If you think you’re a fit for business, growth and executive team coaching, you may be ready to look for a coach that’s a fit for you.
In my experience working with executive teams over the last 17 years, I’ve found there are five key criteria to consider in an executive team coach:
Whether you’re looking to more easily grow your company, get more profitable, or have more time or quality of life, you’ll want an executive team coach who knows the right best practices to help you and your top team get there.
The easiest and best way to figure this out is by looking at what methodologies they use and whether those align with what you want to achieve.
There are several reputable, holistic methodologies developed for senior leadership teams of midsize companies. These include: Scaling Up, the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth, EOS (the Entrepreneurial Operating System), the 7 Stages of Growth, among others.
A coach that uses a reputable methodology will help ensure your team learns and implements best practices that are tried, tested and true, not simply based on the latest business fad or one person’s opinion. The creators of these methodologies haven’t developed their own best practices. They’ve only curated and compiled best practices that have already been researched and developed by the world’s best thought leaders and applied in the most successful companies.
A holistic methodology will help ensure that all the critical aspects of a management team and company are addressed and supported. For example, not only is it important to develop a great competitive strategy, but also to develop an efficient plan to execute it. Great strategy and execution can only be enabled through great people. And great people will only contribute their best with great leadership and a highly cohesive team. And all of this leads to bottom line results only by aligning them with a focus on optimizing profit and cashflow. A holistic methodology addresses all the legs of the stool so the business is built sturdy and strong.
Note that some of the methodologies above are more holistic than others. Generally, the larger the company or the more you want to grow, the more holistic a methodology you will want your coach to know. While a simpler methodology like EOS is a great starting point for smaller companies (say 5 to 20 employees), a more holistic methodology like Scaling Up, and then the 7 Attributes of Agile Growth, will enable you and your executive team to learn and implement the same basic best practices and then learn the others needed to get to the next level.
Also, all of these methodologies have simplified the best practices to fit mid-sized companies. This is critical. A CEO and their senior team need to address a number of things, as discussed above. But your mid-size company likely only has so much capacity. You don’t have large departments to handle extra complexity. So, you and your team need to do just enough in each aspect to move the needle, while not doing so much in one of them that there’s no time to work on another. This means the best practices need to be simple and easy to implement.
One sign that a coach has the knowledge to help you and your leadership team achieve your goals is when they know and use more than one of these methodologies. This means they can pull in whatever best practice is needed for the situation. No methodology includes all the best practices needed for every type of decision a CEO and their top team will need to make. So, being able to pull in the right tool for the right situation is key.
While it’s important to pick an executive team coach who does use A reputable, holistic methodology of simplified best practices, which specific methodology (or methodologies) they use is less important. The coach themselves is more important: their experience, abilities, results and your chemistry with them.
You can pick a coach who uses a methodology that resonates with you. But this doesn’t guarantee they’ll be great at teaching and facilitating those tools, or at guiding the process to help your team get results. You could also pick a coach who uses a methodology that’s not your first choice. But they may be an exceptional coach, teaching and facilitating best practices in very effective ways that truly move your business forward.
The most important experience you’ll want to look for in a business, growth & executive team coach is how much they’ve worked with and supported both CEOs and executive teams. This will affect how much they understand the challenges CEOs and their teams face, the dynamics often at play on such teams, and how to address them successfully. Unfortunately, there are low barriers to entry in the coaching field, so you’re best to look for a coach who has lots of experience.
Broad business experience working with many different kinds of companies is also important. Having experience leading or working in different functions of a business, such as marketing, sales, operations, HR, IT and finance can also be a great asset. All this will allow your coach to share experiences from different sectors and relate them to all the members of your senior team.
Now, you may be wondering if you should get someone who specializes in your industry. My guess is that industry experience is something that’s important to you when you’re hiring leaders and employees. So, you likely have a whole company full of industry experts. And yet, are you growing as fast, as profitably or as easily as you know you could? In my experience, having the right executive team coach is not so much about industry expertise. It’s about knowing how to consistently scale over time as a leadership team, and that’s where they bring their expertise.
