September 27, 2019

When Sitting in the Boss’ Chair Isn’t Enough

Leadership Development

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Choose the Best Executive Coach for YOU.

I was a hospital CEO at age 31. Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing.

Though I had prepared educationally and professionally, my arrival into the executive chair was premature. But there I was, leading. Perhaps my smartest move in this role was to create a network of mentors and guides that I reached out to for questions and ideas. Their opinions helped me understand the seemingly indecipherable. Their experiences were learning lessons so that I could interpret my own challenges.

But utilizing mentors wasn’t enough. They, too, were busy with their own careers and lives. Their feedback was sporadic and infrequent. They could be called upon when I was dazed and confused, but there was no process, structure, or frequency to ensure that my personal leadership growth trajectory was on the mark.

So, I started looking for a coach.

Leverage an Executive Coach. Or Two. Or Seven.

Throughout my career I have had seven different coaches. SEVEN!

Don’t let that number intimidate you. Many of you, when working with a coach, will find that just one will do. I needed a lot of work! Each of my coaches provided unique and invaluable support and perspective as I navigated through various stages of my professional challenges. Throughout my coaching experiences, I have learned a couple of things about the importance of coaches, the role they can play in one’s career, and how to find the right one.

And so, I thought I would share some insight and advice for those of you considering engaging with a leadership coach.

Consider a Coaches’ Goal: YOUR Leadership Success

In the role of a leader, you are often surrounded by two ends of an extreme: well-wishers and critics. In my situation, too often I dismissed the feedback from the well-wishers and stewed on the comments of the critics. Further, it was rare that I felt comfortable sharing my concerns of my leadership gaps and uncertainties either upward (boss, board of directors), horizontally (peers, colleagues), or downward (employees).

I needed a coach to help me understand me. Truly and authentically, with no bias, and only my success as a leader as the goal.

Pick the Right Person – Consider Their Experiences

My first coach was brilliant. Before he hit it big as an acclaimed author and consultant, I reached out to him for help. He had written some thoughtful and insightful articles and I felt he would provide critical coaching. We connected, and I found his assessment tools and perceptions to be incredibly valuable. But he lacked a healthcare background and it was difficult to explain many of the unique nuances of our industry. For me, I decided I wanted someone who had a deep understanding of my industry.

I encourage you to consider the same:

  • Do you want a coach who has sat in your seat?
  • Would you prefer someone with experience from other industries to bring a unique view to your leadership challenges?
  • Do you want someone who is a celebrated author or speaker on the topic?
  • Perhaps you’re a clinical leader looking for someone with business experience, or vice versa.

There is much to consider when thinking of the experiences you value your own coach to have. So, it’s helpful to put some thought into this upfront.

Pick the Right Person – Consider Their Training

The coaching title is a good one. Imagine an athletic coach: someone who understands the game and understands you.

When considering a leadership coach, you need to understand that there are many ways a coach can obtain training. Some prominent universities offer it. Also, there are institutions created specifically for coach training. Read your potential coaches’ bios to understand how they were trained and if they are certified. Then do a little research on that institution and program.

Please know, there are no requirements to become a coach. Anyone can claim it.

The coaching terrain is filled with well-intentioned do-gooders who felt a calling towards helping others. The number of “coaching certificates” is innumerable. For me, I needed a coach, a coach that understands the dynamics of the world in which I was working as well as a keen understanding of me.

There are instances where highly effective and successful coaches are trained working alongside a senior “mentor” coach rather than through a formal training program. I work with a few very good ones. But these are an exception rather than the norm.

Also remember, if you hire a five-and-dime coach, you’ll most likely get five-and-dime results.

Pick the Right Approach

Prior to your coaching journey, it is also important to understand that there are many different approaches to coaching. In order to achieve transformational, sustainable growth as a leader; you need to partake in a deep, explorative, application-based process. Didactic training and development will increase your knowledge, but few, if any, behavioral competencies will see change.

Some potential questions you’ll want to find answers include:

  • How do we kick-off an engagement?
  • How do you get to know me, the real me?
  • How much face-time will we have together?
  • How frequently will we connect?
  • How long does an engagement typically last? And in what timeframe do you typically see growth and sustained leadership improvement?
  • How much work outside of our sessions will be required of me?
  • What specific leadership competencies do you typically teach and coach?

You get the idea. Know what you’re walking into before you do. At the risk of sounding redundant, a five-and-dime coaching approach will most likely get you five-and-dime results.

Pick the Right Person – Consider Your Collective Chemistry

My best experiences with coaching occurred from difficult conversations when important lessons are learned.

A coach should inspire and encourage; as well as deliver a hard message. A coach should stretch you. Sometimes they need to be firm and directive. Other times encouraging and supportive. As such, you need to have a solid, trusted relationship with your coach. You need to feel safe when you are collectively exploring your areas for improvement. And you need to feel safe when they challenge you.

A strong chemistry must exist between the two of you. If you don’t “click,” you won’t be able to get to the best of you.

Get Ready to Know and Grow: How Am I Doing…Really?

Leadership is filled with ambiguity.

Leaders are observed, assessed, celebrated, and criticized. Intuitively we have an idea of how we are doing but sometimes our thoughts are clouded (and our ideas skewed) by confidence and/or insecurity. My favorite exercise throughout my coaching experiences was to complete assessments on my leadership style and behavior.

The listing of possible tools that do this is limitless; you need remember that regardless of the tool that is used, assessments are directional, not destinational. Meaning that each assessment provides insights and perspectives that are worthy to consider and discuss.

They provide guidance; but assessments are not definitive. They are tools to engage in thoughtful and purposeful discussion. And with the help of a coach, be prepared to think about and discuss yourself more deeply than you ever have before.

This isn’t “soft stuff.” This is hard work.

John Wayne was attributed with the following: “Life is Hard. Life is Harder if you are stupid.”

I don’t know if the Duke really said that but it wouldn’t surprise me. My axiom is: “Leadership is Hard. Leadership is Harder if you try to do it alone.”

Leadership is a team sport and requires a tremendous amount of blood, sweat, and tears. To that end, recognize the importance of a coach. Someone who understands you. Someone you click with, and someone who helps you grow and become all that you have the potential to be.


Dr. Berrett has over 20 years as a hospital Chief Executive Officer in not-for-profit, faith based and for-profit facilities (HCA, SHARP, Texas Health Resources). He currently teaches at the University of Texas at Dallas and serves as the Director of the Center for Healthcare Leadership & Management as well as teaches the ACHE CEO Boot Camp. A NYT best-selling author and acclaimed national and international speaker, Dr. Berrett actively coaches healthcare leaders through MEDI Leadership.  For more information, contact MEDI Leadership.

Begin the conversation

Share this!

About the author

Britt Berrett, Ph.D., FACHE

Britt Berrett, Ph.D., FACHE is the former president of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and executive vice president of Texas Health Resources.

Related content