Selecting the right coach… “goes beyond reputation and credentials.” –Maggie Hensle, Executive Coach

You might have seen the study on executive coaching released the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Rock Center for Corporate Governance, and The Miles Group. The mere fact that institutions as highly regarded as Stanford are researching the topic should tell us that executive coaching has achieved significant legitimacy.

One intriguing takeaway from the study is that less than 40% of the CEOs reported receiving coaching or outside counsel, while virtually 100% said it would be beneficial. The top areas in which CEOs desire coaching are sharing leadership and delegation, conflict management, team building, and mentoring. If CEOs are struggling with these areas, it’s an indication that these aren’t well taught either school or corporate training programs.

You don’t have to be a CEO, though, to benefit from a partnership with a coach. Wherever you are in the organizational chart, a good coach can provide clarity, help you evaluate decisions, create accountability toward a goal, help with optimizing team dynamics and assist in successfully managing through changing business landscapes. Which brings up the question: How do I find a great coach?

Avoiding the Bad Date

So, what are the best ways to evaluate if a coach is a good partner for you? Highly-regarded executive coach Maggie Hensle says that working with the wrong coach is like being on a bad date for six months; you cannot wait for the interaction to be over.

Instead, a coaching relationship should be a positive connection. You should feel championed and understood. It should be your values and your goals at the fore. Your coach should understand your priorities and quickly learn the best ways to support your progress.

Indeed, Coaching is most effective when you feel safe being open, honest and candid. “Coaching can be a powerful and profound experience. But it requires a great deal of trust and a willingness to be vulnerable. So selecting a coach goes beyond reputation and credentials”, says Hensle.

Finding a Coach

So, how do you choose a coach? Below are some attributes to consider in evaluating whether a coach is right for you.

1. Finding the right fit- go through a sample session. Many coaches suggest you take the time for a sample coaching session. You will be sharing of yourself and your most personal goals within the coaching relationship. So, you want a coach with whom you feel comfortable, challenged and energized. Use the sample session to understand the coach’s approach and style, whether you feel comfortable in sharing of yourself, and if you believe this person will be capable of holding you accountable.

During his fifteen years as a coach, Ron Renaud has worked with professional athletes, entrepreneurs, entertainers, philanthropists and corporate executives. He feels sample sessions are great, but not vital. Most important, says Renaud, is that you have a powerful conversation in which, when the coach really comes to understand who the client is (what he/she wants and what’s at stake), the coach is inspired and believes he can bring the client to their “promised land.” Then it’s the coach’s job to offer the best of himself or herself on each call.

2. Certified or not? Certification refers to the process of training, coaching experience, working with a mentor coach and being assessed for your knowledge and coaching skills. The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the most well-known accreditation organization and their certification process is rigorous.

It’s not mandatory that your coach be certified but certification does provide assurance that that there is a structure or a process to the coaching, that the coach has experience and has been evaluated for her/his coaching skills. Good coaches use well-established and well-practiced tools to elicit change in their clients and should be able to clearly explain to you their approach to coaching.

Remember, though, that the credential is less important than the coach’s skill at eliciting your values, your dreams, your limiting beliefs and your unlimited power as a human being.

3. Experience within my industry? Some people find it helpful to use a coach with specific industry experience because the coach will more likely understand the dynamics of the industry. Certainly industries carry their own lexicon and specific business drivers but you, the client, can be the expert here.

More important for a leadership coach or executive coach is to have broad business experience so the two of you can share the basic principles and you are not spending time defining common business terms or concepts. Rather than requiring specific industry tenure, it’s more important that you can connect quickly in terms of language and priorities. The coach should be the expert on sorting through the haze and how to apply your values and authenticity to a specific business situation.

Coach Ron Renaud believes connection is more important than industry experience: “The most powerful professional coaching is the most powerful personal coaching. If I can really see you, if we’re a team, if you feel that I can help you, who cares whether you need to educate me on two or three principles about your business? It’s the human dynamic that matters. If I can help you meet your vision for your life, you don’t really care if I’ve never worked deeply in your business.”

And, ideally, you find a coach experienced in your current situation whether that be team dynamics, change management, leadership succession or something else.

4. Challenging and action-oriented. One trait worth looking for in a coach is to be challenging in a positive, personal way. Look beyond simple enthusiasm and a rah-rah style. It’s more about the coach deeply understanding your unique values and principles, then challenging you to act in a way that supports your highest, most authentic and powerful self.

Further, the best use of coaching is around forward momentum; setting goals and holding you accountable for your actions in meeting those goals. Yes, your best coach is that person who understands just how powerful you can be and will be ready with a virtual two-by-four when you are settling for less.

5. Virtual or Face-to-Face? Select a coaching delivery style that meets your needs. Many coaches work only face-to-face, others via phone or web conference. In-person coaching can be useful in providing context as well as body language and other cues. But don’t discount coaching delivered via phone or computer (with services like Skype or Google Hangouts). Virtual coaching can be powerfully effective. Many coaches are able to provide greater discernment at a distance because they are acutely focused on the client’s energy and not distracted by other signals.

6. Confidentiality and Professional Ethics– consider reviewing the ICF Code of Ethics. Your coach should make a practice of adhering to these guidelines even if he/she hasn’t become certified. Critical to the process is confidentiality; nothing from your coaching conversations should be revealed to anyone – not your boss or HR or anyone else- without your agreement (unless release is required by law). Confidentiality is the foundation for creating a safe space in your coaching relationship.

Further, you should have a clear agreement in place beforehand about the scope of your coaching. And your coach should avoid conflict of interest, whether personal or financial. Coaches should never have a direct financial interest in the success of the coaching

7. References- your Coach should be eager to provide comparable references to you. Ask the references about coaching style, the process and about results of the coaching. Ask whether the reference would be eager to work with the coach again and why. Ask if there are any situations in which the reference would not recommend this coach.

8. Fees and Budget– You will find a broad spectrum of pricing among business coaches, typically driven by the experience and client roster of the Coach. Coaches who work in large corporate environments and with very senior executives generally are paid more, and rightfully so. These coaches are the most experienced and can work effectively with very successful people. Coaches who work in smaller organizations and with midlevel managers generally will command a lower fee. Rather than look at hourly rates exclusively, ask about the total cost and breadth of the engagement and agree beforehand on the goals for the coaching.

Many seasoned coaches have robust offerings that go beyond the traditional “coaching call” including assessments, observations of team dynamics, team coaching etc. Make sure you understand what is and is not in scope

9. Help! It’s not working! – Finally, if you find yourself in a coaching relationship which just isn’t working for you- speak up! While the Coach should facilitate the process, you should always be aware and comfortable, actually collaborating, with the direction in which you are moving. It’s part of your role to advocate for yourself and tell the coach what is not working. The coach’s primary responsibility is to support you and your goals, so he/she should be eager to make adjustments to the process or, if necessary, recommend another Coach.

A successful relationship with a coach can be among the most powerful and fulfilling of your adult life. And nowadays, you can choose from many terrific, well-trained and experienced coaches. Talk to several and ask for recommendations based on your situation. Spend time with a couple of coaches in sample sessions. It’s well worth the time to find a coach that can work most effectively with you, your values, your goals and your amazing gifts in this world.