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Leadership Thought #458 – Questions To Ask Your Potential Executive Coach

February 5, 2016

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Regrettably, I am in a profession where there are minimal barriers to entry, and just about anyone (within reason) can claim to do what I do. Every week, I meet another person who bills themselves as a business coach or executive coach and charges a considerable amount of money for something they have no business doing in the first place. More often than not, it is someone who has been downsized from an existing position or exiting a failed business endeavor, an individual who has hit a career brick wall themselves, an academic with free time on his/her hands, an independent consultant looking to supplement their income, or a psychologist who has figured out they can charge more money if they change the title of what they do. I shudder sometimes when I think about the bad advice that is regularly disseminated to executives and business owners by often well-intentioned but under-skilled or poorly trained executive coaches. Here are a few questions I recommend you ask before working with someone in this capacity:

  • What events led them to pursue the executive coaching path?
  • How long have they been serving in a coaching capacity? How many clients do they have? What tangible business results have they achieved with their clients? (Always ask for and check references.)
  • Have they run a business themselves or at least had significant P&L responsibility within a larger entity?   How well did they perform in this role (ask for specifics)?
  • What is their level of formal business training and education?
  • What business books/periodicals/publications do they read on a regular basis? What are some recent books/articles that resonated with them?
  • What formal training have they received to qualify them as an Executive Coach? How are they maintaining and sharpening their executive coaching skills on a regular basis?
  • Are they part of a larger group that provides support and guidance, or do they work on their own?
  • What is their approach to executive coaching, and how did they form this opinion?
  • What are their areas of expertise as coaches, and when do they send you to someone else?
  • Will they use the fact that you coach them to find other consulting jobs for them with your company?
  • What else do they do professionally besides coaching?  What percentage of their business is spent on non-coaching activities?
  • How successful is their coaching practice in terms of revenue growth and profitability? What is their long-term plan for their coaching business?
  • How long does their average client typically work with them? Why does the relationship usually end?
  • Do they use a coach and/or participate in a peer group?  If not, why not?


As you tell someone more about yourself and start to trust them, coaching relationships can become very personal and close. In some cases, especially with more vulnerable leaders, the advice/counsel you are getting often becomes secondary to the growing professional and personal bond. Because of this, it becomes extremely hard to exit the relationship, even if it isn’t serving you well.  I’ve seen many executives remain loyal to a coach long after it has served their original purpose.

I advise you to be careful about whom you entrust with your leadership development and business future. Just because someone says they can do something doesn’t mean they should be the ones doing it. Don’t forget to ask for client references. Buyer beware!