When business leaders are stuck in a rut or need a new source of motivation, it's common for them to turn to an executive coach. The idea is appealing: Pay someone to give you a creative jump-start and get you inspired again.
The problem is that virtually anyone can call himself or herself a "coach." So, how do you separate the talent from the hype? There are four important areas to investigate before you hire anyone as a coach, says Richard Metheny, vice-president of human resources at leading executive search and human resources advisory firm Witt/Kieffer in Oak Brook, Ill.
The first areas to check when considering an executive coach are certifications and experience. The International Coaching Federation certifies personal and business coaches. Metheny says you should look for someone with a minimum of 1,500 hours of coaching experience, so be sure to ask how long the coach has been practicing and how many coaching hours he or she has logged. In addition, it's a good idea to hire a coach who has worked at the same level as you. It helps if they understand your industry, too.
"If you're a company owner or a c-level executive and you're hiring someone who's never worked beyond a manager level, it's probably not going to work out," he says. If the coach hasn't walked in the same-size shoes, he or she likely won't understand the pressure you face or the types of decisions you need to make.
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When you interview coaches beware of "fluffy" descriptions of their skills, Metheny warns. When you hear descriptions like "sounding board" and "talking through things," they don't really tell you anything about what the coach can do for you. Better: If the coach has a specialization or strength that he or she can articulate, such as helping you make decisions faster or making you a more effective manager by teaching you how to deal with different personality types. Ask for specifics about what you can expect and if the coach can't provide them, consider that a big red flag.
3. Track record.
An experienced coach will be able to describe the process and what you can expect from your time together. Ask about typical lengths of engagement and how "success" is measured. Your coach should be willing to discuss a game plan with you and give you some detail about how you'll set and achieve goals together. While it's not likely that a coach will open up his or her contact file to you, good coaches generally have references and success stories they can cite, Metheny says. Ask about how the coach has made a difference in his or her clients' professional lives and ask for a few references. Be concerned if none are available.
Beyond the credentials, skills and track record, it's important to have a connection, Metheny says. So, consider your gut reaction to the coach during the interview process, as well. You don't have to be best friends, but there should be a decent amount of chemistry between the two of you. If you don't feel good about speaking with your coach or if there's a lack of trust, the relationship won’t be as effective as it could be.