As an executive coach myself, I’ll admit to being biased on this point. While I can’t know how well coaching will work for you specifically, I have absolute conviction about one thing: coaching works.
How do I know?
First, because I’ve seen the impact of coaching on my own life. I’ve invested more money in coaching than anything else I have done (and I did two degrees!). Coaching always pays back like when I hired my first coach – and finally figured out who I was, passionate about coaching and why, then tripled my client-base doing what genuinely feels more like a calling than work.
Second, because I’ve seen how powerful my coaching is for my clients. They don’t always come to coaching knowing what their passion is. That’s why it doesn’t work to say, ‘do what you love’. Full Stop. Clients do come knowing they’re not passionate about what they do today. Often, they are deeply unhappy but my cue that coaching will work shows up when they know they’ll stay stuck on their own, despite knowing they need change. Suffering like theirs is hard to watch.
The clarity that coaching unlocks, illuminates what is meaningful and from there comes intention and then action. I’ve helped people discover what they would love to be doing and create their plan to be doing that. Others want support to consolidate in promoted roles that they fought to get, only to live with daily overwhelm as their reward. Another brand of help comes online as I help still others shake off their corporate setting to build their own business from scratch. Coaching is transformative for all of them.
As busy professionals, we often forget to step back and reflect. This leads to becoming ever more competent and successful at what we do. But also brings a growing awareness of feeling unfulfilled when doing that doesn’t align with the life we want, doesn’t express signature strengths, and just isn’t meaningful. Therefore sapping our energy.
I see so many people shaping their life around work, instead of the other way around. They might successfully break free from one professional prison only to move into a new one because they aren’t clear on what would make the real difference. It takes being ‘in it’ to get clarity … that it’s all wrong…again.
A good coach will make sure that this never happens.
And if you are a coach yourself, you should still work with the best coach you can. Why? Because a coach who hasn’t been coached is a walking contradiction, asking people to trust a process that they don’t commit to themselves. This is equally true of consultants, trainers, mentors and so on.
Coaching as a profession is unregulated still. This means you’ll find all different types of people calling themselves coaches, each with different levels of training, skills and their own process.
For example, I call my process ACT – Aligned, Confident Transformation – and my coaching focuses on 5 key steps:
- Clarity. Clients stand at some sort of career crossroads as we kick off together. We want to make sure choices are aligned with who they are at their core, and in sync with what they really want out of life. Then they will feel clear and confident about even the most disruptive next steps as they make change happen.
- Align. People don’t always know what their passion is. It’s not as simple as saying – do what you love. We do considerable work to reveal what is meaningful – core values, and later we create a concrete plan to express them, with very practical steps to achieve the goal. And then act on that plan. In stages. On purpose.
- Planning. Only once we know the specific values you want to express; can we make a robust plan. You will dream big but then we break the dream down into smaller goals. That way, when you wake up each morning, you are motivated to do what you need to make change happen. Goals are dreams we act on after all.
- Practical Barriers. Once the plan is clear, fears typically get louder. We meet any obstacles that threaten to get in your way or slow you down. We bring some consciousness to the narrative that’s formed around them. They may make some sense, but they’re outdated. We reframe. What if it could be easier? Let’s shift their power. Together we work out how to accept them or choose to navigate them – both emotionally and in the most practical ways. So, commitment to your choices was challenged. And you won.
- Act. Now you have confidence and conviction in your plan. It’s time to act on it. This is a time for real accountability. And good coaching will not waver in holding your vision firmly as you take steps to make change stick. As you are held accountable to yourself for the transformation you chose.
These are basically the five things you need in order to make a meaningful career change. If you are missing any one of them, it is very hard to align work you love with the life you want to lead.
Which brings us to our first distinction:
Some people call themselves coaches, but in reality, they are mentors or consultants. This is especially common online. So, what’s the difference between the three? And how do you know which is right for you anyway?
- A mentor is someone who’s already done the thing that you want to do. They’ve gone before you on the journey that’s aspirational for you today. They’ll give you their perspective and can help you avoid watch-outs they experienced. Some mentors are free, some are paid.
- A consultant is an expert you hire to solve a specific problem within your business. They typically do some sort of diagnostic to find your areas of weakness and then implement part or all of the solution. You hire this type of person because you need answers that you can’t find yourself or want someone objective to identity and handle the scope of work for you.
- Counselling has some overlap with coaching, in that it seeks to reframe emotional and cognitive narratives from someone’s past and equip them with awareness and techniques for specific behavioural change too. Therapists are required by law to be licensed and they tend to specialise in supporting specific mental health issues with right-fit therapeutic practices.
