5 Key Things to Look for in an Executive Coach

In 2013, Stanford University released an attention-grabbing survey on executive coaching, stating that “nearly two-thirds of CEOs do not receive outside leadership advice,” but “nearly all want it.”1

Stanford’s study revealed a notable transition in C-Suite sentiments toward executive  coaching. It was seen less as a professional irrelevancy or worst-case scenario reaction and more as a legitimate and desirable opportunity for professional development.

Since then, the demand for executive coaching has only grown. Because of the rise in demand, an explosion of coaches and firms has taken place. While it isn’t bad news per se, this increase of coaching opportunities has meant many executives pursuing coaching for the first-time have difficulty identifying the differentiating factors between coaches. As Erika Andersen, author of Growing Great Employees, wrote, “…as with anything that gets popular, there are now many, many people jumping on the coaching bandwagon, hanging out their shingle and offering themselves as executive coaches.”2

At PROMARK, we understand the pressure of choosing a coach and want to help you make the best coaching decision for yourself or a team member.

But maybe you’re still asking, “Why would someone pursue coaching?”

Why Executive Coaching?

Executive coaching provides leaders a person-to-person context to help them navigate the multifaceted dynamics and demands of professional leadership. A few types of coaching an executive could pursue to meet the demands of leading are 

  • Assimilation coaching for leaders transitioning into a new organization;

  • Career Advancement coaching for leaders adapting to new responsibilities with their core competencies and skills in a new cross-functioning role;

  • Succession coaching to help leaders define desired outcomes and timelines for an important transition in the life of the company.

Even if particular circumstances don’t seem to warrant coaching, any executive can benefit from the perspective of someone outside their board or executive team. As Stephen Miles, CEO of The Miles Group, states, “Even the best-of-the-best CEOs have their blind spots and can dramatically improve their performance with an outside perspective weighing in<.”

What Keeps Leaders from Finding a Coach?

Even though nearly all CEOs desire coaching, why do so many still not pursue it? We asked a PROMARK executive leader to weigh in:

“I think some leaders feel that they should already have ‘all the answers.’ They may also feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I disagree. I learned a long time ago that asking for help and advice is a sign of strength and a trait of a great leader.”

Despite the positive shift toward coaching, leaders who pursue it still find themselves fighting against an unnecessary stigma that says they’ve failed as a leader by asking for help, an unfortunate vestige from an antiquated ideal of the leader as “superhero.” But the “superhero” leader is not the profile of a successful leader.

Instead, a successful leader knows their limitations and responds to the opportunity to grow and develop themselves through coaching to advance their capabilities, cultivate healthy teams, and generate robust bottom lines.

Once a leader recognizes the potential benefits of coaching, how should they navigate the multitude of coaching options? What should they look for in a coach? 


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5 Things to Look for in a Coaching Relationship

  1. Credentials & Credibility: Choosing a coach is not the same as finding a friend. Though you want to feel safe sharing details from your life, you need a coach who will not only be a “sounding board,” but who will provide you honest feedback that creates synergy toward professional and organizational breakthroughs. A credentialed coach will have more than certificates; they’ll be able to articulate their successes with other leaders to ensure you can achieve real results that will be effectively integrated into your day-to-day habits. Additionally, choose a company who offers many coaching options from many different disciplines. The “one-man-show” executive coach is rarely flexible, talented, or knowledgeable enough to coach all of a company’s executives.  Lastly, check a coach’s references before committing to a coaching engaegment.

  2. Clear Goals & Process: Choose a coach whose experience means they’ll clearly lay out the goals and methodologies they use to achieve optimal success. A great coach will outline the starting point and vision for the coach-coachee relationship and how it will ensure alignment with the coachee’s goals and the organization’s desired outcomes.

  3. Confidentiality: Choose a coach who will establish and honor a confidentiality agreement. While coachees may have expectations from a leader or their board to provide general feedback and progress reports, a great coach will respect a coachee’s privacy and reputation by not sharing details from sessions with their boss, peers, or other department.

  4. Caseload Depth over Breadth: A great coach carries an intentionally smaller amount of clients at time. You want to find a coach who pursues caseload depth, rather than breadth, so they can provide their full attention and cultivate an honest understanding of who you are as a leader, and even of your company. This, in turn, means they’ll ask specific, engaging questions to illuminate the particulars of an area rather than provide generic, perfunctory advice.

  5. Chemistry and Trust: Choosing a coach who possess all the aforementioned points is good, but choosing a coach with all of the above that you will grow to trust is great. While common ground, such as educational background, trainings, etc., at the beginning of a coaching engagement may provide a sense of comfort to the coachee, it’s important they not mistake chemistry for comfort. The goal of coaching is to grow a leader’s ability to make effective decisions in areas that may not come naturally to them, not enable a coachee’s current habits or vulnerabilities. If during the course of a coaching engagement, a coachee hasn’t established trust with their coach, it is important for them to consider a new one.

Is It Worth It?

Today, coaching’s capacity to clarify and align a leader’s goals with their vocational vision or the organization’s has never been more recognized. Yet, in the midst of copious options of coaches and firms, many executives find themselves wondering if it’s worth the time investment to navigate the decision-making process and the financial investment to pursue coaching for themselves or an employee. But the answer is clear, as one of our PROMARK coaches shared:

“While a financial investment is required for a coaching engagement, one must remember that the development of an employee, especially at the leader level in an organization, is one of the most important things the organization can do. It builds the competence of the individual, the individual’s peers, and teams and strengthens all outcomes associated with the individual.”

At PROMARK, we understand executive leaders face many questions when it comes to coaching. We’re here to offer you clear guidance in your decision making and quality coaching that stands out among the rest.


To find out more about what makes our seasoned coaches different and how you can encounter new successes with them, contact us today.


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