As an executive coach during my first meeting with potential clients, I have found that most leaders don’t quite know the right questions to ask me. When evaluating fit, many people make the mistake of choosing someone that they feel most comfortable with. While chemistry and ease of connection is absolutely necessary, it is not a sufficient factor in selecting a coach. You want to get results in your coaching process. So, ask the right questions. Use the list of questions below to assess fit.
How do you handle confidentiality?
Trust between the leader being coached and the coach is the foundation of a good coaching process. Confidentiality is part of the code of ethics of the profession, but be sure to ask the coach how confidentiality will be handled. This is especially tricky if your coach will be involving stakeholders from your organization in the coaching process. You want to make sure that they discuss with you what they plan to share and get your consent before sharing anything specific.
What credentials do you have?
You want to make sure that the coach is certified through a certification body such as the International Coaches Federation (ICF). This certification ensures that your coach has the right skills. Besides their coaching credentials, you may also want to know whether they have experience in your context (e.g. function, level in the hierarchy, industry). In my view, coaching skills are more important than context. Depending on your goals, both skills and context may be important to you.
What’s your coaching experience and success rate with leaders like me?
You want to know how long they have been coaching and what kind of success track record have they had with leaders like you. I recommend you share your coaching goals and ask them about their experience in coaching someone with similar goals. You want to listen for confidence but also humility, because no coach can guarantee results. Results depend significantly on your commitment as the leader.
How do you define and measure success in a coaching engagement?
This will help you understand how the coach will help you to measure success. In my view, success should be measured in terms of skills and behavior change (e.g. better listening) and the impact of that (e.g. better peer relationships and greater influence in the organization, as demonstrated by getting buy-in to Program X). Success should be assessed not just by the individual being coached but by key stakeholders they want to impact.
What kinds of clients have you had most success with?
You want to understand what the coach’s sweet spot is. Many coaches focus on transition coaching (helping people be successful in a new assignment). Others focus at certain levels or skill sets.
What is your typical coaching process and cost?
This is the nuts and bolts of what you can expect. How much time commitment will this take? How much will it cost? Do they recommend certain leadership assessments or 360-degree feedback? How often would you meet or talk? How long does the coaching process last? What happens when its not working? A good coach will customize their process to your coaching goals and will educate you in their experience of what works and what doesn’t.
What happens in a typical coaching session?
You want to know what to expect. In most good coaching processes, the coach will want you to drive the agenda of each coaching session, keeping the overall goals of the coaching in mind. They will ask you about what you committed to doing and what you learned from that. They will want to know your successes and challenges and what you’d like to focus on in this session. At the end of a session, they will ask you to step back and share what you learned and what actions you’re committing to.
What kinds of issues can I bring to the table?
There is a great Buddhist saying “Wherever you go, there you are”. In my coaching experience, many of the challenges that leaders face at work, they also confront in their personal lives. You may want to talk with your coach whether they welcome your bringing personal issues to the table if this is important to you.
How do you work with stakeholders?
If a coaching process is to be successful, a coach will want to engage with the “system” the leader is part of. This may include getting 360-degree feedback, engaging with your boss to ensure that they are supportive of the process, updating HR on progress (or lack there-of). You want to know what you can expect and also what will be optimal from the coach’s perspective to help you achieve your coaching goals.
How do you address lack of motivation or resistance to change?
Often in a coaching process, if the process is working, you will experience your own resistance to change. Creating sustained changes in behaviors and attitudes is hard, and it’s normal for resistance to come up. A skilled coach will be able to discuss with you how resistance shows up, how they will work with you to address it. This will help you build trust. It will be important to discuss how you want to be held accountable to the actions you’ve committed to.
What would you like to know about me?
This is a great question because the coach’s questions give you a sense of their style, their priorities, their values. A good coach will have a clear list of questions that they may ask you to determine whether you’re a good fit for them. They may want to know how coachable you are, and how realistic your goals are.
What else would you like me to know about you?
This gives the coach an opportunity to share more about themselves that you may not have asked.
My mission is to help you grow into your potential to be transformational leader. I hope these sets of questions are useful to you as you select the coach who will best help you meet your coaching goals.