For those in management and executive positions, it can be challenging to keep pace with the growing demands of the workplace. The higher you climb, the more you need to build and refine your leadership skills and identify any gaps in your performance, yet it can be difficult to gather honest feedback from others. You must learn how to navigate more complex levels of politics, but it can be hard to find a trusted colleague or mentor to confide in and guide you. And while your work demands an ever-increasing amount of your time, you also have personal commitments and priorities to attend to.
To tackle these challenges, more and more leaders are hiring an executive coach to help them increase their leadership capacity, more effectively accomplish their business objectives, and achieve greater work-life balance.
Taking Your Performance to the Next Level
The 2013 Executive Coaching Survey by the Stanford Graduate School of Business and The Miles Group showed that nearly 100 percent of CEOs and senior executives enjoy the process of receiving coaching and leadership advice, and are receptive to making changes based on feedback. Yet almost 66 percent do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches. Some companies will pay for all or part of an executive coaching program for its leaders. However, if that’s not the case at your company, it’s worth investing in yourself and your future by hiring your own executive coach, especially if any of the following apply to you:
- You are being promoted to a management or leadership position that requires new skills
- You are proactively driven to increase the probability of a promotion
- You lack fulfillment in your current position and are looking to create a transition
- You are experiencing stress and sense that you may be on the road to burnout
- You want to improve your ability to manage and influence others
- You want to improve your emotional intelligence and learn how to better manage your feelings and behavior in order to be a more effective leader
- The strengths and talents you brought to your job are not the ones that will guarantee future career success
Not only can hiring an executive coach provide a valuable outside perspective as you navigate your career, it can also help you:
- Improve your leadership skills and performance to increase your impact and influence
- Achieve results more quickly
- Communicate more effectively
- Increase your self-awareness and emotional intelligence
- Enhance the interactions of your team
- Foster a greater commitment to accountability
- Navigate political minefields
- Reduce stress and improve work-life balance
What to Look for in an Executive Coach
Once you’ve made the decision to hire an executive coach, what should you look for to ensure it’s a worthwhile experience — and a good investment? Here are three criteria that will help you identify the right coach:
1. Credentials and Experience
Because coaching is currently an unregulated industry, just about anyone can claim to be a coach. Doing your diligence is critical as you evaluate potential coaches. Inquire about their coaching certifications, which indicate their level of formal professional training and experience. Keep in mind that not all certifications are equal; some require no more than a few weekend workshops whereas others are much more intensive. One of the most respected coaching organizations is the International Coach Federation (ICF), which offers coach training, certification and credentialing. Anyone with an ICF credential has undergone in-depth education and training, has met stringent experience requirements and has demonstrated a strong commitment to excellence in coaching. The highest credential that can be earned through ICF is Master Certified Coach (MCC), which requires at least 2,500 hours of coaching experience.
A coach with previous business experience can also provide valuable insights. However, beware of coaches who draw only from business experience; while they may be equipped to help clients effectively address tactical aspects, their knowledge and approach typically won’t be holistic enough to facilitate systemic change. Your best option is a credentialed coach who also has business experience. Look for a qualified coach who has spent time in a high-level corporate role. Generally, experience in your specific industry isn’t as important as finding someone who will understand the structure, politics and environment within which managers and senior leaders operate.
2. Clarity About the Process
Skilled coaches will be able to walk you through their process, which should include helping you define your core challenges, see where you’re starting from, and determine where you want to go. It’s also essential that they can describe how you’ll learn new skills and behaviors, and how they’ll support you in transferring those skills back to work. Ask what methodology the coach employs and determine if it is proprietary and robust — in other words, if the coach has taken the time to craft a process based on best practices and techniques versus utilizing off-the-shelf or one-size-fits-all coaching methods. Also, inquire about what informed his or her decision to choose that methodology.
Next, ask about the coach’s philosophy and approach. How will the coach honor your individual needs? What is the coach’s commitment to ethical practices? Listen for what’s important to you — what aligns with your personal values, needs and goals. The coach’s beliefs, principles, objectives and frameworks will lend clues as to what to expect and whether the coach is a good fit for you.
3. Clarity About the Coaching Engagement
Once you have a sense of the coach’s methodology and coaching philosophy, it’s important to understand exactly what the coaching engagement will entail. The appropriate length of the engagement will depend on your specific challenges and goals, but six months is usually the minimum amount of time needed to experience systemic change. Find out if the coach offers an option to work on a session-by-session basis, or if a six-month commitment is required.
Next, determine the frequency of the sessions. Ideally, they should be held weekly in order to enable the coach to observe and help adjust behavior. However, executive coaches understand the busy lives of managers and senior leaders, and the coach should be flexible to accommodate your availability.
The coach you hire should also be very clear and up-front about confidentiality — a critical component of any coaching relationship — and the rules around terminating your engagement. You should be free to end coaching at any time (and so should the coach) — just make sure you understand the consequences of ending early. Executive coaching is an investment of your time, effort and money, but when you find the right coach for you, it’s one that will reap rewards for the rest of your life.
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