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The 7 Things to Look For in a Leadership Development Coach

Finding a great leadership development coach can be challenging — unless you know who and what to look for.

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Why would a successful entrepreneur need a leadership development coach?

The answer is simple. You had a great idea. You nurtured it, perfected it and created a company around it — with employees, leaders, and executive teams. As an entrepreneur, you're proficient at idea generation, but does that make you proficient at running a business? Among other tasks, you've got to ensure your leaders are maximizing their potential, which may not be in your wheelhouse. That's where a leadership development coach comes into play.

A leadership development coach should have, at minimum, seven essential qualifications to look for. But first, a word of advice about what not to look for: do not look for a business coach. Assuming you're looking for someone to help improve the effectiveness of your executive team, a business coach is a poor substitute.

Why? Because a business coach is trained to help solely with the strategic and tactical areas of running a business. They will help achieve your company's strategic objectives — what are the issues, your options to address them and which ones you should deploy. But that only helps at the surface level. Real leadership development centers on identifying the behavioral patterns that can undermine business performance and results while creating more effective patterns and augmenting performance.

Related: Master These 6 Coaching Skills to Lead Your Team Where They've Never Dared Go

1. Look for a coach you don't like

Hiring a coach whom you hit it off with, who has had similar education and industry experiences as you, often sabotages leadership development engagements. If your coach has too much in common with you, they're likely to have the same blind spots, meaning it will be difficult to see them in you. Leaders often look for someone who "gets them" – someone who is very much like them and thinks the same way. You want the opposite; someone who sees things you don't and has a very different approach to leadership, as well as improving leadership performance.

2. Look for a coach who understands your brain

If a coach uses a system that worked for someone else, or a homegrown methodology that resonates with the creator, that doesn't mean it will work for everyone. If it's a system that just works for the coach, it will probably only work for people just like them. It doesn't matter what industry you're in; our brains all work the same. So find someone who incorporates the principles of neuroscience into their methods, allowing them to reach the subconscious and unconscious levels where negative patterns and mental obstacles can really be changed.

Related: Why Leadership Development Needs to Be Updated

3. Consider tri-party coaching

In tri-party coaching, there is involvement not just between the coach and the leader but also with the person to whom the leader reports. If I'm a COO who will be working with a leadership development coach, I should also include my CEO, not in the coaching sessions but in the initial goal-setting meeting, as well as regular check-ins to evaluate my progress. The collaboration creates transparency, ensuring that I am meeting the goals that the CEO has established for me. (NOTE: In firms that perform regular 360 evaluations vis a vis the company's leadership competencies, tri-party coaching may not be necessary.)

4. Hire a professional

While it may seem obvious, make sure you engage with a professional, certified coach, not just someone who's been a CEO or has experience in your industry but none as a leadership development coach. There are plenty of resources to help you evaluate the competency and credentials of a coach, including the International Coaching Federation. A professionally trained and experienced coach can locate your blind spots quickly, delve in to find the root using science, and develop the new behavioral pattern to produce the desired success.

5. Remove the "Law of the Lid"

Identify a coach who poses powerful questions rather than one who talks a lot and offers opinions. Many coaches barely let the client speak and spend too much time talking about their own experiences, which, while occasionally helpful, should not comprise the bulk of the program. A competent coach will use probing questions that compel you to look within yourself and discover behavioral patterns, then "read" that behavior to find that which will produce exponential results. This procedure is integral to removing the "law of the lid." Leadership ability is the lid that determines someone's level of effectiveness; the higher a person's ability to lead, the higher the lid on their potential.

6. Concurrent coaching

If a CEO has determined that the entire executive team – or a substantial part – can benefit from leadership development coaching, find a coach comfortable with this arrangement. Keep in mind that this is different from "group coaching," which is coaching a number of executives simultaneously. There is no practical way to create a "one size fits all" session. Rather, each person on the team is coached individually in 1-to-1 sessions, but they are all coached to reach similar standards and objectives. Because they're all doing the work simultaneously, greater and faster gains are made throughout the team.

7. Measure progress and results

Without a quantitative and qualitative measurement system, there's no way to truly know if the leadership development coaching you've received has worked. Your company may have some core leadership competencies against which a coached leader can be evaluated, but the coach you hire should have a system of their own to illustrate — clearly and empirically — the progress that the client has achieved along the way, as well as a compilation of the final results.

Related: 'Mentoring' and 'Leadership Coaching' Are Not the Same. Do You Know the Difference?

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