Chemistry is Important, But it is Not the Only Thing
It all starts with chemistry. And while it is essential to have chemistry with your executive coach, it is also highly overrated as a key indicator for a successful engagement. Of course, you need to click with your coach, and thus feel confident and comfortable in them—on this you should not compromise. Still, you need not find your coach the most charming person in the world.
Many people select a coach based on a good first impression. These same people, often retrospectively, question the value of coaching. Why would that be? It could be that they worked with a coach more concerned with developing a connection than with challenging them to be their best. Don’t put comfort ahead of optimal frustration. Growth is frustrating. It’s hard. And while having a good connection with your coach is critical, don’t make the mistake of placing an excessive emphasis on comfort at the expense of personal and professional growth.
You Should Be Pushed, and Not Held
Your coach is not your advocate. Although they are your ally, you need to champion yourself. Optimal growth requires spending the better part of your time outside your comfort zone. If you are truly serious about raising the quality of your game, you should primarily want to be pushed, not held.
In executive coaching, it’s first and foremost about action and mindsets. Actions drive business outcomes. Mindsets inform the perception of data and perception of opportunity that determine actions. And, by whatever standard you follow, executive effectiveness in driving outcomes must improve if a coaching engagement is going to be deemed successful. In psychotherapy, one is agnostic about the journey one’s client/patient travels. In executive coaching, it is the responsibility of the coach, in collaboration with their client, to discern where professional/personal growth lines up with the needs of the business they are helping to run.
It’s Not Brain Science…But it is
Systems Thinking Improves Awareness
The best coaches talk to individuals but coach systems. It’s a paradox. As individuals we have our most clear agency when we take responsibility for our actions and for the performance of our teams. And yet, our roles only exist as part of systems that are greater than ourselves. As leaders, we have the most impact on the teams we lead, and our own behaviors influence them in ways both seen and unseen.
By understanding the dynamics between individuals and systems, the coach can help the executive anticipate unintended consequences by sharing constructive new actions and initiatives on their part. When predicted, negative consequences can be mitigated, and positive consequences can be optimized.
Business Acumen is a Must
And context is both the tangible nuts and bolts—how to give feedback, how to onboard, how to manage up, what good meeting hygiene looks like, how to determine who should be in the room, what smart accountability/ performance systems look like, etc.—and the less tangible interpersonal—how to build a strong team culture, how to inspire, etc. Business acumen is critical for a coach, not because they are telling people what to do, but because their ability to challenge a client is only credible if the clients have confidence that they appreciate the context and constraints within which they operate.
Executive Coaching and Business Advising are Different
At some point, you may need to know if you are looking for a business advisor/consultant to mentor you with their domain expertise and experience or an executive coach to help accelerate your development as a leader and manager, irrespective of your specific domain. While the skill sets you need may be present in one person, the purposes for seeking an advisor versus a coach are radically different.
If you are looking for a business advisor, you will want someone with enough experience in the corporate world to provide you with the counsel required to help you advance professionally. Many of the best have successfully led operational teams, had responsibility for P&Ls, and earned their corporate chops with decades in the business world. They may also hold advanced degrees. A great business advisor can help with certain business decisions and guide you through tough situations. As consultants, they have often seen the same challenge with dozens of clients, so they possess deep historical knowledge that can provide transformative business results.
That is not to say that an excellent executive coach has no business experience or that an excellent business advisor has no coaching expertise. The best executive coaches and the best business advisors have skill sets and experience that overlap to a high degree…and both routinely refer to themselves as executive coaches. While their peak strengths may diverge, they are both rock solid in developing you as a leader and in providing savvy advice to your business. Just consider your purpose—the right coach for you right now may be driven by whether your focus is on the organization’s needs or your own. Of course, an excellent coach will always direct your personal development in a manner that serves your company well, and assess the needs of the company as opportunities for you to grow and add optimal value.
It’s a Relationship
At the end of the day, make sure you are comfortable enough with this person and find them credible enough, that you can trust the wisdom of their perspective and lean into the questions they ask. Then look at yourself developmentally. Do I first and foremost need an advisor, given my business experience, or lack thereof? Do I need to make fundamental changes in my business? Or, do I need someone to challenge me on my executive presence, and help me to become more sophisticated and emotionally mature as a leader of people? Take the time you need in the selection process, because making an investment in an executive coach will pay out dividends for you not just as a leader, but as a person for the rest of your life.