Choosing an executive coach

by Directioneering

Cost control, treasury, cash management, financial restructuring, raising capital and banking relationships are just a few of the more important areas of concern a CEO will need to address. However, an understanding of the role of the Chief Finance Officer or any other functional role does not automatically guarantee success when ascending to the position of CEO.

The best route to the CEO role is one that provides exposure to all functional areas of the company in a meaningful fashion. Staying close to other functional leaders is critical to rounding out the future CEO’s own experience. This involves networking on a regular basis with other functional leaders and with the rest of the management team.

For example, if you have little or no experience in sales and marketing, you might consider spending time with that team, learning what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they are executing on their plans. Take advantage of every opportunity to gain new experience outside your comfort zone, particularly if it involves exposure to foreign markets. While many people work on improving their technical skills and gaining ‘real life’ experience, don’t forget about your people and management skills, and become comfortable with public speaking.

One of the most commonly-used tools to help individuals ascend to the next level is an executive coach. Even if you hold the title of CEO, a coach can help hone your skills. The comment I repeatedly hear from new CEOs is:

It’s lonely at the top. I used to share my thoughts with my peers but now that I’m the CEO, there are certain issues I can’t share with anyone internally.

If you’re considering an executive coach or approaching your boss or the board to retain executive coaching services, here are a few thoughts for your consideration:

  1. When selecting a coach, pay close attention to the process the coach uses and the types of outcomes he/she has had in the past.
  2. Make sure the process includes extensive assessments. It’s important for you to understand your strengths. It’s equally important to know how to navigate around your weaknesses.
  3. Try to choose a coach who has some of the same functional experience you have so he/she can easily identify with some of your issues.
  4. Make sure the coach has experience and understands business strategy.
  5. While a coach needs to be a good communicator, the individual probably needs to be a better listener, capable of challenging your assumptions
  6. While you are not looking for a friend, you should feel comfortable enough with your coach to let your guard down and reveal some of your concerns, discomforts and insecurities.
  7. You may not always agree with your coach but should respect their opinion and give it careful consideration.
  8. Early in the process, establish some outcomes that you both agree on that will make a difference, can be measured, and will benchmark your coaching experience.

A coach is not a counsellor. However, an executive coach will help you become better at whatever you are striving to be, recommend approaches to business situations and personal development, and boost your confidence so you are ready for the next level.

This article was written by Dan Portes, Chairman and CEO of Management Resource Group, our partner firm in Iowa and Illinois.