Explore three important things your executive coach should demonstrate, which are competence, character, and connection. Learn how to use a set of questions to probe each area, to help choose a coach that’s a better fit for your particular situation and preferences.
- Years ago, Shawn Bradley played center for a professional basketball team, the Dallas Mavericks. At 7 1/2 feet, he was a giant among giants. At least six inches taller than anyone else on either team. As a high school player, Shawn was already his full height. He remembers being in an opponent's locker room. "I could see over the tops of all the lockers "and it was disgusting, "dusty with empty bottles and discarded clothing." It's the sort of thing Shawn sees all the time.
But no one else can see that high, so they forget to clean it. He went on. "My coach stood on one of the benches "so we could see eye to eye." He looked around and joked, "You live in a dirty world, don't you?" Now, I love what Shawn's coach did. He made an effort to literally see things from Shawn's perspective, going for another level of connection and understanding, and did it in a way that Shawn enjoyed. It highlights three important things your executive coach should demonstrate: competence, character, and connection.
When you select a coach, look for a great fit on all three factors. First, competence. Ask questions to probe the coach's track record and experience. How long have they been coaching? What types of organizations? Which industries? What level of leaders? What development needs are they best at coaching? Ask for specific examples of coaching engagements like yours. Have them describe the coaching process. What's their distinctive approach to coaching that sets them apart from other coaches? They should welcome such questions and have solid answers, and clearly enjoy that dialog with you.
Second, character. You want to work with someone who is open and honest with you. Ask about their challenges or weaknesses as a coach. Biggest mistakes, most important lessons learned. Who do they look up to as a coach and why? Have they ever had a coach? What are they working on right now in terms of their own development? Third, connection. To get the most out of your coaching engagement, it's likely you'll need to talk about things you don't bring up much with other people.
Fears, doubts, frustrations. You'll spend lots of time with this person, pushing past your comfort zone. Who do you want with you as a thought partner through all that? Someone you feel comfortable with, someone it's easy to be open with, someone you enjoy being open with. So while you're discussing the competence and character questions, keep track of your own sense of connection and rapport with the coach. They should demonstrate an open mind and a strong desire to learn about you.
What you want, what works best for you. You could ask questions to probe that level of connection. Questions about their background, career, interests beyond work, their mentors, anything that's of interest to you and helps you know whether you really connect with them. In that sense, your coach should do what Shawn Bradley's coach did for him, step up to connect, and also show competence and character. Shawn says, "When I was young and I'd go "with my parents to a shopping mall, "I was the place you'd meet at.
"Everyone would say, meet at Shawn." Now, that's how you should feel about your coach, that they're committed to meet you on your terms. Wherever you actually meet, your coach should always meet at you.