Four Questions to Ask a Coach
When leaders come to The Nebo Company looking for leadership coaching, they differ in many ways — from their career stages to their openness around the coaching process to what they want to accomplish and more.
Yet, the question I’m asked the most when they are selecting a coach is: What questions should I ask when I’m interviewing a coach?
Often what’s underneath that question is a deeper one: How do I make sure that coaching will make a difference in addressing the challenges I’m facing as a leader, both in my work and life? For leaders, coaching is an investment of time, energy and attention, and they want to make sure they will get the best return.
So here’s what I say: first, I assure them that they are in very good hands. Our coaches have experience guiding these conversations.
Then, I offer three questions to ask a coach, and one important question to ask themselves.
1. What is your approach to coaching?
By this I mean, does a coach have a process or system he or she typically takes clients through or is the approach more organic, meaning it will unfold naturally over time.
You want to be confident that your coach is applying his or her expertise and knowledge while working with you. While your coach does not need to be an expert in your industry, he or she will be an expert in the field of coaching and the coaching process. Your coach should be an observer, challenger, and champion – a true partner – who can help you move from your current state to new ways of thinking, being, and doing as a leader.
2. Could you tell me about your experience working with a client facing a similar challenge as the one I’m facing?
On average, our coaches have 12 years of coaching experience working with a range of leaders, from new managers to C-suite executives. They bring their own professional experience – many of our coaches were former leaders – and life experience to a coaching engagement. All have been trained rigorously as professional coaches through programs certified by the International Coach Federation.
That said, ask a coach specifically about his or her successes helping clients navigate problems similar to yours. Listen carefully and consider if the approach gives you a sense of confidence and eagerness. You may hear yourself thinking: Can we start talking about my issue now? How they tell you, as much as what they tell you, are strong signals as to whether the coach is right for you.
3. How do you help your clients when they get “stuck?”
A well-trained leadership coach views each client as resilient and whole, not someone to be “fixed.” With this mindset, a coach is not surprised when his or her client hits a plateau or feels uncertain of how to move forward. Instead, a coach sees this as an opportunity to help the leader step back and explore what is holding him or her back. An experienced coach knows that where we are stuck is often where we have the most to learn.
For example, take a first-time father who has been promoted to director of his division and is feeling overwhelmed that he is not fully able to meet the demands of his professional life. His coach may ask him questions that get him away from “black-or-white” thinking to envision new possibilities and opportunities inherent in both situations. The coach will encourage him to see his situation as areas to be managed rather than problems to be solved.
When a coach already sees a leader as resilient, resourceful and whole, then he or she also knows that each leader will be able to find the approach that works best for them, even if it takes time and exploration to get there. Sometimes, what can help a leader get unstuck is having someone there to remind them that he or she already has the perspective, skills and life experience to move forward.
The fourth question is for you to ask yourself during and after the interview.
4. Do I feel a connection with this coach?
Your coach could be a perfect match on paper, have numerous degrees and certifications, or have a personal style that you aspire towards, but none of that matters if you don’t feel a connection or rapport with the coach.
Say you are working on being more direct and want to work with a coach who seems to have that style. However, if the coach expresses that directness to a greater degree than you prefer, you may be less likely to open up. Another client may feel most comfortable with a coach with a “straight, no chaser” approach, as my grandmother would say.
Above all, make sure this person seems like someone you are able to talk to and the rest will follow. What’s a good litmus test of a good match? We often say that you know your coach is a good match for you when an appointment reminder with your coach pops up in your calendar or phone and you feel a sense of positive anticipation.
At Nebo, we see coaching as a partnership. With the right partner, you can move toward what you really want with confidence and support. You just need to ask practical questions so that you can choose the best partner for you. You may have other questions during the interview, but these four questions are a good place to start to finding the right coach for you.