Tips for Leaders: Selecting an Executive Coach

Executive Coaching is on the rise. After a pullback in recent years, organizations are again offering coaching to all levels of management (2011 Sherpa Coaches Report). It is clear that executive coaching is becoming a recognized practice within organizations. What is not clear to business leaders is what executive coaching really is and how to select a great coach.

There seems to be wide-spread confusion, and the integrity of executive coaching is being threatened, by those that call themselves coaches and are really business consultants and/or trainers. Sport coaches, counselors, clinical psychologists, HR professionals, trainers, business/management experts… coaches come in all shapes and sizes. So how do you, the buyer, distinguish between these professionals?

First, it is most appropriate to use an external coach when political neutrality, maximum objectivity and the highest levels of confidentially are critical to the success of the coaching engagement. External coaches are likely to provide a broader and deeper array of experience. Further, other factors that influence fit between the coach and the coachee may be personality, functional expertise, geography, or even age, gender or ethnic background.

Second, research indicates that the “fit” between the coach and the leader is correlated with higher success rates. It is sensible for an organization to identify two or three suitable coaches to interview for chemistry, expertise and personality.

With so much complexity in the market, there is no doubt that selecting the “right” coach can be a difficult task. Here are some areas to consider when selecting a great executive coach.

Appropriate Training/Accreditation: What is their coaching experience and are they qualified? Do they hold accreditation? Coaches who have undergone accreditation typically have between 60 to 120 hours or more of coach-specific training, and have 100 to 2,500 hours or more of coaching experience. Credential holders demonstrate core competencies, understand the definition of coaching and adhere to the code of ethics. Additionally, they must earn 40 hours of continuing coach education every three years to retain their credentials (ICF, Global Coaching Client Study).

Business Acumen: A great coach will have an understanding of organizational dynamics and the business world. Executive coaches will come from a variety of backgrounds and will bring very different experiences and skills to the coaching relationships. The key is to find a good fit with your organization and the needs of the coaching intervention. For example, does the coach have experience in a male-dominated industry or a multi-generational workforce, if that is appropriate for your situation?

Advanced Communication Skills: Good communication skills are crucial to get a point across clearly and concisely to the listener. Additionally, good communication skills drastically reduce mistakes and misunderstandings. Communication also includes effective body language cues, and most importantly, effective listening skills; a must for a great coach. Not only should one be able to speak effectively, one must listen to the other person’s words and avoid the impulse to immediately answer, blurt out ideas, or end a leader’s sentences.

Breadth of Tools/Process: A great executive coach will have a breadth of knowledge and experience utilizing different models, techniques and frameworks from a range of theoretical backgrounds. Utilization of a variety of methods will expand the way one thinks/views situations for greater flexibility and appropriate responsiveness to situations. Coaches should use these tools, models and techniques to encourage reflective learning and change, and should be able to articulate these clearly during the selection process.

What is Sport Psychology and How Can it Help Your Game?

Sport psychology is something that we often hear about, but may not know exactly what it is. It is the principles of psychology used in a sport setting.  Consultants look at how psychological aspects control an individual’s physical performance, and how competition in sport affects their psychological development, health, and well-being.

Unfortunately, it is often viewed as something necessary for the weak-minded competitor who has “issues.” The reality is that the mental game of sports affects every athlete, no matter what their strengths or weaknesses may be. This discipline can help any athlete strive to meet their potential.

Fencing is one example sport that can be used: Fencing is both a physical and mental game. Fencers prepare for the physical game by developing muscle memory through repetitive bladework and footwork drills. The mental game is obvious to fencers; however, little is done to train this large portion of fencing. The majority of fencers who utilize specific psychological training are Division I fencers (Athanas, 2007). Consequently, many competitors are not fully prepared to meet all of the demands of their sport.

There are many benefits from working with a consultant. Applied sport psychology professionals are interested in how participation in mental skills training can help an athlete’s development throughout their competitive career. The athlete may have trouble reaching goals, have an injury, or confidence difficulties. Through sport psychology, an athlete can gain the “mental edge” to reach their goals, recover from injury, or gain confidence. Techniques that are commonly used in sport psychological practices include (but are not limited to) imagery and visualization, relaxation, goal setting, building confidence, learning to focus, and regulating energy levels.

Through learning and practicing these techniques, fencer has the ability to reach their potential.

You may be wondering how to get started. However, you don’t want to fall prey to scams. There are many people who claim to be “experts” in psychology but lack the proper training and education.

It is recommended that you only work with legitimate professionals. Before investing any money, ask the consultant questions about what their client population is, what their educational background is, if they are specialized in working with athletes, and how long they have been involved in sport psychology. Only certified consultants are recognized by the Association of the Applied Sport Psychology.

It is important to point out that athletes of all divisions and experience levels can benefit from sport psychology. By working with a sport psychology consultant, you will be able to fortify your weaknesses and improve your strengths through mental skills training. Every sport has both physical and mental components. Many athletes  already toughen their bodies through practice and physical fitness. Toughen your mental game through practicing applied sport psychology.