Ken Jacobs

Executive Coaching: How to Find the Right Coach for You

By: Ken Jacobs | September 13, 2018 | 
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Executive CoachingI recently wrote an article, in which I shared some of the differences between consulting, mentoring, and business, executive, or leadership coaching (for the sake of simplicity, we’ll call it executive coaching).

I concluded by noting there was still an abundance of material I could share about the next steps of your coaching journey.

So, if you want to learn more about executive coaching, how to find the right coach, and if you’re ready to jump in, this follow up is for you!

Differences Between Consulting, Mentoring, and Coaching: A Recap

Consulting, in my view, is about helping a business or organization with one or a series of specific business issues.

Mentoring is similar to consulting, in that the mentor is sharing advice, expertise, guidance, and counsel, though money doesn’t change hands.

Coaching, according to the International Coach Federation,

is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

So even though consulting, mentoring, and coaching can help an organization in countless ways, they’re quite different, no?

Right now, I’ll share six things you should know about executive coaching

It’s All About Leadership, and You’re a Leader

No matter the size of your staff, you lead every day.

That’s because leading is about creating the outcomes you want, whether for your organization, those you lead, your peers, your manager, your family, or yourself.

A Good Coach Doesn’t Tell You What to Do

Instead, coaches ask empowering questions that help you visualize and identify, and most importantly, achieve your goals (be it leadership, career, organizational or personal).

Executive Coaching Helps Remove Roadblocks

Your success is a result of all your experiences, including those that started long before you were in the business world.

The same is true of what’s getting in the way of achieving your current goals.

You must understand and remove these blocks to achieve or surpass your goals, and achieve satisfaction and fulfillment. 

Perception is Everything

Our perceptions have far more power over our reality than we realize.

In many ways, our perceptions determine our reality.

The good news is when we change our perceptions of a situation, the situation changes.

Here’s an example that may be relevant to you, whether you work in an agency or any organization serving clients:

A client calls out of the blue and changes an agreed-upon deadline, and isn’t very nice about it.

You might be thinking “What a jerk! He has no respect for our agency, my team, or me.”

The problem is, once you’re in that state, full of anger and conflict, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to figure out how you’re going to satisfy that important client.

That’s not good!

But what if you perceived the situation a different way?

Perhaps their CEO came to town. And if your client can show them the work, they’d be a hero, and so would your agency.

Doesn’t that make you want to help them? And does this change in your perception help you do so?

Maybe they just got some difficult personal news.

Would that perception allow you to dial up the compassion, and find some way to help them? 

Probably, right?

As I say to my clients,

What perception of that situation best serves your needs? Go ahead and perceive it that way. Doing so will help you get the outcome you desire.

Executive Coaching isn’t Therapy, but it Can Be Therapeutic

I’d never knock therapy, or any other tool an individual uses to help achieve their goals and make life more fulfilling.

Many of my clients have a therapist while working with me as an executive coach.

(And I say the more help you have on your team, the better!)

That said, one area where we differ is that in many kinds of therapy, as I understand it, the patient and therapist spend lots of time discussing the patient’s past.

They explore those who might have hurt the therapy patient and assess what impact it may have on their life.

Perhaps the patient determines who they must forgive, and from whom they want an apology.

When the past comes up in a coaching session, we don’t dwell there.

We ask the client what learning they’re getting from recalling the past, and if they’re ready to move forward.

We discuss what they want to take from their knowledge of the past that might have just come up.

I’ll ask them, “So what do you want to do about that now, with the emphasis on ‘you,’ ‘do’ and ‘now’?” and “Now that you have that new knowledge and awareness, what might you do differently get the outcomes you want?” 

Executive Coaching Blends Thoughtful and Practical

Executive coaching can be about changing perceptions, going deep, learning what’s blocking our success, seeing where our actions and values are out of sync, and learning from our past.

But rest assured, it’s quite practical.

Coaches help their clients determine the actions they’ll take in between executive coaching sessions to achieve their goals.

They help them set goals that are realistic and achievable.

They help them understand the baby steps they may first need to take before taking ambitious ones.

They help them determine the deadlines by which they want to take specific steps. 

And then they ask their client, “How can I support you to take that step by the deadline you’ve created?”

How Do You Find the Right Coach?

It may be counterintuitive, but I believe you can start to find the right coach, even before you’re sure you’re ready for executive coaching.

That’s because the steps required in finding the right coach will likely result in your thinking, “Oh, no, coaching isn’t right for me,” or “I’m just not ready” or “I’m not sure, but I’m ready to learn more” or “Put me in Coach, I’m ready for all that coaching can help me to achieve.”

