Author: Kevin Simpson
In today’s world, the demand for executive coaches is on the rise. As the business landscape becomes more complex and competitive, leaders seek guidance and support to navigate their roles effectively. I see the effects of this everyday running my 3 coaching companies here in Canada. However, the coaching industry has also witnessed an influx of individuals claiming to be coaches, without any necessary experience or qualifications. As is usual and expected sadly – when any industry throughout the decades seems to be on an upward trend, so too is the number of charlatans attempting to join the jet-stream on the rise. This proliferation of self-proclaimed coaches poses a significant challenge for those seeking genuine guidance and expertise.
I had a person approach me over this past summer that was so excited to join our firm as a junior coach in training. She took two Uber rides to meet with my partner and I in one day. This person had some business experience, but from what I came to understand had never ever coached anyone, and the only CEO that they had ever talked to from a professional perspective was their father.
One thing lead to another and things never did transpire with us taking her on as a junior coach, but low and behold, three months later this person is selling themself on Linked-In as an executive coach who has “experience in leading, facilitating, and supporting the growth and development of leaders and teams across various industries. I help my clients identify their strengths, overcome challenges, and achieve personal and professional goals.”
Not only am I certain they did not get “certified” in three months, but I can almost guarantee that they have no actual clients.
So to help you make an informed decision and navigate the murky waters when looking for an executive coach, I’ve put together a five-point buyer beware checklist.
1. How Long Has the Coaching Firm Been Operating?
One of the first questions you should ask when considering an executive coach is about their experience in the field. While coaching is not solely about the number of years, experience often brings a deeper understanding of various leadership challenges and solutions. An experienced coach has likely encountered a wide range of situations and different types of clients and can draw upon that knowledge to tailor their approach to your specific needs.
When evaluating a potential coach, inquire about their coaching journey. How long have they been coaching? What challenges and obstacles did they face and overcome. What led them to become a coach in the first place. Also – ask if they are a part of a team/firm or are on their own. Solo coaches will often run out of leverage and look to gain more in the most obvious places – raising your rates or clumsily encouraging you into less 1-on-1 time and into bigger groups. Plus, a firm offers more coaches with different backgrounds that may be more appropriate for you as you progress. Plus, a firm can engage with you, and your team members, operating from the same foundational culture, disciplines and principles but with separate ‘champions’ for each level of the company so there is no conflict of interest. Don’t place too much emphasis on have they worked in or coached in the same industry that you are in – remember – their job is to make you forget you are in that industry and coach you and the qualities that make you a great leader and the strategies the grow all businesses over all industries which at the heart of things are in essence the same.
What I can tell you is there is an undeniable correlation between the number of paying clients they have had and the amount of true experience they have.
When you query them on current clients make sure you confirm that they are actually paying clients. This has been in my experience the number one area of deception. A freebie client is not a coaching client – they are a mentoring client and the payment for coaching portion of the relationship is completely tied to the accountability component of the coaching relationship.
2. Who is your coach?
Difficult to progress past this point if the answer is ‘well, nobody’ or an awkward stall ensues. The coaches who command the respect of the organizations and people they coach do so primarily out of congruency – walking the walk, or eating your own cooking as it were.
The level they have reached, or experience they have is inconsequential compared against actual belief in the coaching process – people who want to keep growing, challenging themselves, and continue winning – work with a coach. Careful bringing someone in to coach you and your organization, who does not currently have a coach themselves. Look for someone who answers quickly and proudly.
Oh, and one more thing – make sure they actually PAY for their coaching (again, congruency). ‘I get mentored by a friend for free’, or ‘me and my buddy from ICF training get together once a week and…’ is not the most trust inducing answer that proves they believe 100% in the value and power of true coaching.
Don’t take the statement “I was at XYZ Company for 20 years and I coached my team on a regular basis”. Again – coaching inside the company you work for with Employees who have to report to you and basically do what you say does not equal any amount of real world coaching experience.
3. Get References & Speak To Three Past or Current Clients
One of the most effective ways to assess a coach’s credibility and effectiveness is to speak with their past clients. Ask the coach for references from at least three clients who have worked with them. Contact these references and inquire about their experiences. Here are some questions to consider:
– What specific challenges were you facing when you started working with the coach?
– How long have you been working with the coach, and what has been the duration of your coaching relationship?
– What results or improvements have you seen in your leadership abilities or career since working with the coach?
– How would you describe the coach’s coaching style and approach?
– Would you recommend this coach to others?
By speaking with past clients, you can gain valuable insights into the coach’s effectiveness and whether their coaching style aligns with your needs and preferences.
4. Determine the Fee and Results Achieved
Understanding the financial aspect of coaching is crucial. Discuss the coach’s fees upfront and ensure that they are transparent about their pricing structure. While cost is a consideration, it should not be the sole determining factor in selecting a coach. Instead, focus on the value you expect to receive and ask the coach to demonstrate real ROI – tangible, and quantitative measurements. Too often coaches describe the qualitative results they have achieved.
What kind of measurable outcomes have their clients experienced? Did the coaching relationship lead to tangible improvements in leadership skills, decision-making, or career advancement? A coach who can provide evidence of their clients’ success stories demonstrates their effectiveness in driving meaningful change.
5. Ask About Average Retention Rates and Possible Depth and Width of Engagements
Retention rates can offer valuable insights into a coach’s ability to maintain long-term, productive relationships with their clients. Inquire about the coach’s average retention rate for all clients, as well as their retention rates for clients over the past two years. A coach with high retention rates indicates that clients find value in their services and continue to benefit from the coaching relationship.
Additionally, consider asking the coach about their approach to maintaining client engagement and ensuring that clients achieve their goals. Understanding how they support clients over the long term can help you assess their commitment to your success.
Ask if the coaching with you an individual works out as planned, what is their capacity and ability to potentially assist your organization with:
Management, leadership and sales training
Personality Profiles and Assessments
OKR Retreats and 90 Day Planning
Multi-Level Organizational Chart Exec Coaching
Mindset Performance and Organizational Psychology
In other words, can they contribute deep and wide to your organization, for a long time, or are they a one trick pony?
If in doubt after all of this – message me. From someone whose job it is to hire and develop great coaches for their firm, I know how to evaluate them and as well I know many great coaches looking for clients.