How to Choose an Executive Coach

Foundational Principles

Chemistry, comfort, and trust matter as much or more than expertise.

When people work with an executive coach, the relationship fuels success. The more they feel supported and understood, the more information they will give to the executive coach. This information sharing is critical to strategy development and achieving optimal results. You should feel that the coach cares. Can you grow from expertise without caring attached? Absolutely. However, when you are navigating rough waters, you want someone who has your back. It shouldn’t feel like you are “a job” to the coach – you should feel from the beginning that there is a level of personal investment in your success.

Don’t engage or stay with a coach if it doesn’t feel like a good fit.

Trying a coach for several months is a mistake if you feel the relationship isn’t working. The longer you stay with one person, the more energy you’ll expend starting over. For this reason, people have long gaps between coaches, therapists, or other high-trust relationship providers. It is better to cut your losses after an initial conversation and try someone else to maintain traction.

Fees are only somewhat correlated with expertise.

Spending more money doesn’t guarantee a better outcome. Variables that may impact fees include the amount of experience, the coach’s business structure or personal preferences, and service demand. What’s more important is ensuring that the investment fits your budget for the long term. You don’t want to be in the position of saying, “Maybe I/we can afford the coach for X months.” Apart from the disappointment that occurs if you need to end a good engagement prematurely, much of your return on investment comes later in the relationship.

Engagement style matters.

Ask the coach, “Do you focus on providing information, tactics, and advice, or do you prefer to listen and ask questions that guide the clients to their own solutions?” This is a style match question. It’s not that either approach is right or wrong.  A coach who focuses on listening and Socratic questioning will frustrate someone who wants actionable advice. Conversely, a person who needs time and space to think out loud will be frustrated by a more solution-focused coach. Of course, the answer can be “both,” but you should hear something in the potential coach’s response that resonates with you.

Be aware of the coach’s views on confidentiality – From Dr. Tricia

Each coach has a slightly different perspective on confidentiality. Due to my (Dr. Tricia speaking here) own personality and training as a psychologist, I’m a locked box, and I usually won’t even mention a client or company’s name without express permission. Sometimes, I get involved in highly sensitive situations, and it’s better that I remain invisible. However, I’ve seen some coaches or coaching organizations list the companies they’ve worked with as a symbol of credibility. This may or may not be a concern for you, depending on your situation.

If confidentiality or anonymity is important to you, ask, “can you tell me about other companies or clients you’ve worked with?” I personally hate this question because I don’t want to divulge leading details, but I also want to give enough information to help the potential client make a decision. That’s exactly why you want to ask the question. If you hear the coach’s concern about protecting current and past clients, you have the starting point to expect that s/he/they will be careful with your information as well.



Dr. Groff’s Executive Coaching Process

Type of Executive Coaching Provided

Executive Coaching commitments focus on company founders, owners, and high-performing leaders at the top of organizations. Potential coachees should resonate with some of the personality characteristics on the High Achiever page. Dr. Groff’s work combines executive coaching with executive advisement and human due diligence in high-stakes decision-making. Hence, she is not the best fit for people seeking skills development coaching for their senior leaders.

Rather than providing executive coaching for people with the X factor (difficult people, personality disorders), she is skilled in helping her clients recognize these characteristics in others and planning accordingly.  Some of the high-stakes decision-making in which she assists clients are high-value talent acquisitions, firing problematic talent, partnership decision-making, M&A, and other situations in which human diligence optimizes outcomes. Her resource book for High Achievers, provides foundational principles on recognizing and dealing with difficult people in Part IV –  Toxic Games: The Difficult People Playbook.

Length of Engagement in Executive Coaching and Executive Advising

Dr. Groffs provides coaching where the fit and the budget are such that clients can work with her as long as they continue to receive value. With any given client, topics alternate among personal growth, leadership decisions, and business growth. Hence, her style of long-term engagement yields an intangible ROI because of the database she develops on the industry vertical, the organization’s system, and all of the people within it.

Confidentiality and Trust – From Dr. Tricia

“For me, it is imperative that people feel safe to say whatever they need to say. If I’m working with a team or multiple individuals in the organization, the development of trust is both tricky and critical. I’ve found that the best way to manage potential conflicts of interest is to have an upfront conversation on all sides about expectations. I can then speak openly to everyone involved about where the boundaries lie. I personally value trust, and I view it as both extremely powerful and incredibly fragile. For those reasons, I have a high standard of what it means to attain and maintain trust. What is less salient, is that I also develop trust in my clients. As the trust deepens, the relationship helps me to say hard things and know that my clients understand my intention. It also allows me to be emotionally generous and creative in unconventional ways that benefit my clients.”

Fit with Potential Client

Dr. Groff is action-oriented and has high expectations of the clients with whom she works. The approach is collaborative—she wants them to debate with her on any recommendations that don’t feel right so that she can get the path that feels congruent with their style. The theme across all of her clients is an innate desire for excellence, high integrity, and openness to new ideas. Most of them are early adopters of technology or on the leading edges of change. They also are excellent communicators, and they keep commitments.

