7 Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Executive Coach

by Whit Mitchell

I was recently called by a young, first-time CEO of a software company in Boston who was looking to hire an executive coach. She announced that she would interview others and me, and then make a decision. I told her that I had some questions to make sure it was the right “fit” before agreeing to work together. She had 30 minutes for the call.

She told me a bit about her personal and organizational challenges, followed by questions for me about my process, my fees, stories of my past successes, my work with new CEOs and new mothers, and length of time working together. These were all questions that would be important for me to share and her to learn. However, the call ended with, “And what questions should I have asked?” I had opened the conversation with a request to interview her so I could better analyze her situation and understand the key outcomes she would want to achieve during our work together. Unfortunately, there was no more time left for these questions.

The purpose of having a coach interview you before you work together is two-fold:

  • The information gathered gives the coach a crystal-clear understanding of the desired outcomes and direction for that coaching engagement.
  • The leader has to think through the different aspects of who they are, what they want to accomplish, where they are headed, and what the value of reaching that destination is for their career and their organization. (Sometimes for the first time.)

I like to use these questions to help us achieve those factors on our initial call. If you are considering hiring a coach, you may want to prepare by answering the following questions before looking for a coach:

1. What’s working well?
So many times, during my initial interviews, I find leaders who want to start off the call with what is going wrong and what isn’t going well. I leave the question wide open to see what comes up for the person I am interviewing. You might be surprised that usually there is a long silence on the other end of the phone, as most leaders aren’t calling to tell me what’s working. Sometimes they rush through one area that is working well and jump into what isn’t working well. Make sure to dive deeper into this question.

2. What are the current challenges the solution is intended to resolve, and can you be a bit more specific, maybe give me an example?
I encourage my potential clients to tell me stories. I listen for common themes about their leadership capabilities, behaviors and drivers. I’ll also ask them to describe their culture, morale and history with the organization.

3. If you do nothing over the next two years, what will be the impact?
For many this question creates some panic. They are calling me to share what isn’t working and the thought of these issues continuing for the next two years is unimaginable. I ask them to be specific with real consequences for the business growth and people costs.

4. What would be the financial benefit if we could take this team to a world-class level over the next three years? The emotional benefit to you?
Think about the benefit from a financial perspective. I was interviewing a leader who was in the gas and oil business in Australia. He told me that it would be worth billions of dollars if we could come in and solve some of the key issues with his leaders. Later in the conversation I told him my fee and he quickly stopped the call and told me they couldn’t afford my services.

I am frequently asked what my hourly fee or project fee will be for my services. Ask yourself the “value” of achieving measurable success. I always aspire to deliver five to ten times of the investment in my coaching services.

Think about the emotional toll your challenges are currently having on you, your leaders, their direct reports, your family and friends. What is the value of changing those dynamics at an emotional level?

5. What three macro outcomes, in order of importance, do you want from this assignment?
This question helps you to identify the top priorities that need to be addressed based on your current challenges. Being able to think through and share the measurable outcomes is a great exercise to bring more clarity to your interest in receiving coaching.

6. On a scale of 1-10 how mission critical is it that we solve these issues? (10 = High)
If I hear a number between 8-10 I know there is enough pain in the system to dig further. I’d want to know about more timing, buy-in from others on the executive team, financial and people resources to achieve the results discussed.

7. What are you hoping an executive coach can do?
This is the final and key question when thinking about hiring an executive coach! It may not be a fit for the coach once this question is answered. Or through the process of answering these questions, the direction is finally clear and the leader has new information to help him or her make a better decision.

I have had the great opportunity to have coached collegiate athletes and corporate executives for the past 45 years. It is really all the same. Good people are looking for opportunities to grow, develop and achieve their passions. Be thoughtful and deliberate in your approach to interviewing and hiring a coach, as this experience can be life changing for you and those around you who love you most!

If you’d like to talk to Whit about his tips for hiring a coach, or if you have some addition ideas to share, email him at whit@price-associates.com.