Coaching and Mentoring : Executive Coaching Credentials Vary: Due Diligence is a Must

Freda Turner

Freda Turner, Ph.D., is the Department Chair in the Doctorate of Management and Leadership Programs with University of Phoenix. 

Freda can be reached at

So many indiv iduals call themselves a coach today that anyone interested in hiring an executive coach must be cautious. The fact that trainers, spiritual advisors, consultants, bar tenders, and television personalities often refer to themselves as "coach" makes it difficult to distinguish a true resource from all the hype. This coaching hype is compounded by the number of organizations professing coaching expertise. Even many call centers and retail stores freely inter change the term "manager" with "coach" without providing in depth "coach" specific skill training. Coaching is an emerging new profession and currently there are no legal restrictions. Therefore, anyone or any business can legally market coaching skill services. The tips that follow will help in selecting a business resource.

What is Executive Coaching ?

Coaching is a custom-designed, one-on-one developmental experience for the mid- to senior-level executive who wishes to improve performance on the job, or prepare for career moves, by working with another professional. The coach should be able to relate to the coachee's business environment, provide survey assessments, feed back and guiding the executive toward changing and developing identified behaviors and stretch goals within a specified time frame. People used to think that leadership development could be learned in a single training event. However, just as one does not learn to be a great parent after one training session or a terrific CPA upon college completion, leadership development is viewed today as an ongoing and highly personal process. This includes ongoing coaching by one who has actually played in the game, stays aware and involved with best industry practices, and has experienced the similar stresses of the person coached.

What Would One Expect to Pay For Coaching ?

Business coaches usually quote a per-project fee. However, rates can run from $100.00 per hour up to 20-30% of an executive's annual salary. A business coach should be hired only after a review of the coach's credentials, confirmation of the coach's industry experience, recommendations of other executives, an interview with the coach and consideration on the projected return on this investment (ROI).

Some individuals selling organizational executive coaching services are typically under considerable pressure to make a sale. The reputable coach, however, will welcome the opportunity to explain the benefits of their services while individuals with minimum qualifications will be hesitant at providing information often using ‘confidentiality’ as their cover for releasing their success history. While a coach does not have to release a client’s name, verification with an organizational HR is advised.  Use the following 7 tips as guidance when interviewing a prospective executive or business coach.

7 Ways to Identify a Quality Business/Executive Coach

Understand there are different coaching niches : business coaching, personal coaching and psychological counseling needs. Invest your money properly and be honest about what type of coaching will best benefit the needs of the organization or individual. Psychological counseling places an emphasis on diagnosis, healing, might include prescribed drugs, and involve family members. Unlike the psychological counselor, an executive coach can be helpful in leadership development, succession planning, or in identifying a habit or behavior preventing the executive from performing at full capacity in the executive suite.

CB "Cork" Motsett, President of Business Development Specialists, Inc. and a highly experienced Executive Coach, identifies the difference between a psychologist and a coach by noting that "the psychologist primarily focuses on what is broken, not working, while a coach works on building strengths." Think of a sports coach – they view behaviors on ‘the field’ and advise the athlete how they might play the game better.

Some examples where a business coach might be of value is helping the coachee become self-aware of career stalling behaviors, how to develop others, develop skills to overcome perfectionism, procrastination, poor time management skills, inadequate communication skills, lack of team building or team participation skills, conflict management, or anger/frustration outbursts, etc. Still different, a personal coach typically has great listening skills when one needs to think aloud about issues.
What educational level, industry experience, certification, and references does the coach possess to be effective in your business environment ? Red flags of an inexperienced coach might include that coaching is not their full time avocation, coaching is not part of their business name or they are hesitant to provide references. Some managers, consultants, free-lance individuals, and even organizations are now calling themselves "coach" because it is a hot term and a way to increase revenue. Investigate what skills the coach possesses to solve your problems or to provide developmental directions. Does the coach belong to a professional organization that gathers and shares best coaching practices? Has the coach actually worked at the same experience level of the individual they are coaching (i.e., if they were a VP, then they should understand the stresses of the VP and below level). If they have had full P&L responsibility, they might be suited to coach at the President and CEO level. Note that certification, as a "personal coach" does not necessarily qualify someone to be the best selection as a business/executive coach. Remember, there are no required credentials for one to claim to be an executive coach.
Confirm level of industry experience the "specific" coach has served. Ideally, the coach should have experience at or above the level of the coachee. One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is selecting a coach who does not understand business politics and corporate environment at the appropriate level.

In the book, Executive Coaching, author Richard Kilberg states, "There is only one credible source for executives who seek coaching: other men and women who have also served in similar executive roles." Hiring a coach with no industry experience would be like expecting a veterinarian to be successful in caring for a human. The vet might have moderate success. Would you hire someone who has never played golf to coach on how to improve your golf skills/game?

Kraft Foods, Inc., is an organization that promotes the use of "industry-experienced" business coaches. Each executive develops an action plan with his/her coach to ensure a developmental focus is established. This idea of a coaching program took place while Kraft was examining their annual succession plans. They began to question the leadership skills of their middle managers. James Kinney who is a senior vice president and CIO for Kraft Foods Inc. says " We have found that coaches familiar with our industry help our managers craft an action plan that literally encourages growth and progress professionally, socially, and technically. We also found the industry-experienced coaches continue to read our professional journals, challenge our managers with "real time" strategies and know our competitive strengths/weaknesses." Internal coaches and mentoring programs are highly effective.

