AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger

If you're on the hunt for an executive coach, it may be a smart decision. An executive coach can help you get to where you want to be professionally by helping you to realize your goals and go after them. But what exactly is the role of an executive coach, and what should you expect from one?

Here's everything you need to know before hiring an executive coach.

1. What is executive coaching?

First things first, what exactly is executive coaching?

"Executive coaching is a professional relationship between a trained coach and a client (who may be an individual or a group) with the goal to enhance the client’s leadership or management performance and development," according to ExecutiveCoaching.com. "Through a process of inquiry, dialogue and other tools, the coach serves as a thought partner to help the client examine and develop his or her decision-making, experiment with new ways of thinking and being, and commit to action steps that help achieve the client’s goals."

Many people perceive coaching as hugely instrumental to success.

"Coaching is not telling people what to do; it's giving them a chance to examine what they are doing in light of their intentions," writes James Flaherty in Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others.

"A masterful coach is a vision builder and value shaper... who enters into the learning system of a person, business or social institution with the intent of improving it so as to impact people's ability to perform," writes Robert Hargrove in Masterful Coaching.

"The essence of executive coaching is helping leaders get unstuck from their dilemmas and assisting them to transfer their learning into results for the organization," writes Mary Beth O'Neill in Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart.

2. What are the pros and cons of an executive coach?

While an executive coach has a lot to offer you, as you now know, there are also cons to executive coaches. Here are the cons of hiring an executive coach:

  • Executive coaches may not fully understand your company/personal goals if you don't communicate well together or choose the right coach.
  • An executive coach may be preoccupied with other clients if you don't choose wisely.
  • Some companies may tend to replace strong managerial leadership with executive coaching, which are two very different things.
  • Executive coaches can be very expensive.

3. What is the cost of an executive coach?

Executive coaching can range in cost, as the cost of an executive coach varies by coach and what they're being hired for, of course. According to a report from The Conference Board in 2012, executive coaching rates range from $200 to over $600 per hour. According to 2009 research from Harvard Business Review, however, the median executive coaching cost is $500/hour with a range of $200 to $3,500 per hour.

4. When may you need an executive coach?

There are tons of times when you might consider hiring an executive coach. In fact, according to a study by HR consulting firm Hay Group, somewhere between 25 and 40% of Fortune 500 companies are already using executive coaches. Meanwhile, according to the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, approximately 10,900 managers and leaders use coaching skills, as well. Those numbers are expected to grow as people recognize the importance and value of executive coaching.

So here are a few times when you might decide to use an executive coach:

  • When you have a major project that needs direction
  • When you are starting up a company and need help defining your business and goals
  • When you are acquiring or selling out and need help navigating the business world and making the best decisions
  • When you need mentoring, counseling or consulting help
  • When you have a business idea but don't know how to see it to fruition
  • When you are struggling to break even or earn a profit and need guidance
  • When you have a bunch of thoughts and ideas and need someone to act as a sounding board to bounce them off
  • When you are feeling lost with your business and need some motivation and inspiration
  • When your human resource department needs advice on employment-related issues
  • When you need help working more efficiently

5. What should you look for in an executive coach?

You should look for several key factors in your executive coach, but here are the three most important ones:

  1. Education
  2. Experience
  3. Testimonials/References

You want your executive coach to have an education and experience in coaching before all else. Coaches can go ahead and get themselves accredited through programs that give them the proper credentials to call themselves certified coaches.

You don't need to be certified to be a career coach. In fact, many career coaches just hold bachelor's degrees, though some have earned voluntary certificates in the field. But the title "career coach" is unregulated and has no standardized qualification, according to Neuvoo. That's why many career coaches enroll in an ICF-approved or -accredited coach training program, completing at least 60 hours of coach-specific training, to earn credibility. To become an ICF member, career coaches must complete a number of coaching hours under the supervision of an experienced coach, as well as demonstrate mastery of ICF standards, Code of Ethics and Core Competencies. You can learn more about certifications for coaching careers here.

You also want to make sure that the executive coach you choose has experience working with clients like your or your business. It's a big help if they already somewhat understand where you're coming from since they've worked with likeminded clients.

That's why you want to check that your executive coach has tons of testimonials or references to back up their work. You can find this out by taking a look at their website and looking at coaching indexes to find any reviews on them.

Beyond that, you should look for an executive coach who can dedicate their time to you as their client, and you should find one that you can afford (i.e. they don't put you or your company further into financial mayhem).

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.D