The Perfect Fit: What to consider when choosing an executive coach

April 1, 2014

The Perfect Fit: What to consider when choosing an executive coach

By Anna Marie Lavelle, Senior Consultant, Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions

Executive Coaching Perfect FitIn the world of executive coaching, the prevailing wisdom is that a good coach should be able to work with any kind of client regardless of age, gender, culture, language, or career stage.

And in very broad and general terms, that is true. Coaching is a process and if delivered effectively, it should not matter who the coach is. However, coaching is also about rapport and chemistry. It’s about two people making a positive connection. As a result, good coaching firms put a lot of thought into matching the right coach with the right executive.

What considerations go into matching a coach and an executive?

Personal style. This is undoubtedly the first concern that any good coaching firm will consider when making a match. If the executive being coached is a direct, extroverted personality, they may have trouble developing rapport with a coach who is softer-spoken or who employs a more indirect style. Conversely, an introverted executive may not respond positively to a coach who has a very ‘in-your-face’ style. There is a very good chance that rapport will develop when coach and client have a similar approach to expressing themselves.

The client’s need. Again, good coaches should be able to engage with a variety of different clients who have a wide array of needs. However, there are coaches who develop specialties. For example, some coaches specialize in helping executives work through behavioral issues. Others have had greater success dealing with clients who are undergoing a profound career change, or perhaps those who need to improve on their communication skills. Still others may have particular talents in helping executives hone their leadership skills. It is quite acceptable to match an executive with a coach who has demonstrated a track record of success dealing with a particular need.

Career stage. Coaching firms know that it’s not always necessary to match coach and clients based on age or generation. However, depending on the client, it may be necessary to recruit a coach who fits into the client’s general age range or generation. Remember, the goal here is rapport, and although older coaches work with younger clients, and vice versa, there is occasionally a need to offer a generational touchstone. The same holds true for career experience. Some senior executives may require a coach who, if they do not have senior executive experience themselves, have at least moved in those circles and thus understand the particular pressures that exist at the C-suite.

Industry experience. It is not always necessary for a coach to have had first-hand experience in the client’s industry, but it can help establish rapport. Sometimes a pre-existing understanding of the client’s industry or profession can help expedite good chemistry. It will also help build trust, a key component to the client-coach relationship.

Gender. Surprisingly, this is not always the most pressing issue when matching a client and coach. At the executive level, men and women are more comfortable seeing each other as peers. As a result, it is more common to see female coaches with male clients, or male coaches with female clients. In some organizations, where employees may come from different cultures where women do not generally move in the same executive circles as men, there can be some conflict mixing genders. Again, the rule of thumb is that rapport and chemistry trump awkwardness about gender matches.

Culture and language. Increasingly, clients retaining executive coaching firms are looking for matches based on language and culture. Quebec-based organizations where French is the first language would obviously prefer to have French-speaking coaches. The same may hold true for firms that have their head offices in countries where English is not the primary language. Even if language is not the issue, corporate culture is as diverse as the country of origin. It may be necessary to recruit a coach with a particular knowledge of the nuances of business in another country.

Good coaches can, in many instances, rise above many of the concerns outlined above. That does not mean, however, that putting time and effort into effective match making won’t pay dividends down the road. Good coaching firms may send two or three prospective coaches to meet with a client to see which one has, at first blush, the best rapport. In the end, the principal measurement of success for executive coaching is a productive, high-engaged rapport between coach and client. 

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