August 18, 2020

Finding the Right Executive Coach: 8 Considerations

Clinician Leadership | Leadership Development

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Professional athletes, market innovators, art and tech prodigies all have a longstanding tradition of magnifying their skills with expert coaching. As Inc. magazine explains it, “It’s no secret that high performers of all stripes swear by coaching. Everyone from Google’s founders to the rock band Metallica credits coaches with getting them where they are today (or keeping them there).”

But how do you choose an executive coach that’s right for you? Below are eight considerations to help you identify a coach who’ll support and push you to achieve and sustain the change you desire, long-term.

Personal comfort and connection

Ever noticed how you click (or not) with some people? Or how some folks tend to get the best out of you? That personal connection might be the most important variable in choosing a coach.

It’s not about how similar you or your backgrounds may be. The fit and comfort of the interaction is crucial: Do you feel this is someone you can have honest, open conversations with? Does it feel comfortable to talk with them?

Pay attention to how you feel around the prospective coach, and how smoothly communication flows. This is not to suggest that you look for trust and bond within the first conversation, but do trust your feelings regarding ease of engagement.

Coaching style and approach

As you learn about your potential coach’s style and approach, consider how they might support the changes you want to experience. How much time will you spend face-to-face, and how will you maintain support and accountability when you’re not face-to-face? How accessible is the coach as work or personal crises erupt or conditions change?

Pay attention to whether the coach is flexible to accommodate your style of learning and engagement. Are they likely to communicate with you in the style and manner most likely to facilitate change for you (e.g. provide lots of reading, data, examples, process through dialogue, etc.)? Ensure they offer the approach that is most engaging for you.

Orientation to change

Change is tough. Before you commit to a coach, it’s wise to probe how he/she views the change process — not just making a change but sustaining it so it becomes second nature. Is their framework based on evidence? Does it resonate with you?

If you aren’t sure what course has the highest probability of sustainable change for you, choose a coach that has the insight and knowledge to help you identify what works best for you. Flexibility and adaptability are valued traits in a coach!

Level of support

Your work conditions will change during your coaching relationship. Dilemmas will emerge, and you’ll have unforeseen fires to put out, each representing an opportunity to work on your goals.

How much support can your coach give you, both in staying the course and in tackling new challenges as they arise? Does that coach provide feedback, encouragement, motivation, and serve as a sounding board when appropriate? Does that level of support feel comfortable or adequate to you?

Needs/goals assessment

Your needs, goals, obstacles and personal quirks may differ sharply from your peers. It wouldn’t make sense to apply a one-size-fits-all method to every client. When choosing a coach, a personal assessment and goals development are vital to ensure you have the right tools and path to get you where you want to go.

Inquire from your potential coach their process to help you identify the goals that are most appropriate for you. Ensure they have a proven method of identifying those, and you feel comfortable fully engaging and committing to that process.


As work or life conditions shift, adjustments are inevitable for a thriving coaching relationship. As we’ve covered earlier, your executive coach should be sensitive to your needs and flexible to adapt to your style and pace, so you get the best experience (and results) possible.

Balance between supportive and challenging

Effective coaches can’t be all cheerleaders, nor all drill sergeants. You won’t evolve without a healthy dose of both supportive validation and challenge. Yes, your coach is your advocate, sounding board and guide. But most importantly, your coach is your catalyst to becoming a transformational leader. You won’t get there without stretching out of your comfort zone.

The ultimate outcome is always to actualize your optimal potential as a leader. An effective coach will recognize your blind spots and vulnerabilities, challenging you to bring those to a conscious level, then actively develop sustainable change. Choose a coach that you feel will walk that path with you, balancing your needs at any given point.

Track record

What’s your coach’s training, background and experience? Inquire what process your coach will take to ensure you achieve your desired outcomes. Does the process have a proven track record of success?

Remember, rapport is an essential leverage to success in coaching, as is a proven methodology. The combination of rapport (ultimately trust), effective communication and a proven roadmap are essential to your desired outcome.

. . .

All things considered, the goal of hiring a coach is transformation. Studies tell us it may take up to 254 days to form a new habit, and an effective coach should have a proven, personalized plan to make that happen.

By this time next year, you, your team and organization will be amazed by what you’ve achieved! You just have to find the right coach.

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About the author

William M. Barnes, Ph.D., MBA, PCC

William M. Barnes, Ph.D., MBA, PCC is a multi-faceted healthcare executive who brings diverse perspectives from successful leadership and clinical responsibilities. As a clinical psychologist, William spent more than 20 years simultaneously providing direct service and executive leadership at Children’s National Health Systems, where he served as Director of Community Based Adolescent HIV Research and Director of HIV Support Services.

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