So here are some ways to find the right coach for you:

Look for a Certified Coach

I’m somewhat biased here because I did the work to achieve my certification.

But I do believe it’s well worth it to seek out a coach who has been certified by the International Coach Federation.

Unfortunately, almost anyone today can hang out a shingle that says “I’m A Coach.” 

But you deserve better.

Coaching with a certified coach means you’re participating in a specific process, using time-tested skills, which have led to amazing results for tens of thousands of coaching clients.

To become certified, coaches must go through rigorous training at a certified coach training institution.

They spend a substantial number of hours of coaching.

They take courses and webinars well beyond time spent in the classroom and pass rigorous written and oral exams.

Finally, certified coaches adhere to a strict Code of Ethics.   

But it doesn’t end there.

To renew their credentials, they must earn Continuing Coach Education Units to ensure they continue to learn and grow via professional development.

This also means they’re using the newest learning around coaching to bring their very best to their clients.

As well they should!

Look at Your Local Chapter of ICF

Many have a Find-A-Coach feature on their website. 

Ask People You Trust

You probably know someone in your field who has worked with an executive coach or knows someone else who has.

Ask them what their experience was like, and if they’d recommend their coach to you.

And most importantly, why or why not?

Do Your Due Diligence

While coaching is a client-led endeavor, it only works when there is a real partnership between the client and coach.

Most coaches will offer a complimentary session to understand the issues around which the client wishes to do some work, to share some anecdotal case studies, and to discuss their coaching philosophy and approach.

Most importantly, it’s your opportunity to do a chemistry check and ask yourself the following questions:

    1. Can I imagine speaking or meeting with this coach two-to-three times a month?
    2. Will I look forward to my sessions?
    3. Can I foresee being completely honest with them about issues I may be facing in business and life?
    4. If anything around the coaching doesn’t work, will I be able to ask for what I want from this coach?

Overall, do you believe the two of you will make a great team?

If so, go forward.

If not, find another coach.

And remember, during that preliminary session, the coach is asking themselves the same question about partnering with you.

If they don’t feel it’s a good match, a good coach will recommend you work with someone else.

And they’ll probably be able to recommend another coach who might be a better fit.

How to Be a Great Coaching Client

Sometimes, understanding what it takes to be a great coaching client helps us know if we’re ready.

From my experience, here’s how to be a great coaching client:

  1. Show up. Show up for meetings or calls, both literally and figuratively. Be honest about your victories and your challenges during the past week.
  2. Be willing to look at it all. Some people hire a coach to work only on their business or career or organizational issues. It’s as if they think they have different lives, work, family, friends, etc.  The reality is we all have only one life, with multiple intertwined facets. Some clients choose to only work on one or two of those facets. But in my experience, clients who are upfront about as many facets as possible improve their performance in the area that brought them to me. And they achieve greater overall balance and fulfillment in all of them.   
  3. Be willing to do the work.I tell my prospective clients that I coach “executives who want positive, sustained change, and are willing to do the work to get there.” I think that’s true of most coaches I know. So, do you want positive change? Do you want it to be long-term?

And remember, the coaching session or call is only part of the overall coaching engagement.

There often is homework, which I prefer to call home play, in between sessions.

It might be being dialing up one’s level of observation, having honest discussions with others, seeing what happens when one’s perception or energy levels change, and perhaps taking notes on the above and sharing in the next session. 

How Do I Know if Executive Coaching is Right for Me?   

The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching, where I did my training and certification, uses a survey called “Is Coaching for You?”

It asks those considering executive coaching to rank (from 1-to-10, with one being “not at all agree” and 10 being “totally agree”) how much they agree with some statements, including:

  • “I am ready to improve my personal or business relationships,”
  • “I am ready to make real and positive changes in my life,”
  • “I am ready and willing to overcome self-limiting behavior,”
  • “I am ready to create and take action to achieve my goals,” and
  • “I can benefit from someone who will help me to stay on track.”

If the survey taker shows moderate-to-strong agreement with these statements and four others, they are most likely ready to take the plunge.

And now the floor is yours.

I’m curious how these statements resonated with you, and if you’ve considered working with a coach—or do work with one.

Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

About Ken Jacobs


Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, which empowers PR and communications leaders to breakthrough results via executive coaching, and helps communications organizations achieve their goals via consulting and training. You can find him at www.jacobscomm.com, ken@jacobscomm.com, @KensViews, or on LinkedIn.

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