When choosing an effective leadership coach, you want to ensure that you are going to get results. In an unregulated industry, it is very easy to get caught up in the hype of a savvy sales pitch or a professional looking website. But there are some simple questions to ask that can differentiate the good from the average, the true partner in developing your skills as a leader as opposed to an expensive waste of time and effort.
During my first meeting or call with a potential client, I have found that most leaders don’t know what to ask to determine if I am the ‘right fit’ for them. Often they are looking for someone who they feel comfortable with and have the right chemistry. While that is certainly important, there are many other things you can ask to get the right leadership coach for you. Here are 8 key questions you can ask a potential coach to determine if they are effective and more importantly, the right coach for you.
1. What is Your Experience as a Leader?
This might seem obvious, but many consultants calling themselves leadership coaches have actually never lead people in a team. For all of the learning and reading a person has done, nothing can substitute having experience in a leadership role – making decisions, counselling / coaching and performance managing team members, holding other accountable for results, setting a clear vision – all of the things that you have to do as a leader.
- ‘What experience have you had leading a team?’
- ‘What industries have you worked in and for how long?’
- ‘What was you toughest experience as a leader managing people?’
2. What is Your Own Coaching Style?
Many leadership coaches follow a formula, a step-by-step guide to coaching that they have learned through an institute, school or other coach. Having a system or a process is important – but you don’t want to work with someone who can’t adjust their format / process / style to meet your immediate needs. If you want to work on a pressing issue that impacts you right now, you shouldn’t have to wait for Lesson 17 in Week 10 to learn and discuss how to deal with it.
In addition, have they developed their own lessons from experience? An effective coach has learnt from what they were taught, adapted from their experience and developed their own material. Would you rather work with a leadership coach that can adapt to your needs and discuss an appropriate lesson from personal experience, or someone that needs to refer and check with the book?
- ‘What models do you use to aid your coaching?’
- ‘Can you outline the type of lessons / learning we can cover?’
- ‘Have you written your own models / lessons from experience?’
Listen to how they discuss their work and consider the following questions for yourself:
- ‘Does this sound like it will aid in my development as a leader?’
- ‘Will this person’s style compliment my own’
3. Who Else Would You Recommend?
Deciding on an effective leadership coach is a personal preference – you have to feel comfortable that the person will work with you, guide you, encourage you as well as challenge you. If you decide that the persons style doesn’t suit you, can they / will they recommend a leadership coach more suitable? An effective leadership coach knows that they don’t appeal to everyones style and that fit is important. An effective coach in the industry will personally know several other effective leadership coaches of different styles that they can refer you to. Anyone that can’t is looking more for the sale and less for your welfare and development.
- ‘If you aren’t my best fit as a coach, who else would you recommend and why?’
4. What Recommendations and Success Stories Do You Have?
This question seeks to get past the fancy website and the sales pitch. An effective leadership coach will have dozens of recommendations from previous clients that are happy with the work that was completed, and even happier to tell others about it. Look to the person’s website for testimonials and see what they have said about the process, where they started and what they learned. Look up some of the testimonial names on LinkedIn – are they real people in leadership roles? Do they work for the person ? (I know, yet several coaches I sought for myself had a small number of reviews, and those were from peers, not clients). Look up the reviews of the business as well as the leadership coach on Facebook, Google reviews and alike – can you find recommendations?
If the person doesn’t have 20 or 30 clear and identifiable recommendations or reviews, they haven’t yet proven themselves as an effective leadership coach. It is also important to separate the leadership coach from the leadership business – while the business may have many reviews for their stable of coaches, the one in front of you may not. Also ask if you could speak to a previous client about what they got from the coaching process. An effective leadership coach will not only be able to provide you with names, they will have at least 5 clients they could willingly provide you the phone / contact details of to discuss their coaching.
- Check their website or LinkedIn profile for 20 to 30 recommendations and reviews
- Check reviews and people giving them are real and not from their own business
- Separate the reviews of the business from the specific coach
- ‘Can I speak to one or two of your previous clients to discuss what they learnt?’
5. What Resources and Tools Do You Have at Your Disposal?
This is a broad question, and it is seeking to understand the depth of knowledge of the leadership coach you will be working with. An effective leadership coach talks about their field of expertise – either publicly in keynote speaking or webinars, online through videos or tutorials, or written in blogs / posts and articles. Take some time to read, listen or watch what they talk about and see if it resonates with you. Does this person talk about leadership / leadership skills in a way that appeals to you? If you can’t find your chosen leadership coach speaking about the topic of leadership in at least one of these mediums, walk away. Effective leadership coaches have a body of work that should be easy to find and demonstrate their understanding of the topic.
In addition, ask to review or discuss their coaching outcomes documents and their confidentiality policy – it should be clear and easily understood. You want to know before you undertake a coaching process who the information you discuss is going to be shared with, how long notes are kept and what the records process entails.
- Their website for articles, tutorials and videos
- Look for Youtube or Vimeo videos speaking on the topic
- ‘Google’ their name and search for things like ‘leadership articles’
- ‘Where can I find articles or videos of you discussing and explaining leadership and / or coaching?’
- ‘Can I have a copy of your Coaching Outcomes documents?’
- ‘What is your policy on confidentiality’
6. What Leadership Assessment Tool Do They Use?
An effective leadership coach will use some form of leadership assessment tool to assess the level of skill / behaviour you have at present, and highlight how they will help you develop from that baseline. There are a myriad of effective tools in the marketplace, just make sure that the tool provides useful information for you in its own right – it should be in plain language and discuss leadership behaviours. It should also measure behaviours that can develop and grow, that you easily relate specific behaviours to. The tool used should be more than a personality test, which are often generically written (4 types, 4 colours etc) and not designed to change over time.
Ensure the tool being used can be used again in several months time so that you can have a tangible measure of growth – after all, ‘what isn’t measured, isn’t done’. Most effective leadership coaches can provide you with a PDF of a standard report from their chosen leadership assessment tool, and many will provide an assessment / short debrief as part of their introductory process.
- ‘What leadership assessment tool do you use?’
- ‘Can I have a copy of a standard / example leadership report’
- ‘Do you offer an assessment prior to committing to a coaching contract / process’
7. How Will You Challenge Me (and Yourself)?
While rapport and connection is very important through a coaching process, an effective leadership coach is not your best friend. While they will encourage you and cheer you on through your successes, they also need to be able to hold you to account for behaviours that aren’t helping you succeed and challenge your thinking and your actions. An effective leadership coach understands the difference between what you want to hear, and what you need to hear. They won’t be cold and emotionless – an effective leadership coach will discuss your development needs clearly and specifically, identify a path to develop and grow and guide / help / push you towards action to address shortfalls.
Further, ask about their own coaching process. An effective leadership coach knows that they don’t have all of the answers and are developing and growing themselves. An effective leadership has experienced the process of coaching for themselves, they understand the impact, the sticking points in their own development and can discuss it clearly with you. If your chosen coach doesn’t believe in the coaching process, why should you?
- ‘How will you challenge me to develop my skills?’
- ‘What is the process if we disagree on a way forward?’
- ‘Do you have a coach at present?’
- ‘What did you learn through your coaching process?’
Through asking some or all of these questions, you should be able to ascertain not only if the person in front of you is an effective leadership coach, but if they are the right leadership coach to assist you in growing and developing as a leader.
Other Useful Articles on Determining an Effective Leadership Coach:
3 Common Mistakes People Make in Selecting an Executive Coach
How to Select an Executive Coach