How to choose an executive coach?

The work of an executive coach is related to human development, the acquisition or development of skills, knowledge, behaviors or mental models. The coaching profession is older than most people believe and we will find examples in the arts, sports, therapies, medicine and academia, among many areas, long before reaching the corporate milieu.

With the popularization of coaching work, an industry emerged. Today, there is a large offer of training courses, certifying entities, consultancies and independent consultants. The feeling is that there are as many coaches as Uber drivers. So, how to choose a coach in such a congested market? How to distinguish music from noise? How to choose the professional who can really help you?

The client

The first step is not about the coach, but about the client who wants to hire him. Some questions to consider before calling a coach:

  • What do I want to achieve with the coaching work (Behavior change? How to be a more effective leader? Improved relationships? Personal development? Work-life integration? Transition?) What is the expected end result?
  • What role do I expect from my coach? (Only coaching? Combination of coaching and counseling? Combination of coaching and mentoring?)
  • What style of coach am I looking for? Anyone more challenging? Welcoming? Trainer?
  • What is the desired degree of experience? Need to know my industry or sector? Do you need executive experience?
  • How similar or different would you like the coach to have with me?
  • What is my availability of time and energy to implement the changes identified in the coaching work?

Coach selection

Coaching work is effective when a partnership is formed between client and coach. And that depends on the chemistry between the two parts. You need to be confident and comfortable sharing your stories, thoughts, concerns, frustrations and achievements with your coach.

It is recommended that you interview different professionals to gain a broad view, compare alternatives, and choose the coach you have greater empathy.

The starting point should be the questions proposed at the beginning. Your coach must fit your development project. The work is led by you based on your schedule, motivations and intentions.

Criteria for selection:

a) Training, experience and working methods

A well-prepared coach has a theoretical foundation and a clear work process, resulting from solid training and proven practical experience. Find out what your coach's certification level is and how he/she stay up to date. An effective executive coach has experience in a wide range of topics, including assessments, change management, adult education and development, leadership development, performance management , organizational behavior and team dynamics, and business experience.

Ask the coach to describe a typical case in which they used different approaches and methods to help develop a client. Also request that he/she report cases of failure. A good coach reflects on his work and remains in a constant state of learning. Ask the coach to give you some references without any confidentiality issues. Executive coaches will have no difficulty appointing representatives from client companies who can talk about their work.

b) Ethics and confidentiality

A good coach clarifies the boundaries of the work early on. An executive coach hired by a company must clarify the different roles (coach, client, sponsor/boss and HR), how the information will be handled, the use of assessment instruments and work orientation, as well as defining the conflicts of interest will be addressed (eg if the client wants to leave the company and use the coaching work to prepare him for interviews. What is the limit?).

If you intend to fund the work with a coach who performs services for the company you are working, it is essential that the relationship is clearly defined. In general, coaches with corporate contracts should not take on jobs paid by employees of the hiring company due to conflict of interest reasons.

A good coach must follow the ethical standards of the certifying institution and fully comply with the laws of the location where he/she works. Understand the coach's ethical standards. Try to question the limits of your work.

c) In person or at a distance?

Most coaches will tell you that remote sessions, via videoconference or telephone, are just as effective as face-to-face sessions. Of course, coaching work can be done remotely, but there are limitations.

Face-to-face work allows the coach to better observe the client and engage more fully. Coaching done at a distance limits the possibilities of exercises, including physical and sensorial ones.

Coaches give preference to distance services because of its logistical and economic advantages. Look for a coach who gives you flexibility in the service and maximizes your development possibilities.

Questions to explore with your potential coach:

  1. Tell me about you. Tell me your story, how and why did you become a coach?
  2. How long have you worked as a coach? How many customers have you had? What is the typical level of your clients?
  3. Can you describe your coaching philosophy?
  4. Tell me about your coaching process.
  5. Can you describe the structure and content of a typical coaching session?
  6. How often do meetings take place? How long should the work last?
  7. What tools or assessments do you use?
  8. Can you describe other work you have had and the results your clients have achieved?
  9. How do you keep update?
  10. How do we set development goals and how do we measure the progress?
  11. How do you handle confidentiality? How do you handle the different parts?
  12. How will my boss be involved? What about HR?
  13. What else should I know?

Coaching work is one of the most powerful and effective activities in executive development. The selection of a coach is a critical process to the success of the work and, at times, a time-consuming one. Make sure you take the appropriate time to find an individual who has the skills and approach that work for you and your needs. The results of good coaching work are lasting. Make your choice carefully.

Felipe Paiva is a partner at Artisan Consultoria. Master in Consulting & Coaching for Change by HEC-Paris/Oxford University, certified in coaching by Columbia University. Contact:



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