So, how do we know if we’re right for counselling vs. coaching? When past events are so deep-seated, their experience has impacted our mental health and interfered with our everyday functioning. Then the individual needs to explore and reinterpret their past and work on the linked problems that show up in their everyday. A good coach would recognise this distinct need and make the appropriate recommendation or referral. Sometimes therapeutic support can work nicely in parallel. Other times coaching can follow on.
An executive coach meets a client where they are today. While past narratives are explored when they show up as obstacles, and time is spent with whatever emotions they bring, there is a reframing that takes place in coaching. So the past story is accepted but from a new perspective, one that doesn’t get to block forwards-motion. Because good coaching operates on the premise that people are all naturally creative and resourceful. The brand of help isn’t to fix because it doesn’t need to be. And so the focus can come back to the future and being in action.
A strong coach empowers their client to reach their fullest potential by guiding them to find their own answers. By supporting them in making sustainable change. Coaching is a unique skill-set, which is why the best performers often don’t make the best coaches (and why the best coaches can be profoundly effective even if they don’t have experience doing precisely what the client wants to do).
Of course, there’s plenty of overlap here. There are ‘purist’ views that someone should only offer one strand of support. I actually believe the best coaches can flex to bring a blended approach. I know my unique offering blends marketing savvy and commercial edges with the career fulfilment piece that I’m so very passionate about. It serves my clients well – but I am up-front about the hybrid of expertise I make available to clients. And so long as that’s a good fit, it adds enormous value.
If all you want to do is learn a specific skill or be told what to do and get it handled, you are better off getting the help of a mentor or consultant. If you ruminate about the past and being honest, find it hard to move beyond that in your everyday, seek therapeutic support as a first step. Coaching can follow a bit later.
If you find a coach who has been where you are (and there is a school of thought that the most passionate coaches end up specialising in making things easier for their past selves!) they may break out of coaching to offer guidance at times.
I personally feel I’m cheating if I don’t let my clients know they are welcome to benefit from my years as a PR and branding expert, knowing how I navigated obstacles when I moved countries, sharing how I left a long-established profession, the time I was made redundant, had an identity crisis as I moved into motherhood, felt directionless in my Lost Years and (much) later, started my own business. Successfully. After too long. All those experiences honour the whole me as I get to support them in their transformation – fully.
But while my intention in this area is high, so is my integrity. My agenda that a client follow any personal learnings whatsoever is low. It is your life, your plan, your agenda to hold and you are at choice. Always. This is one of the most significant things that has changed over the decades that coaching has been a thing. And the ownership this ‘light touch’ gives clients makes it pivotal to good coaching.
You may notice that professional change sounds like only one part of the equation. It’s true that personal transformation gets unpacked too. Inevitably really. You will be moving out of your comfort zone to plan work that you love so the two always show up entwined. As they should be.
A good coach will be open on this piece and help you design your collaboration together. How do you want your coaching to feel, where are the no-go zones for you, do you understand the responsibility for change rests with you? In coaching, the partnership is between two equals after all – unlike mentoring, consulting or counselling.
Broadly speaking, there are three main brands of coaching. Here’s a rundown of them all:
Personal coaches (or life coaches – although it says what it does, I don’t much like the term) work primarily on developing the individual they are working with. This development is almost always tied to an external outcome or some uncertainty specific to the client (health, relationships, career, business).
But also flourishing. Optimising Yourself. Work-life synergy. Integrating identity-roles. And in this, they overlap with a good Executive Coach. Good Executive Coaches do this same work but specifically with experienced professionals, and those on their way.
The additional focus of this type of coaching ranges from leadership, communication, and conflict / stress management. Some will specialise in working with larger businesses with more resources and growth potential – and charge more. Others will focus on the individual, from the perspective of supporting their needs and wants regarding career fulfilment and not just success. From shaping their aspirational next steps, regardless of whether that’s their existing pathway, to a new career-ladder or even spring-boarding into business using their skillset and playing to their personal passions instead. If you are offered a coach from within your corporate home, it’s a good idea to ask which their emphasis will be – the professional scope or is personal ‘on the table’ also? How will that work?
Business coaches are focused on helping people start or grow their business. While their work still develops the business owner or entrepreneur as a person, the primary goal of the coaching is usually to achieve a positive and significant revenue increase for the business. The emphasis is therefore different, more commercial. Because this type of work generates a clear financial return on investment, business coaches tend to charge more than personal ones.
Most entrepreneurs have a tight integration between their business, leadership, and life. Most seasoned, successful professionals come to coaching because they feel unfulfilled precisely because they no longer have that integration. Powerful coaches will blend their approach by dipping into all three buckets when needed. For me, this is another critical quality marker for high-end coaching.
