how to select a good executive coachExecutive Coach – How To Pick A Good One

“How do I pick a good Executive Coach?” David, a Learning and Development Director, asked. A good question, and as coaching is an unregulated industry, worthy of an answer.

I’d like to suggest there are five critical components to picking a good Executive Coach. This article gives you an overview along with useful questions to help in selection.

When looking for a a good Executive Coach – think HAPPY. That is, a good executive coach will have a successful History, proven Ability, Presence, the right Personality and it’s all about You.

History of an Executive Coach

A history of success is the first thing someone is likely to look for. Although previous success is not essential, respect is attributed to a demonstrable successful history. We all judge success differently, so we will each add our own perspective on an individual’s history.

A small business might look for coaches who have helped SMEs to grow. A senior director in a larger corporate might look for a proven qualified executive coach to work with them on leadership effectiveness.

As such the first place we might typically look is at a coach’s CV or profile. Client testimonials will provide more information. Case studies or video testimonials provide more in-depth information.

Questions to ask: what is it about your history that makes you the ideal executive coach? How does your history make you a good coach for our organisation? Which recent coaching client can I speak to?

Ability of an Executive Coach

It takes significant personal development and training to male the grade as a good Executive Coach. Those who trade on having ‘been there, done that and bought the tee-shirt’ typically do not necessarily make good coaches.

Sir Roger Whitmore is a key figure in the coaching world. He argues that having a particular expertise in a sector can actually hinder coaching effectiveness. Tim Gallwey, in his book The Inner Game, states good coaches focus on the mental side of performance rather than teaching specific skills.

Coaching is not telling someone how to do something better. Rather, quality executive coaching facilitates a transformational process.  Self-awareness is increased. New perspectives are gained and powerful new ways of being are implemented. Leadership effectiveness is transformed.

Unless an executive coach has invested heavily in personal and professional development they won’t have the skill, ethics or empirically based research-backed approach required. It is this element that the coaching bodies such as the ICF, EMCC and AoC are trying to address.

Executive Coaches typically work at a deep transformational level with executives. They need to ensure that in their desire to help are not causing harm. As a result, an executive coach should have postgraduate coaching qualifications focussing on both theoretical and practical coaching practice.

Questions to ask: what coaching qualifications do you have? What personal development have you completed to make you a better coach? What is your underlying philosophy as an executive coach?

Personality of an Executive Coach

We have all met that person who helped us along our journey. They asked the right questions. Engaged us without judgement. Helped us understand ourselves better. Challenged our thinking. The result was a profound positive effect in our life.

These traits are typical of a good Executive Coach, and are largely based on a person’s personality and character. Whether through nature or nurture, they facilitate the development of others.

Executive Coaches do not have tightly defined personality types (that would be too constraining and we as humans don’t fit into neat boxes). However, a person’s natural inclination towards others is key. Good coaches are driven by an overriding desire to improve and develop. They have a strong desire to help people, teams or organisations to perform at their most genuine, authentic, best.

Good coaches bring powerful insight due to their typically highly developed intuition. They are able to quickly pick up on hidden issues and in the process bring powerful new perspectives. They challenge and encourage new ways of being.

Questions to ask: Tell me about your personality? Is this coach interested in me? Would I share my secrets with this coach? Would I want to work with this coach? Are they insightful? Do I believe they will help me achieve my goals?

Presence of an executive coach

Executives are time poor. When contemplating a particular coach, they will typically make an instant decision. ‘Is this person in front of me worthy of my time?’

Without presence or gravitas to create the opening required, the first coaching session is likely over before it starts. With gravitas, the executive will pause, and provide an opportunity for the skilful coach to quickly engage at a meaningful level. It’s not rare to hear “I’ve never told anyone else this before.”

Questions to ask: Would I like to spend longer with this coach? Are they making me think? Do I want to share more? Would those who are being coached respect this person?


Coaching is about the executive, and the context within he/she works, not the coach.

A good Executive Coach will ensure sessions move the client towards agreed goals. Coaches challenge whilst steering clear of judgements or the ‘right way’ to do something. They skilfully apply organisational research and proven models. They recognise when interpersonal dynamics derail performance. They understand how psychological factors drive improved effectiveness and skilfully bring latest organisational theories to bear.

Good coaches have high levels of emotional intelligence and self-awareness. They are committed to lifelong personal coaching mastery through supervision and continuous self-development. The result? Powerful, transformational coaching, dedicated to the client’s agenda. The outcomes are significantly improved leadership/organisational development, performance and effectiveness.

Question to ask: Did this coach show a genuine interest in me? How self-aware are they? How committed to continued self-development are they? Did they truly listen to me? Did they ask me questions that made me think about what I wanted? Did I feel I was competing with this coach?


So if you find yourself asking ‘how do I pick a good Executive Coach?’, use the HAPPY acronym;

  • History –experience and background
  • Ability – robust qualifications, expertise, ethics
  • Personality – who they are, personality, character and drive to help others actualise
  • Presence – the extent to which they inspire and invite further exploration
  • You – about you and not them.

I hope you found this article helpful and would really appreciate your feedback. Please email me on markb @ If you liked this article you may also like Don’t Train Your Managers.

Mark Bateman

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A proven executive coach and entrepreneur Mark Bateman has not only sold his own national professional consulting firm, he has since worked with over 50 companies focussing on barriers to growth, performance and generating results. He has a Master’s in Leadership Coaching and Mentoring, postgraduate qualifications in psychology and business coaching. Contact him at, or via +44 1332 422121.

(C) Mark Bateman, Welcome Insight 2016