Nearly everything we do has numerous paths to deliver a result. Executive coaching is no exception.

While there aren’t hard and fast rules to define a successful coach-client relationship, there are some worthwhile things to consider before working with a coach.

1.    Establish a connection. Ideally, meet in person with the prospective coach before engaging them. You may not know if they can help you immediately, but you will know if their background, temperament, and style DO NOT work for you. Trust your gut because, even if you guess wrong, that nagging doubt will cloud your time with the coach. Moreover, doubts limit your progress.

2.    Remember, it is all about you. A coach is there to serve and support your development and create a context for you to win. At times that shows up as cheerleading and, at other times, as uncomfortable truth-telling. Switching hats and providing you honest feedback when you need it (not only when you want it) is the mark of an excellent coach.

3.    Ask if the time is right for you. The best coaches want to serve you when you are committed and engaged. Coaching is personal, and if you play full out with the coach, you will improve the comfort and speed at which you reach your goals. On one side, personal and professional distractions, acquisitions, late projects, quarterly targets, and company turmoil are reasons some people delay. On the other side, all of those reasons could be a signal to say, “Enough! I want and need help right now!”

4.    Three months from now you will be________. Three months from now you will be 90 days older and happy, frustrated, stuck, moving toward, moving away, excited, hopeful, grateful, sliding, floundering, soaring, leading. Does delaying your request for help, in whatever form, serve you at the highest level?

5.    Once I have the cost of the coaching in hand, how do I determine my return on investment? In my experience, the return is quantitative and qualitative. An experienced coach will help you develop a value-based view of coaching that you both agree upon before the engagement begins. As a rule of thumb, the ROI should be a minimum 10X your investment. I once engaged a coach for $15,000 who helped me through some challenging job-related decisions. Looking back, that coach helped me make the right, non-emotional choice that, conservatively, was worth $1 million. At the time, I was happy just to have someone to bounce ideas off confidentially.

6.    What are some examples of quantitative value?

  • Increasing sales, gross margin, and operating profit
  • The opportunity cost of making no or slow decisions vs. rapid and accurate ones
  • The cost of employee turnover related to recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and lost existing-employee productivity
  • Lower overall cost of quality in delivering a product or service
  • Anything that has a monetary value of dollars saved, or lost to missed opportunities

7.    What are some examples of qualitative value?

  • Creating a time reserve using the tactics and strategies developed with the coach
  • Building principles-based leadership teams that don’t require constant direction
  • Developing a high-trust leadership team where dialogue is encouraged and rewarded
  • Setting clear roles and responsibilities
  • Ensuring the right people are selected and trained for the right seats
  • Clarifying decision rights so that progress continues when an executive is unavailable
  • Deploying a talent development and succession planning process
  • Reducing time-to-market for new products
  • Anything that increases effectiveness and efficiencies and frees leaders to accomplish other activities

8.    Are you willing to do the hard work of personal development? This is a key question. The work of self-development is the hardest work we do for several reasons. First, it requires us to be vulnerable and accept that we do not have all the answers. Second, while feedback is called the breakfast of champions, we are not always hungry (i.e., receptive to it). Third, improvement does not happen linearly. There will be times when you forget the new behavior you are practicing in a moment of stress. Forgiving yourself in these moments may be difficult. Working to get it right the next time is the focus.

9.    Here to serve you, not convince you. My focus is to serve clients, not convince them they need my special brand of talent and expertise. When selecting a coach, consider connection and competence in tandem. As noted earlier, lack of connection between the coach and client is a non-starter. After one or two meetings with the coach (and before engaging them), you have 100% power and choice to ask and answer these questions:

  • Six months from today, will I be better off having this coach as a trusted advisor?
  • Will they help me focus on the essential things?
  • Will they give me respectful straight talk?
  • Will I get a 10X return on the investment of my money and time?
  • Am I ready to play full out with this coach?

10. Should I choose a coach with a background in my industry? Coaches work on the human side of the equation and develop a healthy understanding of processes and functions of the organization you lead. Most manufacturing companies have engineers falling out of the rafters. Most financial institutions have bankers doing the same. If you need industry expertise, you are looking for a consultant, not a coach. The upside and downside of choosing a coach due mainly to their industry overlap are that they know your industry. That can be an advantage when they speak the industry’s language and a disadvantage if they try to consult and bring you the same industry-based knowledge that you already have. The highest goal of coaching is to realize a previously impossible future. Such goals are often created by looking outside your bubble for inspiration.

11. What are some reasons to NOT engage a coach?

  • You are unwilling (99%) or unable (1%) to schedule the time to work with the coach and do the personal work
  • You believe other people are the problem and they need to do better
  • You embrace the behaviors that got you to this point and see no reason to fix something that isn’t broken
  • You believe taking your own counsel has proven to be a winning strategy
  • You believe having a coach makes you look weak rather than commanding

12. What are some reasons TO engage a coach?

  • You are trying to take your career to the next level
  • You recognize that you have talents that deserve strengthening and blind spots when exposed and addressed, that would help you achieve more
  • You want to leave a different and better legacy to your team
  • You feel alone, stuck, and frustrated about a lack of progress
  • You accept that before leading a business transformation, there are things you need to transform first
  • After a meteoric rise in responsibilities and positions, you’ve hit a bump and are ready to adjust your approach
  • You are tasked with growing the top line by 5% in a shrinking industry
  • You want to shake up your routine and challenge yourself to grow

If this post generated questions about coaching that I did not cover, please send me a note at david@davidporteradvisors.com. I am here and happy to answer any questions that may help you.