Executive Leadership Team Coaching and Retreats

A lot of leaders struggle with similar issues, regardless of their role level. Examples include managing change, having difficult conversations, figuring out schedules when everything feels like a priority, work-life integration, confidence, mental wellness, and understanding people with different personalities and cognitive approaches. Apart from individual coaching, group conversations can be a way to simultaneously increase bonding while sharing information. More importantly, one of the most common questions people have is “am I normal?” “Am I the only one who feels this way?” The feelings of isolation exacerbate whatever dilemmas are on the table. Conversely, when leaders understand that others have the same challenges, it boosts both morale and collective problem-solving.

If executive leadership group engagements are of interest to you, Dr. Groff will collaborate with you to assess fit, needs, and options for moving forward.

Executive Coaching Information for Human Resources

It can be hard to mesh the needs of the organization, leaders, and potential coaches. Here are some tips to think through as you assess potential coaches.

What type of coaching is needed?

Coaches may specialize in working with various types of leadership needs. Here are common scenarios:

  1. An organizational leader or owner is high-performing but needs a sounding board and a safe place to discuss sensitive topics.
  2. An organizational leader has been promoted or oversees a rapidly expanding team, such that s/he needs support and tactics to increase leadership capacity.
  3. An organizational leader has a great skillset but struggles with human relationships. (If this is the case, distinguish between whether the person simply needs emotional intelligence coaching or if s/he is lacking in character and potentially toxic to the situation. See X-factor information below for more information.)
  4. An organizational leader is on the brink of being fired, and coaching is a final attempt to see if the situation can be remedied.
  5. An organizational leader needs help with a finite skill set, such as increasing confidence or the ability to delegate.

X-Factor – Personality Disorders

Do you suspect that the leader has a personality disorder? In 2002, the Harvard Business Review published an article called The Very Real Dangers of Executive Coaching.  The essential premise is that sometimes employees have underlying psychological issues that make them uncoachable. If a coach isn’t trained in identifying these deeper psychological issues, the problems will continue with potentially damaging results. If you are seeking remedial coaching for an employee and are concerned that there may be a personality problem, it’s helpful to provide as many specific examples as possible to someone who has a background in psychology and can recognize the red flags.

Do you have specific expectations about the coaching process?

Some organizations want progress summaries and updates, while other organizations leave the relationship up to the coach and coachee. Some organizations are seeking time-limited contracts, such as 6-month or 1-year commitments, while other organizations are seeking someone who can work with a client on a continuous basis.  There is no right or wrong answer to this. It simply depends on the needs of the client and the system of the coach. For example, if a leader wants assistance with a very specific area, such as growing confidence, a shorter time frame may be appropriate. If a leader wants support for multiple challenges in a high-growth environment, ongoing executive coaching may be appropriate.

If a manager wants a specific skill set to be increased, has that been verbalized to the potential coachee?

Several years ago, an HR representative reached out to me and was screening potential coaches.  A long-standing and highly valued employee wanted the opportunity to advance in the organization. Both the administrative assistant to this leader and HR were doing a deep dive to find the right person. Here was the problem. When I said, “what are we trying to achieve? What are the gaps that have kept him from being promoted to this point?”…they didn’t know the answer. Hence, there was no way for me to assess whether I was the right fit, because I didn’t know what the pain points were. When multiple people are involved in the process–the coachee, a manager, HR, and the coach, it’s helpful for all to be as aligned about the optimal outcome of coaching.

Focus on fit as much as credentials.

When people feel really comfortable with their coach, they are able to be open and vulnerable. Out of this openness and mutual collaboration comes a continuous and increasing return on investment that is impossible to calculate. At any point in the process, someone should be able to ask “is your coach helpful?’ and the answer should be an immediate and resounding “YES.” If the coachee is polite or ambivalent, it means that the coach may be skilled but have the wrong personality fit. Alternately, the personality fit is good but the coach doesn’t have the skill set that the leader needs to make meaningful change. A parallel you might think about is this: if you or a relative has ever seen a medical doctor, you know that the more comfortable you feel, the more likely you are to share information. The more information doctors have (good ones), the better diagnostic and treatment options they can give you.

          Some fit questions—

  1. Does the coachee prefer a more action-oriented coach or someone who is a great listener?
  2. Does the coachee feel like the potential coach “gets” him/her? There should be a personality click.

Regardless of the experience or sparkly credentials of a potential coach, it is imperative that a direct conversation occurs with the coachee to assess fit before moving forward with an engagement.

Red Flags on Potential Coaches

If a coach seems desperate for business or wants you to rush a decision, keep looking. Desperation never yields a win-win. When you see signs of it, it means that the coach is not in a position to make the decisions that are in the best interest of the coachee and/or your organization.

If the coaches talk more than they listen, it is also a red flag. The art of coaching comes from assessing and integrating all aspects of both the person and the system. If coaches are selling, they aren’t listening. When communication is a problem on the front end, the coaching outcome will be poor. The poor result creates a secondary problem, in which leaders either blame themselves or are simply less open to trying coaching in the future.

Coaches should not try to trap organizations with contracts or vice versa. The relationship is built on mutual trust and competence. At the point in which people have to invoke contract clauses, the relationship is already broken. Thus, the best path forward is to have a clear conversation at the onset about how the relationship will be terminated if the coaching process is not a win-win.

If you are in Human Resources and you believe that someone that the Founder or C-Suite would be a good fit for Dr. Groff, have them first look at this website to see if it resonates with them. If it does, they can complete the Phone Consult Request form, and she will speak to them directly. If you need another type of coaching, as described above, you may want to check, an online coaching directory with a broad repository of coaches with assorted specialties.