]?
  • How does your coaching process work?
  • How much time will I need to set aside?
  • What can I expect?
  • Who are your ideal clients? ie – who do you work best with?

8. Do a Trial Coaching Session

Whether you’ve had a coach before or this is your first executive coach, the best way to see who’s right for you is to personally experience their coaching. The coach your best friend recommended may or may not be right for you.

When you’ve narrowed down your list to 3 possible coaches, organise an introductory session with each of them. These are usually complimentary. A good coach will be equally effective in person, over the phone or via online video.

Identify a real and specific challenge you are facing and ask each coach to help you resolve that challenge. This is a great way to compare how comfortable you feel, different coaching techniques and the solutions they help you create.

The coaches you trial with will also be assessing whether you’re a great client for them too! If not, a good coach will provide you with other options.

Once you've chosen a coach, be sure to you gain the most value and maximise your executive coaching ROI.

Following these tips, comparing and weighing it all up, you can be confident you’ll choose the best coach for you!

Regardless of who you go with, I hope your coaching experience is enriching, transforming and rewarding.

So now I'm wondering... if you've got a fabulous coach, how did you find and choose them?

Leave a comment below so we can add to these tips and make it easier for others to find the best coach for them.

Carpe diem

Caroline Cameron
About Caroline

Caroline Cameron is an award winning, master certified executive, career and business team coach, workshop facilitator and speaker. Caroline is on a mission to help mid-career professionals and evolving organisations harness the power of change to achieve success in business, work and life.

Read More About Caroline

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