From managing pandemic-driven shifts to navigating the Great Resignation — your company’s toughest challenges demand focus, energy and solutions from senior leaders like you. It’s no wonder you’re also confronting executive burnout. It’s a big job. Don’t face it alone.
Executive coaches are one resource that can help lighten the burden and lend support. Corporate America spent $2.5 billion dollars on coaching for employees as of early 2020, according to a 2020 study from consulting firm PwC. However, this tool is often underutilized. Various studies suggest no more than half of America’s business leaders employ an executive coach. Engaging with a coach gives you a competitive edge.
An executive coach’s primary purpose is “really to support you,” says Scott Case, founding chief technology officer of Priceline.com. “They don’t have a stake in the business. They don’t have a stake in your personal life. They really are there just as a guide.”
Executive coaching provides an outside perspective that can help leaders address their blindspots, says executive coach Molly Walsh of Standout Consulting, LLC. Business leaders often work with coaches to enhance interactions with their teams, improve workplace culture and engage employees.
All executive coaching is designed to help you “look inward and identify how you can be better at what you do,” says Tracy Duberman, founder and president of The Leadership Development Group.
If you are reading this article, likely you are already a high-performing leader who understands what it takes to succeed. Here’s how to find the right coach to help you level up.
What Types of Coaching Are There?
Executive coaching is an umbrella term with many specialties and focus areas for you to explore. These are some of the most popular types of executive coaches.
- Leadership coaches work with clients one-on-one to help them execute their organization’s strategy.
- Strategic advisory is geared toward a CEO or executive director who might need a trusted, impartial partner to bounce ideas off of and fine-tune thinking.
- Life coaches work with individuals on their personal goals — like work/life balance, tackling fatigue or finding inspiration. Oftentimes, professional goals can tie into personal priorities.
- Onboarding coaches help employees who are new to a job or company.
Your level of experience and current business challenges will determine what type of coaching you might need. For example, a new manager might need leadership coaching. Meanwhile, a seasoned CEO might need more of a sounding board and someone to challenge them.
Your relationship with your coach will also shift over time, notes Sally Lehrman, founder and CEO of The Trust Project. Lehrman, who’s organization aims to build trust in the news, first hired her coach Nell Edgington in the fall of 2017 to help hone the The Trust Project’s strategic plan and “explode our growth.”
Today, the pair is working to “operationalize the strategic plan,” including adhering to the organization’s mission, building culture, strengthening relationships with the board, fundraising, hiring and being a self-aware leader. “She helps you grow as an individual while addressing your fears, your habits, blind spots, so you can bring your best possible self to your organization,” Lehrman says.
No matter what type of coaching you need, you can likely find it. The industry has grown significantly in the last two decades — a trajectory likely to continue over the next five years, according to the International Coaching Federation.
“Coaching has become much more mainstream,” says Duberman. “Twenty years ago, coaching was taboo. If someone had a coach, maybe they had an issue or a problem. Today, coaching is intended for high performers.”
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The Cost of a Coach
At $200 to $500 an hour on average, an executive coach is certainly an investment. But business leaders can expect a big return. Research showed that a company’s investment in executive coaching realized an average return of almost 600% in the forms of overall productivity and employee satisfaction. Similarly, one Fortune 500 company in that survey reported that executive coaching produced a 788% ROI.
Most coaches work on a long-term engagement of 6 to 12 months with their clients, meeting regularly every other week. The lengths of sessions vary, but most meetings are one hour unless more time is needed.
“Research suggests that to make permanent behavior change it takes 6 months,” says Duberman, whose costs range from about $20,000 to $40,000 for a six-month engagement. Execs should also expect to pay extra for a more seasoned coach versus someone new to the role.
Typically, companies pay for coaching. Some leaders factor the cost into their operating budgets. “I have put it into my budget every year,” Lehrman says. “Nell’s work is invaluable to us. For every dollar we spend, we are getting back more than double… It’s exponential.”
Once companies make an initial investment, they often go deeper and offer coaching to a wider group of employees. “For many companies, people are their biggest budgetary line item,” Walsh says. “If a company gives its employees opportunities for growth and engagement through coaching, they are safeguarding that investment.”
Some companies have even made access to coaching a key part of their retention strategy. For example, logistics company Shipwell pays for its managers’ memberships to GoCoach, which provides career coaching services.
Looking for Executive Coaching? Here’s How to Start
If your company helps front the cost for coaching, your HR departments will likely have a list of preferred coaches on file. You may also be connected with a coaching firm who can provide an initial assessment and recommend coaches on their staff that align with your development goals. Or, you can ask colleagues or friends in your industry for coaching recommendations.
If you do engage a coach, find one that understands what you need and works with your personality type. For example, Jennifer Reyntjes, worked with one executive coach who “would throw on the floodlights” and take the “tough love” approach. Reyntjes, who is the chief people officer at Strata Oncology, says she appreciated that coach’s style early in her career to push her out of her comfort zone. For others, she says, a gentler approach might be preferred.
Consider these factors when choosing a coach:
- Do your due diligence. Hold an interview. Do you have similar values? Do you like the coach’s communication style?
- Decide if certification is important. Being certified by the International Coaching Federation is one path to coaching but isn’t the only way. Many coaches rise in their field because they have decades of experience in business and wisdom to share.
- Follow your gut. Find someone you trust and with whom you can be vulnerable. A coach “can serve as an independent sounding board – a safe, confidential space for [execs] to share openly,” Walsh says.
How to Prepare for Your First Executive Coaching Session
So you just scheduled your first appointment with an executive coach. Here are the best ways to prepare so you can make the most of the experience.
- Start with an open mind. At first, Lehrman says she was skeptical of coaching. Only after interviewing her coach and understanding the process did she realize “Yes, this could really work.”
- Prepare to be vulnerable. Leaders who are new to executive coaching should mentally prepare for candor. CEOs may not be accustomed to sharing company challenges with outsiders. However, when it comes to coaching, Lehrman says execs should “be frank and honest and vulnerable. It’s their job to help you.”
- Do your homework. Typically, coaches send clients a questionnaire to answer before the first session. This helps coaches understand their exec’s needs, personality types and challenges. It also prepares the exec for the work ahead. “Routines, the way we’ve always done things, are well-worn paths,” says Edgington, owner of Social Velocity. “Change is hard.”
Finally, pat yourself on the back. You’ve just made a great decision not only for your career, but for your life.
“When people commit to the process, it is life changing. You are getting coached yourself and then through osmosis you are learning to coach others. It’s not a 9-to-5 thing within the coaching relationship,” says Duberman.