Time to step up your game? How to hire a coach

Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt initially rejected the advice he received in 2001 to hire a coach.


After all, he was already a CEO with lots of big league experience.


But ultimately Schmidt took the advice and now says that it’s the best advice he ever got.

Just like famous athletes recognize the importance of having a coach, more and more business owners and other executives recognize that to step up their game, they need a coach. But selecting the “right” coach can be a daunting challenge.

The coaching industry is now a booming international business. The industry’s largest trade association, the International Coach Federation, is based in Lexington, Kentucky. A global study released by the ICF in 2016 found approximately 53,300 active professional coach practitioners worldwide, with about 17,500 coaches in North America.

Many coaches today coach via Skype or likewise, or the telephone, so those searching for a coach should not feel compelled to only look in their own location.

Everyone understands a coach’s role in sports, but what does a coach do in a business environment?

Coaching encourages high-functioning executives to bridge the gap to their next level of success. A coach provides a safe space, and is a confidante with whom to discuss opportunities and challenges—for example, whether to acquire a business or how to best address a conflict that has erupted in a business relationship.

Sometimes coaching focuses on skill development, such as strengthening specific interpersonal, communication or other leadership skills. Things are changing rapidly in the business world, and a coach can help you stay on top of your game.

It is important to understand that an executive coach is different from a management consultant, or an adviser or a counselor. The executive coaching relationship is often described as a partnership (coachee and coach), and the coach assumes the coachee has the capacity to recognize his/her own best solution.

A coach should not tell the coachee what to do.

Instead, a masterful coach focuses on asking the coachee powerful questions, challenges the coachee when needed, and helps the coachee discover various available options. At the end of a coaching conversation, the coachee should have developed his/her own action plan to move forward.

Who’s the right fit?

Selecting the “right” coach can be a time-consuming, daunting challenge for the busy business owner. But you need to invest the time and do your research. Here are six tips to get you started:

Coaching credentials.

Anyone can hang out a coaching shingle but they may not be an effective executive coach. A 2012 ICF survey found that 43 percent of those calling themselves coaches had no coaching training. A 2016 ICF study found that a large majority of respondents agreed that individuals or organizations using coaching expect their coaches to be credentialed.

A number of colleges offer coaching including The University of St. Thomas, which recently introduced an Executive Coaching program. Membership in a professional organization such as the ICF also increases the credibility of the coach. For example, the ICF has a code of ethics that must be respected by the coach, e.g., covering conflicts of interest, confidentiality and general professional conduct.

Relevant experience in business.

Look for someone who has accomplished what you want to accomplish. As an example, if your goal is to grow the business significantly through acquisitions, it only stands to reason that a credentialed coach who has grown a business significantly through acquisitions will be more helpful than someone who has not.

Approach to coaching.

Ask the potential coach to tell you about their coaching process and coaching philosophy. It is also important to ask them upfront to define how they, as a coach, can help you accomplish your goals. Request a 30-minute complimentary coaching conversation. Most good coaches offer this. A 30-minute conversation will provide you with a sense of their coaching process.


Make sure that the potential coach will generally be available at the times you expect you will typically want to be coached. For example, business owners often want to schedule their coaching in the evenings or on weekends, given the demands of their business. But not all coaches work in the evenings or on weekends.


Ask them about confidentiality and their policy on this. Good coaches have a confidentiality commitment, and they respect it. This is very important. Working with someone who does not maintain strict confidentiality could significantly damage your business and your reputation.


Think about all of your conversations with the potential coach. Review their website and other available written material. Do you feel a chemistry with them? Is their style sufficiently compatible with yours? Do you feel comfortable with this person, yet confident that they will challenge you when needed? Do you feel that you can open up and come to trust this person? After you have checked the first five boxes on this list, chemistry must be there as well.

Although he initially rejected the advice to hire a coach, Eric Schmidt now says that everyone needs a coach. So where does one go to find a good coach? Here are a few suggestions. The ICF website has a member directory at this link: https://www.coachfederation.org/.

Colleges that offer coaching programs are a good source. To inquire about graduates from the University of St. Thomas, send an e-mail to celcexecoach@stthomas.edu. You can also ask in your professional network for recommendations from others who have hired an executive coach.


Contact: Karen Somerville is president of Performance Plus Group in Edina, providing services related to leadership development, executive coaching, and organizational change. She is a certified executive coach and member of the International Coach Federation: 612.275.5740; karen@performanceplusgroup.com; www.performanceplusgroup.com.

Karen Somerville