5 Tips for Engaging a Great Leadership Coach

“You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire underneath them, but by building a fire within”, Bob Nelson.

Coaching in work and leadership settings is an invaluable tool for developing people across a wide range of needs. It is reported by the Institute of Coaching that 80% of people report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills.

Harvard Business Review’s Pocket Mentor Series builds on these suggestions by including even more business-focused outcomes like overcoming costly business issues (by using the solution focus of coaching), strengthening employees’ skills so they can grow at work (and therefore potentially stepping into leadership shoes), improved retention, and a reduced cost of training.

Coaching is an unregulated industry so how can you be assured that the Leadership Coach you select is one of the very best?

Here are 5 tips to help you select a great Leadership Coach.

1. Understand the process and cost

Working with a Leadership Coach is not a quick fix. Sometimes there can be great insights and reflections gained from just one meeting, but typically, coaching assignments range from three to 12 months, with a 60-90 minute coaching session every four to six weeks during this time.

Expect to pay between NZ$250-500+ for coaching sessions. There may also be additional costs relating to psychometric assessments, stakeholder input or behavioural tools, which can add weight and depth to the coaching programme.

Where possible, coaching should be face-to-face, at least at the very start of the process while the parties build trust and rapport. For many people, it is possible to enjoy effective coaching conversations via telephone, Skype or Zoom, but this is very dependent on the nature and preferences of both the coach and the person being coached (coachee).

The ultimate goal of a coach is to become superfluous, so your Leadership Coach should be ensuring that it’s your employee who is in the driving seat, committing to actions and learning in between coaching sessions. If there is a continued requirement for on-going coaching beyond a year, it could be worth reviewing either the coaching outcomes or the capability of the coach.

Questions to consider:

  • Who needs to be included in the discussion about goals – and on-going updates - for this coaching programme?
  • What reporting would you like from this coaching programme – and how will this be provided within the context of coaching confidentiality?
  • How will you handle any conflicts that might arise from the coaching programme?

2. Check coaching credentials

Gaining and maintaining professional credentials comes at considerable cost, so in requesting (and checking) both qualifications and professional memberships, you can be more assured of working with somebody who is absolutely committed to presenting themselves as a serious and dedicated professional.

Achieving coaching outcomes requires more than ‘just a chat’, so ensure that your Leadership Coach is both credentialed and a member of a global coaching body, eg Association for Coaching, European Mentoring and Coaching Council, International Coach Federation, Association of Coaching.

Questions to consider:

  • How extensive is the coach’s training?
  • Have you seen the original certifications?
  • What processes does the coach have in place for their own on-going training and supervision?

3. Check the prior performance evidence

Ask the coach for examples of where and how they have delivered similar assignments. Check the problems they had to overcome, how they have learned from their experience, and what recommendations they might have for you as you face a similar situation.

If you have strong corporate values, ask the coach to share examples of where they have brought your values to life in their coaching world; a cultural fit check for your coach is just as important as for your employees.

Ask the coach to share at least three referees; people who have worked with them who you can call to talk about their work. They may be coaching clients (although they may prefer confidentiality) or it may be a business connection who has hired them. Check in with the referees.

Questions to consider:

  • What stories can the coach tell you about assignments they’ve delivered that are similar to your needs?
  • What do the referees say about the work this coach has delivered in the past?
  • What areas of this assignment might your coach not be able to deliver?

4. Clarify the coaching outcomes upfront

Coaches are typically asked to work across a variety of areas - more effective leadership methods, better decision-making, improved relationship management, challenging and stretching thinking, better stress management, improved time management, increased confidence, increased self-awareness, creating and achieving career goals, growing resilience, and many more. Be very clear about what you want the coach to achieve with the coachee.

While coaching should always be question-led rather than answer-led, there may be times when you need a coach who has specific knowledge, skills or experience to achieve a specific coaching assignment. Being clear on what you want to achieve from coaching can help to ensure you choose the right Leadership Coach for your job.

One option is to have a three-way coaching session at the start of the coaching programme, where the coachee, their line manager and the coach meet to discuss desired programme outcomes.

Questions to consider:

  • What would you like the coachee to do more of by the end of the coaching assignment?
  • What would you like the coachee to do less of by the end of the coaching assignment?
  • To what extent is the coachee aware of these two requirements?

5. Have a clear exit strategy

Measuring the return on coaching is notoriously difficult because of all the human variables involved, and no coaching programme can guarantee results.

Some ideas to achieve an understanding of the impact include the following:

  • Quantify the coaching outcomes you identified at the start of the programme.
  • Look for existing Key Result Areas (eg skills and competencies or 360 feedback results) linked to the coaching outcomes, and record how they change over time.
  • Consider quantitative and qualitative feedback of coachees, either from in-house surveys or independent auditors.

It’s critical to ensure that you have a formal ‘full stop’ at the end of coaching programmes to ensure they don’t drift or morph into another related assignment. If further coaching is required, start over by clearly defining the outcomes required, so that you can be certain that your investment in coaching continues to be well targeted.

Questions to consider:

  • What are the differences that you have noticed about the coachee? Or their team?
  • How have you celebrated the impact of the coaching programme?
  • How have you formally gathered feedback about the approach used by your Great Leadership Coach?

Article written by Kathryn Jackson - Facilitator & Coach