They’re never going to know as much as you will in your domain, and you’re never going to know as much as they do about getting management teams to scale companies. So, if you’re looking for a like-minded industry expert who’ll reinforce what you already know, and echo everything you say, then look for someone with lots of experience in your industry. But if you’re looking for someone to push, challenge and hold you and your executive team accountable, help clarify your goals and priorities, help clarify your thinking, an executive team coach with a broad base of experience will be a good fit.
You may also be wondering if you should get a coach who has been a CEO. This is a valid question as it’s common to believe that someone who has done our job will be best able to coach us. But that’s not necessarily true. Consider Usain Boldt, widely considered to be the greatest sprinter of all time. He’s an eight-time Olympic gold medallist and eleven-time world champion. He’s the world-record holder of the 100 meter, 200 meter and four by 100 meter relay. His coach, Glen Mills, never ran in the Olympics. In fact, he dropped out of sprinting at the age of 14 because he wasn’t very fast. He then became an amazing coach to many olympians. Although Glen never ran the kind of races that Usain did, Usain would be the first to admit he wouldn’t run as fast if it weren’t for Glen’s great coaching. On the other hand, we’ve all heard stories of hockey or football greats who made poor coaches. While it’s possible for a great CEO to become a great coach. It’s not necessarily the case, nor is it a requirement.
Coaching and team facilitation are skills that take years to develop and hone. They are each combinations of technical, behavioural and relationship skills that are best developed alongside keen self-awareness and attention to self-improvement. This doesn’t happen overnight.
One way to get a sense of someone’s coaching and facilitation skills is to look for how many years they’ve been practicing each of them, and how much. Another way is to notice their coaching skills in your initial conversations with them, and to ask them to do a brief facilitated trial session with your team.
Someone with good coaching skills will cause you to think more deeply about your team, your business and your life. They will inspire you to a new level of openness. They will challenge you by asking tough questions. They may share some principles, but they will avoid trying to tell you what you should do. They will facilitate your thinking so that you have the realizations, you come to the conclusions, and you make the decisions that are right for you in that moment… because you came to them yourself (albeit with some support and guidance) and therefore you believe in those decisions. Yet, they will also teach, share experiences, observations and opinions when needed.
A coach’s team facilitation skills are related to, but different from, their coaching skills. Great coaching skills enhance a coach’s facilitation skills. But group facilitation is also a skill in itself. To get a sense of these, ask the coach if they’d be willing to do a brief session with you and your top team for you to see them in action. A coach with strong facilitation skills will help your team stay focused, explore the issues from all angles, and come to clear decisions with the strong support and commitment from the whole team.
At the end of the day, what you want from engaging a business, growth & executive team coach are results. That said, the coach won’t create those results. You and your team will. But the coach will help you and your team 1) set goals that are important to you, 2) determine how to get there, 3) solve problems along the way, and 4) achieve those results over time. Their support and guidance needs to be focused and purposeful.
One good sign that a coach is results-focused is to notice what they ask you in your initial conversation. Do they try to understand what you want for your company, your work life and your personal life in the future? Do they get you thinking deeply about the biggest challenges to getting there? And do they demonstrate a clear understanding of the path to tackle those challenges and get to where you want to be.
Another way to gain confidence that you’ll get results is by asking about the work they’ve done with other CEOs and executive teams. They should be able to share clear examples of challenges they’ve helped them overcome and results they’ve helped them produce.
In the end, the results a coach has helped produce with other companies won’t guarantee you’ll get great results with them yourself. But you’ll have some level of confidence that they can help you get there. The rest will depend on how well you work together.
Chemistry is important in an ongoing relationship like you will have with an executive team coach. You’ll work closely together and for some time, so you might as well also enjoy it.
This largely comes down to being aligned on what drives each of you. What’s their Why, as Simon Sinek says, and does that connect with yours? Do they want to make a difference in the world that’s compatible with the difference you want to make? If so, you’re more likely to work well together.
You’ll also want to look for clues that you have compatible values… that similar things are important to you in life. Your coach will be more emotionally invested in your efforts when they believe in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
And lastly, you just get along. There will be ease in interacting with the coach. You’ll feel comfortable and accepted, but also kindly challenged to do better.
Picking a business, growth & executive team coach that fits you, your team and company takes a bit of thought… about their knowledge, experience, ability, results and chemistry. But the results will be well worth the effort, especially if you’re also a good fit for coaching.
How can a great business, growth & executive team coach help you grow a thriving company?
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