So, you have been offered a business coach…now what?

If you have not previously worked with a business coach, often referred to as an executive coach, the basis for selecting one can seem perplexing. What really matters?

Congratulations! You’ve just received word from your manager (or other organizational sponsor, such as a Human Resources/Talent Management or other business leader) that you will be able work with a coach. Before you meet with your coach, ask your sponsor a few important questions. Be certain to get an understanding of the parameters for coaching. Will your organization provide for in-person coaching, virtual coaching, or some combination? Will the program involve one or more assessments to provide you with data? How long with the coaching program run? Perhaps, most important, what are the expectations for the program? Does the organization have expectations for realizing challenging business objectives, developing leadership skills for advancement to the next level or other challenging role, or some other goal? Understanding these coaching program expectations and parameters will significantly help you in having a productive initial conversation with a coach.

With this background, you will be well prepared for meeting with your coach or several coaches if you are asked to select one to work with. What should you consider in selecting a coach?

Rapport and trust. Much is made of “chemistry” between the coach and the coachee . . . and for good reason. The two must engage effectively for the coaching work to be beneficial. How well does the coach listen? How well does he or she ask insightful questions? Does he or she appear to be authentic? Be careful not be too swayed by how much you like the coach. Effective coaching involves stretching, reaching for challenging goals, and receiving candid, honest feedback. A good coach is effective at holding you accountable along the way. If too focused on a friendly relationship, the coach may not help you grow as much as you might.

Expectations for coaching. Your organizational sponsor or sponsors may identify a broad objective or objectives for your leadership growth, such as enhancing your strategic thinking skills or building influence across the organization. Or your sponsors may be specific with business targets, such as achieving a year-over-year double digit revenue increase or integrating a newly acquired business in record time. On the other hand, sponsors may leave it to you to identify your own leadership coaching goals and agenda. In any of these scenarios, you will want to understand how you and your coach will work together. What’s in scope or out of scope for coaching? How does the coach define your role vs. his/her during the coaching program? Certainly, the two of you will work together to achieve a successful outcome. But understanding responsibilities goes a long way to realizing a successful outcome.

Challenging thought patterns. You may have had a mentor in the past and recognize his or her ability to show you the path forward. There are times when you can benefit from the wisdom of one who has “been there and done that”. A mentor supports your growth and development typically by sharing his or her experience, more or less “telling” you about an approach or solution to your career goal or challenge. Coaching is different. Also aiming to support your growth and development, coaching takes a more collaborative approach. With coaching, you and your coach are equals in the learning and change process. Together you will discuss goals, options, the best set of actions to implement, and expectations for achievement. And while business familiarity and understanding of organizational dynamics are important, you will most likely benefit from challenges to the approaches you are taking or are prone to take in tackling your challenge or goal. How will your coach challenge your thinking?

Skill/competency building. You may have a specific program outcome in mind or expect to develop a focus following the discovery phase of the coaching program (obtaining an understanding of your strengths and developmental opportunities). What skills do you wish to develop in conjunction with your development? How will your coach incorporate skill development in the coaching program? How will he or she help you to build or enhance competence in the skills you are targeting? And what approaches might your coach use to help you sustain your growth beyond the duration of your coaching program?

Execution. Busy with an already overbooked calendar, you wonder how you will add coaching action items to your agenda. Ask your coach how he or she will help you incorporate new or changed behaviors into your day, helping you and your team achieve more, not less. Your coach should help you identify opportunities to engage others in supporting your growth. What will be your coach’s relationship with your sponsor, manager, or human resources throughout the program?

Will you cover all these topics and questions with a coach in your first meeting? Most likely, you will not. Choose the topics that are most important to you, make a list of related questions, and pose them to your coach or the coaches you are interviewing. You can always cover other topics in later conversations. Gaining understanding about your program, your coach, and your role in the process will enable you to best leverage the growth opportunity in front of you.