10 Things to Sense Check Before Hiring an Executive Leadership Coach
(By Chris Pearse – Originally published in Forbes)
Executive Coaches are like any other breed of professional: some are good, some are not. But because the potential impact of an executive coach can be so high, their defects, blind-spots and shortcomings need to be rigorously understood before hiring them.
The deficiencies of executive coaches often result from over-reliance on a particular approach or focus. Here are 10 of them:
1. Certification – contrary to what the certifying bodies would have us believe (presumably to maintain revenues), there is no linkage between certification and competence. There are bad coaches that are certified and good coaches that are not – and vice versa. Certification does not absolve the client from selecting their coach with care.
2. Fix-It Coaches – some coaches see clients as broken, and themselves as the solution. This can be symptomatic of the coach taking a mechanistic view of their clients which will limit the impact they can have. Or, in some cases, the coach is looking to fix others as a subliminal displacement activity to fixing themselves. Neither is effective.
3. Structured Processes – these usually appear in the form of acronyms and signal that the coach is wedded to an algorithmic process – if this, then that… The problem with using such a methodology is that it prevents the coach and client making meaningful contact with each other as the structure or framework sits squarely in between them, and is the coach’s reference point.
4. Mindset – mindset is a good focus for executive coaching as mindset conditions behaviour. However, when the coach becomes intent on modifying the client’s mindset to produce a better one, that creates a problem as the better mindset is invariably the coach’s mindset. Ultimately the client needs to develop perception beyond mindset.
5. Motivation – these coaches believe that clients can be driven to change by telling them how wonderful they are, how much potential they have and that all they have to do is think positively to realise it. True motivation can only come from self, never from another. External motivation is compulsion and compulsion is not sustainable.
6. Law Of Attraction – the law of attraction is such an attractive (sic) proposition that coaches to whom it appeals build their offering around it. The problem here is that the coach may not have fully integrated the law into their own lives before selling the proposition to their clients. It remains an aspiration rather than a reality to both coach and client.
7. Neuroscience – the burgeoning science of neurology is providing coaches with plenty of science with which to validate their models of the mind. But exploring the objective brain in terms of neuroscience is not equivalent to experiencing the subjective mind. Neuroscience (still in its infancy) can never replace the need to explore our own inner dynamics experientially.
8. Dependency – some coaches are very good business people. Their instinct is to maximise revenue by extending the coaching relationship for as long as possible. This is fundamentally unhealthy and unethical – coaching needs to deliver independence and self-reference, regardless of the financial implications. Coaches need to focus on delivering value not generating income.
9. Specialisation – coaches that have had a short career or have specialised in a specific discipline (e.g. psychology) may not have the requisite breadth of experience to resonate with the client’s challenges and their context. Specialisation is fine but within a broad foundation which needs to include leadership.
10. Performance – many clients hire coaches to improve their performance. But, paradoxically, a focus on performance is counter-productive. The reason is simply that performance is an outcome, not a cause. Good coaches focus on the causal realm and ignore the symptoms in the knowledge they will look after themselves. For a good coach, performance is a distraction.
So there we have ten coaching syndromes which potential buyers of coaching services would do well to be aware of. Emphasising these deficiencies begs the question: so what skill does a good coach actually have?
Perhaps the most valuable skill that an executive coach can bring to their work is the ability to reflect back, with crystal clarity and no judgement, the inner dynamics of their client. The most effective coaches are rather like mirrors, flat and polished.