March 6

7 3/4 Key Questions to Ask in Choosing a Business Coach by Kevin Denning

Business, Leadership


You’ve made it! You are in the major leagues now. All the hard work, sacrifice, dedication, time and effort have paid off–and now you are the leader of your company. Congratulations!

I’ve been where you are. I moved up through the ranks in my former company, finally becoming CEO and President. On the day that appointment was announced, a long-time co-worker greeted me with this observation: “Great! Now you know everything!”

That statement stunned me; how did I go from an employee, expected to do my best, to being a leader expected to know everything?

Well, I certainly didn’t know everything–and I still don’t. And you know what? Neither do you! Think of any major sport you find interesting. After thousands of hours of practice, hard work, and perfecting their skills, professional athletes still have, and need, coaching. Why? Because details matter when you are at that level. You need someone who is on your side, who has an outside perspective, and who has real-world experience to guide and mentor your thoughts and actions. Someone to bounce ideas off and who will challenge you and ask critical questions. One of the blind spots we all have is that you don’t know what you don’t know.

In choosing a coach, mentor or guide here are 73⁄4 questions you need to ask yourself:

1. What are my inherent strengths and weaknesses? Most of us are not fully self-aware. We have blind spots. In selecting your coach, consider where you need help. Where are your weaknesses? Might they be in sales, marketing, social media, accounting, finance, operations, recruitment, people management, strategic planning, or any of the other endless challenges regularly faced by business leaders? None of us are good at everything. A good coach will help you improve your capabilities. Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The coach you choose should be one of your five–and he or she should significantly improve your average!

2. Is the coach a life-long-learner? Unfortunately, it is easy for “experts in their fields” to rely too heavily on their past experience and education. The problem with this is that the world is ever-changing. A good coach will be continuously looking to improve her or his knowledge. Although you may diligently strive to keep up to date on the most current business news and literature, it is extraordinarily helpful to have a coach who regularly searches and shares innovative ideas, trends, and knowledge.

3. Does the coach have a strong community of support? How deep is the coach’s bench? Does the coach have the expertise of other individuals in their organization to strengthen their capacity to serve your needs? Are they well connected to relevant industry and subject matter experts? If you require a specialist with expertise beyond the coach’s skills, does he or she have a network of vetted professionals you can rely on?

4. What is more powerful for you, answers or questions? Many coaches come preloaded with lots of answers. Caution is merited here. Quick, off-the-cuff answers are readily available on Google, Siri, Cortina, Bing, etc. But are those answers relevant to your situation, specific issues, and unique circumstances? In meetings, we have often observed that when “the answer” is presented, all discussion stops. But when a great question is asked, ideas flow. A good coach will give some appropriate answers; a great coach will ask challenging questions that lead you to your own best answers. Good questions can open up new possibilities, stimulate capabilities, and create accountability.

5. How much time and money will it cost to train your coach? Every company is unique. Although your business may be in the same industry as others with which the coach has worked, your market, operations, and culture will undoubtedly be new and different. How long will it take to get your coach up to speed on your uniqueness? Recognize that the time and money invested in bringing your coach up to speed is a necessary component in creating a strong, consistent, and valuable long-term relationship.

6. What are their ethics and values? Do they share the same values and goals as you do? Will the coach listen to you and your issues, or will they work from their own agenda? It is critical that the coach focuses on you: your goals, your issues, and the plans you’ve made.

7. What are their credentials and experience? Make sure they have experience in both business and in coaching. Will they help bring out the best in you and your people? Does their experience complement your business? What about education, training, and especially experience with businesses your size? Do you feel like you are getting better when you are around them?

73⁄4. How much knowledge do they have? This only gets a partial point because, as discussed earlier, nobody knows everything! When your prospective coach doesn’t know something, do they readily admit it, but willingly take on the challenge to find out? Be wary of coaches who seem to have an answer for everything. Although optimism is a good trait in a coach, this should be tempered by objective realism. And realism is often a function of an admission that more knowledge is necessary for sound counsel and decisions. The best coaches don’t hesitate to access other experts to help solve client problems.

According to the American Management Association, organizations that use coaching experience higher market performance. Their survey shows a 7 to 49 times return on corporate investment in coaching.

Coaches cannot see the future. They can’t solve your problems for you. They can, however, help you become your best self. They ask tough questions to help you avoid mistakes and being blindsided by something you may have overlooked. They give you new perspectives to consider. Most importantly, they help you shoulder the burdens of leadership. They care about you!

About the author 

Kevin Denning

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