Finding a Coach

How to Find an Executive Coach

The Executive Coaching Search Process and Benefits

By Mark Robert Richards
Executive Coaching Session
An executive coach mentoring a young business leader in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Any person, no matter the profession, can benefit from an executive coach. The greater an executive’s span of control, the greater the benefit, since personal improvement has a more significant impact on company culture and ultimately bottom-line results. Finding the right coach is a process, one that will yield great rewards if pursued properly.

What an Executive Coach is, and Is Not.

Executive coaching is very different from leadership, public speaking, or other functionally-specific training. The latter examples are transactional and, therefore, these types of coaching assignments are shorter in duration. Consequently, you learn new skills and apply them. On the other hand, the coaching I’m describing is a process that continues over many years. As a result, coaching makes you a better leader, improves your decision-making speed and quality, and delivers improved results measurable in business outcomes.

Ultimately, executive coaching expands your capabilities, enabling the business to grow faster, increasing employee engagement, leading to a positive difference in your community, and possibly carrying over into a more fulfilling personal life.

Executive coaching is not management consulting. Instead, coaches improve your critical thinking skills as they apply to your behavior. They increase your self-awareness and emotional quotient (EQ). Think of an executive coach like a physical trainer for your mind. They push you outside your comfort zone and help you better understand yourself. It’s hard work, and you need to be ready to open yourself up. Unfortunately, readiness or the lack thereof is the single most common reason executive coaching doesn’t work.

How to Find the Executive Coach That’s Best for You

When searching for and evaluating a coach, the match must make sense. For example, how comfortable are you talking to them? You must be open, honest, and comfortable talking about anything, including personal matters, as this carries over into your business life. Therefore, executive coaching only works if there is mutual trust and respect in the relationship.

The executive coach doesn’t need your specific industry experience to be effective because they aren’t there to advise you on the business. Don’t hire the boss’s coach because you think it will look good either. Instead, look for coaches with accreditation and proper training. Anybody can promote themselves as an executive coach, yet just because they happened to be successful in their career doesn’t mean they can effectively coach other people.

Identify possible coaches by speaking with other executives, with retained search and family business consulting firms, and with accreditation organizations like the International Coach Federation. Begin with an introductory telephone or video conference to narrow your choices. Ask challenging questions during the screening meetings and observe how they respond. Ask for references to gain further perspective on how they work and the type of results others feel have occurred. Finally, determine if the executive coach is similar to you or not.

Consider that dissimilar coaches may bring unforeseen perspectives. For example, you may lack empathy, so a coach with compassion may be more revealing and impactful in their interactions with you. Next, bring the finalists into your office for a personal visit. If they aren’t good listeners, rush to give you advice, or you don’t feel comfortable with their style, then keep looking. Most executive coaches will invest their time and not charge you during the screening process but expect reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses like travel.

In Summary

An executive coach is like having a mentor who pushes you to think through decisions from every angle and offer fresh perspectives. They help you identify blind spots and challenge your thought process. They can also be a source of encouragement and support as many successful coaches were also successful business leaders, which may help you avoid costly mistakes. However, an executive coach is not an advisor. They can provide a more robust decision-making framework and facilitate a different perspective, but the final decision is still on you. The coach isn’t there to give you the correct answer but to lead you to the version you’re committed to making happen.

Fees for Coaches

Executive coaches, like most professional service providers, typically charge by the hour. Less experienced coaches usually charge $250 to $500 an hour, while more experienced coaches charge $500 to $1,000. Just don’t be fooled by the fancy dress or the fact she may have written a book, as neither makes them a better coach. My best coach wore jeans and a casual shirt to our sessions. Expect the initial meeting cadence to be weekly. Over time it may lengthen to bi-weekly or even monthly depending on how well you progress and the circumstances of your leadership role. Each session should focus on a tactical matter you’re facing or other current issue or assignment. Coaching is therapy, so expect progress each session and breakthroughs to occur every few months.

Remember, finding the right coach involves a process. It’s win-win deal, so as you increase your capability, the company benefits.  A well-coached executive stays more focused and strategic, so they achieve their goals faster. Your coach will hold you accountable by requiring you to submit detailed plans with deadlines. Another benefit of coaching is the opportunity to receive objective feedback, which will give you valuable perspective. Executive coaching sessions force you to block time each week and discuss the most pressing big picture items. Focus on the broader issues is precisely where a business leader needs to spend more time.

Mark Richards is the retired Chairman and CEO of Appvion, Inc., headquartered in Appleton, WI.

Mark is now President of Meade Street Advisors, LLC, board governance, executive coaching, and strategic planning consulting business headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, FL. You can reach Mark at