Spherion Corporation, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale and owner of the famous Saratoga Institute, also subscribes that "one coach does not fit all needs." Spherion provides coaching services and their specialty teams coach fellow professionals in technology, finance, legal, accounting, insurance, energy, telecommunications, and government.
Verify that meaningful diagnostic instruments will be used. Just as a physician orders diagnostic tests to validate his/her medical suspicions, the use of diagnostic instruments adds increased accuracy and confidence to ensure developmental areas are correctly identified.

Jacksonville coach Cork Mossett, states, "Proficient coaches use validated assessment instruments like DISC Behavioral and Communication, Personal Interests, Attitudes and Values (PIA&V), Soft Skill Competency assessments and 360 feedback systems to allow the coachee to better understand their own behaviors, motivators / competencies. The 360 multi-rater feedback helps individuals see how others view their proficiencies and provides a fuller portrait than just self-disclosure. Data from the 360 feedback becomes a starting point for development or growth initiatives."

Another Executive Coaching firm, The Curtis Group International, uses The Lominger Leadership Architect Suite, an integrated 360 developmental product. The following example of a senior executive helps illustrate the value of this assessment.

Will, a senior national Account Executive, held high standards for himself, his employees, and the company. Will taught the sales team how to negotiate major contracts resulting in revenues above projections. Despite the huge revenue surge, Will's employee turnover was high and the CEO was concerned that while Will was bringing in big bucks through the front door, the cost of replacing employees was draining revenue out the back door through lost employees, client relationships, and the organization's reputation for being a revolving door. The CEO hired an executive coach with a proven background in strategic planning. The coach used a 360 PC-based feedback assessment that identified Will's career stallers. The 360 instrument revealed that Will sometimes had scathing outbursts of anger. Will's initial reaction was, "I was hired to bring in revenue, and not for my people skills and I've increased revenue by 30 percent above projections." However, the assessment did get Will's attention and he agreed to move forward with the coach on ways to improve his interpersonal skills.

Assessments must be part of a business coach's tool kit - do not hire a coach that relies on a crystal ball or one that coaches “from the heart.” 
Beware of Switch and Bait Coaching. Ensure the coaching contract identifies the specific coach that will provide the service to ensure that a less-experienced person does not appear after the contract has been signed. Some organizations are doing a bait and switch technique where they bring in a "ringer" which is a skilled professional coach from another location to help sell the coaching services and this individual is never seen again. Ask the coach who will actually be delivering the coaching services what percentage of their time was spent coaching last year and, how long have they officially been working as an executive coach? How many individuals - not who - have they coached in the past year? What corporations hired them exclusively to coach executives? Where and how long was the training they received to learn their coaching skills? Do they stay involved in a continuing education coaching program?
Verify the effectiveness and the ROI of your specific coach - not the firm they represent. A skilled coach will proudly market examples of his/her coaching effectiveness and how clients have benefited using his/her services. Verify a coach's self-proclaimed success record by asking for a listing of 6 or more references and then conduct due diligence. Select from the provided reference listing 2 or 3 CEOs/HR professionals and call to inquire about how the coaching impacted the desired goals for the individual or the organization. Coaching is expensive and due diligence is necessary. Beware of the coach that cites confidentiality issues when asked for references. While situations of confidentiality may exist, proficient coaches have corporate HR clients who will gladly vouch for the coaching value and acknowledge that the coaching relationship did exist. The best predictor of future success is past success.
How will you measure success and results of executive coaching ? Before contracting for coaching, ensure you have determined what results the organization seeks and that all parties agree on what will determine if the coaching was a success before the contract is signed. For example, if the outcome is to reduce a manager's high employee turnover, determine what the industry or corporate averages are and agree on a reduction target for the manager to achieve within a specified timeframe. If the coaching is designed to help executives in career development, identify specific areas where growth is to be focused. Lee Hecht Harrison, a global firm that provides executive coaching programs, recently published research findings gathered from 450 HR professionals. Their research found that organizations no longer views business coaches as individuals hired to help managers who are in trouble but are being used to coach managers and executives to the next professional level. The best coach is one who has walked in the coachee's shoes and can understand what success might look like in a specific industry.

Hiring the "right coach" is as important as having the "right" secretary can add to one's productivity. A study featured in Public Personnel Management Journal reported a study of 31 managers that underwent a managerial training program. The training increased productivity by 22.4%. However, a second group was provided coaching following the training process and their productivity increased by 88%. Research does demonstrate that one-on-one executive coaching is of value. As with any profession, referral and testimonials from those who have actually experienced concrete results from working with a proficient coach still carries the most weight.

Top athletes have known for years that to be at their best, they need to work with a coach who knows the game. Tiger Woods now has a coach to help him identify his blind sides of golf strategies. George W. Bush has a coach that provides political guidance. More and more executives are now seeking help with the myriad challenges found in our frenzied, stock-price driven marketplace, but credentials among coaches vary so the caution is: buyer beware. The tips provided here will help in identifying an experienced business coach or organization that professes coaching skills from a "rent-a-friend" type coach.

In today's "e-conomy" it is hard to maintain a competitive advantage. Just as athletes preparing for the Olympics hire coaches that know their game, business executives can also benefit from coaching if working with an industry-experienced coach.

Until coaching credentials are standardized, due diligence is necessary to find the best business/executive resource. All that glitters is not gold.

© Copyright Freda Turner 2004

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