4 Things Leaders Forget When Selecting a Coach

Don't stay stuck in a career rut -- or let your own team sabotage your success

Executive coaching has gone mainstream, boosted by the spoils of the pandemic and rapid corporate upheavals. I’m excited to see our industry thriving.

Yet it astounds me how many senior marketing leaders have not yet learned the value of a great coach. Others have good intentions, then get sabotaged by their own teams. They waste time and energy–and stay stuck in their career rut.

Last year, I saw this happen to a seasoned executive.

A friend referred me to “Stuart.” It was immediately obvious that he needed a coach. He’s in a leadership rut—bored with his current role; out of fresh growth ideas; and chasing every opportunity that falls on his team’s lap. Fourteen years into leading this organization, he’s simply tired.

I’ll give Stuart credit where it’s due. When we met, he was willing to be vulnerable and honest about his indecisiveness and “state of liminality.” He also expressed commitment to doing the work to build a new personal vision, story, and accountability structure. He also saw how our coaching collaboration could help their firm grow from 8% to 20% within one year.

Everything was a go for us to get started…until Stuart decided to ask some of his peers for their feedback.

That’s when the wheels fell off the wagon—here’s why.

None of the investors or teammates have ever worked with a coach. They do not know what to ask. They do not understand the working dynamics between a coach and a leader. They are leaving tens of thousands of new revenue streams on the table each month as they continue to accept less than ideal customers and limp along with an outdated, uninspiring website.

Yet they suddenly advised him to put on the brakes and interview other coaches, “just to be sure.”

If you ever choose to hire a coach, I hope you will avoid making a similar mistake. Never assume that the people on your payroll want you to change. Most prefer status quo. That’s human nature.

Hiring an executive coach is a personal choice, not a committee driven decision. If you feel compelled to pause, use that time to build the right set of screening questions.

In my 21 years as an executive coach, I have met with and advised over 165 CMOs, CEOs, and aspiring CMOs from some of the coolest startups and innovative global organizations. Over that time, I discovered four leadership areas that are often overlooked during those early coach vetting conversation.

For more advice on building your career, check out Episode 45 with Erica Seidel. Check the Episode out on Lisa’s Event page here.

Here’s what busy leaders often forget to validate during the vetting process:

  1. Does this coach have a track record of ensuring that my actions, ambitions and aspirations are aligned with my company’s key goals, vision, and values?
  2. Can she point to measurable results from her coaching engagements (versus smile sheets)?
  3. Can I rely on her to help me dramatically grow my external and internal networks, or is she isolated from business communities?
  4. Relationships trump hands-on skills as I climb the career ladder. Will she show me a way to reach beyond the “do good work” model, and help me build a dedicated team of stakeholders? (*)

*Note: A stakeholder is defined as a fellow peer (customer, boss, co-worker, partner) who can a) provide compassionate yet direct feedback; b) interacts regularly with the executive being coached, and who observes their behavior; and c) is committed to helping that person succeed in their role—or get promoted faster.

These questions are foundational.

Want the full interview grid? Drop me a note. I’ll send you the PDF.

Remember one more step during the vetting process: Test for chemistry. You and your coach will be spending at least 9-18 months together. Will you look forward to those conversations, or dread them? Will they help you grow and escape your comfort zone by creating healthy tension? Those sentiments cannot be measured, but they’re critical to your success.

Chemistry and high IQ are not one and the same. Do not be impressed with advanced degrees from a top university, or a long list of coaching certifications. That doesn’t guarantee emotional balance, innovative thinking, and creativity. It just proves that they are intelligent and love to learn.

My favorite coaches show vulnerability AND can show me  a track record of helping to improve their clients’ condition. I, too, have coaches.

In the meantime, let’s cross our fingers that Stuart finds a great coach. As a team, they need to combat his nemesis: the status quo committee.

P.S. If you’re looking to boost your personal impact and influence, or you are facing a career crossroads, let’s talk.


copyright 2022, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

Comments open: True

Related Posts

The Midlife Innovator cohort (our 9th) will harness corporate and personal wisdom to fuel reinvention and long-term growth.

Read More

AI has forever changed how we innovate and collaborate. Move your 2024 growth strategies forward faster at CLIC ’24, happening May 1-2 in New York.

Read More