Having an executive coach is often a sign that you’ve made it — or are on your way there. U.S. corporations spend more than $1billion annually to provide coaching to senior leaders who have been flagged for their high potential. While much has been written about how to select a coach, there’s very little information out there about another common situation: picking the wrong coach.
Leaders mismatch with coaches for a variety of reasons. They may not be sure what to look for when selecting a coach, or they may not even be given their choice of coaches. Whatever the cause, the coaching relationship may not work out and considering a new coach is important if leaders are determined to achieve the results they want.
Through my 20 years coaching CEOs and senior leaders, these are three steps I have seen work for clients when they realize they have matched with the wrong coach.
Determine why it doesn’t feel like a match.
Whether you’re totally clear on why you want to switch coaches or you really can’t articulate the reasons just yet, there is value in speaking with a trusted colleague to explore why your coaching engagement isn’t satisfying. Is it a chemistry issue, or are you just not making progress? Does the coach talk too little or too much? Is she too structured or too vague in her approach? Has some of her feedback not landed well with you?
Coaching is a new experience for most leaders and the reasons for dissatisfaction can initially be unclear. Gaining clarity about your rationale for switching will prepare you for the conversations you need to have with your coach and your sponsor.
Address your specific concerns with your coach.
Once you have determined the reasons things aren’t working out, have an honest conversation with your coach. Sometimes all it takes to improve a coaching relationship is for the client and coach to have a frank discussion about how they are working together.
Ask for what you want: more or less input, more or less of an agenda, more or less direct feedback. Good coaches are open to this feedback. These are the opening remarks I suggested to one senior executive for his conversation with his coach: “We’ve been working together for five sessions now and I’d like to pause for a moment and take stock of how this engagement is going. While I find our talks interesting, we are not working together as well as I had imagined and I’m not making the progress I want. You are very quiet and I am looking for an active thought partner who will give me more direct feedback.”
If you have a fruitful talk and decide to give your coach another try, define the trial period, perhaps 2-4 sessions. If your conversation with your coach isn’t productive or if you remain dissatisfied after a few meetings, take the steps necessary to switch to a different coach.
Share your rationale with the person sponsoring your coaching.
If you decide the relationship isn’t a fit, schedule a conversation with the person responsible for your coaching engagement — either your boss or a human resources expert. Be transparent and specific about your concerns.
Don’t let feeling embarrassed get in the way of speaking up. Some executives feel upset about the fact they don’t get along with their coaches and maybe even view it as a sign that they are flawed.
Recently a senior executive considering a change to a new coach contacted me. Her first choice turned out to be too directive, and she dreaded their meetings. Yet she had hesitated to reach out for fear that she would be blamed for the failed engagement. I reassured her replacing coaches is not unusual and it was certainly acceptable in her company to switch. You may not be sure your coach is the right one for you until you have met several times.
In speaking with your coaching sponsor, they will ask why the coaching relationship isn’t working, so be prepared with your reasoning. Expect them to ask about any tough feedback you may have received and how that plays into your thinking about the coaching engagement.
When the sponsor is your boss, it is even more important to present a clearly distilled rationale that reflects the thought you have given to this decision. Here is what I advised a senior pharma executive to share with his boss: “My coach is a very experienced and well-known coach. However, his style is very unstructured. To work on the goals you and I have agreed upon, I need a coach who will set clear objectives with me and be my accountability partner.” This ownership of the engagement will reflect your deep investment in the work.
As part of your discussion with your sponsor, you can ask to speak with other potential coaches. Sometimes that’s the only way you can get clear about your current situation. See how the coaches respond to your thinking about making a change and ask how they might work with you in a different way. You might also request that your new coaching engagement start with 3-5 sessions just to test the waters.
Executive coaching should be a transformative experience for you as a leader and as a person. It can actually change the trajectory of your life and relationships. If you follow these steps, you can make sure you have the right coach along for the journey.