Making an executive decision

Choosing the right executive coach will develop your career and transform you into a changemaker in your organisation

Demand for executive coaching has risen in recent years, often among start-up owners and young heirs of family businesses. Companies would often hire coaches to take their leadership to the next level, but cheaper options like virtual coaching now means more people can turn to them to develop their own careers.

With a coach checking in with them on their goals and taking on the role of an accountability partner, employees will be more inclined to pursue their plans and fine-tune their working styles and habits. Which coach to engage, however, can be a tough decision. A search on the International Coach Federation’s (ICF) Singapore charter website for coaches with an executive specialisation throws up some 250 names.

Here are five tips for selecting a suitable coach:

1. Decide what you want to get out of coaching

What is your purpose of engaging a coach? Are you a company seeking to groom the next generation of leaders? Or are you an individual who wants a coach who will hold you accountable to your career goals?

Do you want a safe space in which to work out what is holding you back in terms of ambitions, efficiency and habits? Do you want someone who will be brutally honest about your shortcomings and push you to improve?

Asking yourself these questions will help you to identify the coaches who are most suitable to meet your needs and what you want to learn.. But be aware that coaching does not give you all the answers. Instead, good coaches will equip you with insight, and frameworks and strategies for you to figure out the best solution. Most importantly, if your coach is effective, he or she will be able to help you build skills to see yourself more clearly, develop your strengths and identify where you need to grow.

2. Look at credentials

Practising coaches do not need formal qualifications, and there is no clear criteria as to what constitutes coaching. While there is no guarantee that accredited coaches are good, a coach who has a relevant and reputable organisation’s credentials would have gone through some screening and training. Coaches who are continually learning, going on courses to upgrade their core expertise, may also have fresher takes on client’s situations.

For instance, to become an associate certified coach with ICF, a member must complete an approved training programme; either log 100 hours of coaching or spend more than 10 hours with a mentor coach; and pass a Coach Knowledge assessment.

Beyond professional accreditation, some coaches are also trained psychologists, researchers of human relations, or have diverse educational and/or employment backgrounds that can stand them in good stead at approaching problems from a more holistic viewpoint.

3. Check if they have relevant experience

Does the coach you are keen on working with have relevant experience in your field and at the level that you are currently at? Are they equipped with enough industry know-how to quickly and accurately grasp the challenges you are faced with?

4. Set up a “chemistry meeting”

Aside from finding out about his experience, you can also ask for testimonials from former clients of a similar level as you. Check out what these clients say about working with this coach and find out what concrete results they have gained. Make sure that these testimonials speak to you at a deep level and instils confidence in you that the coach is the right fit for your needs. Set up a “chemistry meeting”.

A meeting will enable you to suss out the other party’s vibe, to ensure a good fit. At the meeting, ask about the coaching methodology (what will a typical session be like?), outcomes (how will learning and progress be evaluated?), and ethics (how will they ensure client confidentiality?). The session should also give you an idea of whether the coach is someone who can inspire you to grow, while getting you out of your comfort zone to progress. You could even ask for a paid trial coaching session before making a decision.

5. Recognise when it is not working out

At the end of the day, there is no fool-proof way of knowing if a coach is right for you, until you have committed to the journey. A good coach will recognise when things are going off-course and, hopefully, communicate that and seek intervention promptly. There have been occasions when a client becomes unhealthily dependent on their coach.

As you grow professionally, your challenges will evolve over the years. When you’re in the midst of a mid-career crisis or professional reinvention, the right career coach can be a lifesaver, helping you to chart your future direction and the paths required to reach them. It’s important to recognise that different coaches may be uniquely suited to help you at different phases.