Coaches typically work with clients in one of two ways:
Private coaching agreements are typically co-created by the coach and client in order to meet tailored goals in a specific amount of time. Sometimes there is a set programme, but this is rare for 1:1. Private coaching is usually more expensive than group coaching. For a good reason. It allows the client to move faster and go deeper because the coach’s focus is entirely on them and the support they get is also utterly bespoke to their needs. 1:1 coaching support will feel both strategic, defining the very goals that will realise your vision (often you find a strong coach holds a bigger vision for you than you do yourself!) but crucially, you will feel supported to implement those actions.
Group coaching agreements involve more than one client at a time. These are most effective when they are designed for a specific type of client wanting a specific result – that way the 1:1 coaching that takes place is tightly relevant to everyone. The main benefit to group coaching, besides the reduced cost, is the sense of community that comes from being around like-minded people on the same trajectory as yourself. Transformation.
Each of these models can be done in person, on Skype, or over the phone. It’s important to know what’s on offer and make sure it’s what you feel most comfortable with.
How to Find A Great Executive Coach
If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably interested in working with a coach. Unfortunately, there a lot of bad coaches out there. The barrier to entry is so low.
Here are 3 ways to make sure you get one of the good ones:
1.Referrals and Testimonials. Referrals and testimonials are king in the coaching world. Is this person used to coaching others with your background or goals? Have they achieved results for their clients similar to the ones you want aspire to?
2.Thought Leadership. Most good coaches are also writers and/or speakers. Press subscribe to receive their work in your in-box. It’s an easy way for you to get to know them. It will tell you a lot about their style, personality, and philosophy. And even in writing, good coaches will offer ways to add value. You could spark a start this way.
3.Clarity Conversations. I feel strongly that you shouldn’t pay for a coach until you’ve experienced their coaching in some form. Why? Because there’s something even more important than referrals, testimonials, and thought leadership: fit with you! Coaching is, at its core, a partnership. You need to get to know each other before you get serious!
Big watch out. You will NOT be asked to pay for this conversation by any coach operating from integrity. It’s like putting a deposit on your first home together before the first date. Why would that be ok? Avoid anyone who uses that call as a channel of income. Really. They don’t have faith in their own offering.
You should come away from this first (complimentary) call feeling like something has already shifted somewhat. You’re excited about the possibilities where you were stuck before, and you’re clear on the value working in partnership with this coach, confident that change would happen if… And a bit scared is normal too – change will happen! And it’s scary to invest in yourself. You’re choosing yourself as you do so. It’s ok to feel a bit of fear – and it’s exactly why you will benefit from a coach. Change happens via disruptive steps. So support is good. As the coach, I need to make sure that I am inspired enough on my clarity conversations to hop on the phone with someone multiple times a month. We clicked in our conversation. I know I want to help and I care. Oh, and be rock solid someone is genuinely ready to commit to change. Otherwise we’re doomed to get stuck in an intention-action gap.
Notice that certifications are not on the list. These days, you can literally get certified as a coach in a matter of days. I haven’t noticed a strong correlation between number of certifications and quality of coaching. Often certification will indicate that the coach has gone deep in one approach and what they’re certified in is that single ‘school of thought’. Where a coach demonstrates they are continuously developing expertise across different coaching approaches, they will have a broader and set of tools to weave into your coaching together. And that’s what’s important. Certifications do not guarantee a high level of training or experience. Rigorous training does though – ask questions about that. Was their training online or in-person? Was it hours, days or months to complete their training? Is the training they did, ICF (International Coach Federation) accredited? Get curious here.
The pricing, length, and frequency of a coaching engagement varies widely. A good coaching agreement will be based on the needs of each individual client. But here’s a general idea of what you’re in for:
Length: Experienced coaches usually charge for 6–12 month packages, or on a retainer basis, instead of by the hour. Some programs are shorter and can last between 8 weeks and 3 months if their remit and your need is specific. You should hear alarm-bells if your coach operates on an hourly basis. How can they be aligned with achieving goals around your transformation and meaningful change in ad-hoc hours?
Pricing: Depending on the type of engagement, executive coaching can cost between £500/month – £5,000/month or more.
Frequency: 2–3 times/month is typical. But again, it all depends on the client. And the coach (At points, I am in touch with some of my clients almost every day). The time you spend is less important than the insights and transformation you spark and the support so change ‘sticks’. It’s about value not hourly pay.
It’s not a flippant decision to hire a good coach. So, is coaching worth the investment? That will depend on how committed you are to taking action as a client.
If you believe that coaching works (and it does), then a better question is this:
IF YOU KNEW YOU HAD AN EXPIRY DATE ON TRANSFORMING YOUR LIFE, WOULD YOU STILL DO, WHAT YOU’RE DOING TODAY?
DON’T HIRE AN EXECUTIVE COACH UNTIL YOU ASK THEM THESE 5 PIVOTAL QUESTIONS. CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR FREE PDF PRINTOUT
Originally published at www.helenhanison.com