Executive Coaches: Why They Are Not All Created Equal

The truth is anybody can call themselves a ‘coach’ — it requires no license and isn’t regulated by the government.

The New Year is here and so too the timely tradition of setting and carrying out resolutions planned for an auspicious coming year. For many entrepreneurs and executives this is usually the time to retain an executive coach to guide the building of the structure, accountability, and support necessary to ensure sustained commitment and progress.

When it comes to hiring an executive coach, the search can present a vexing challenge even for the most savviest of professionals. Nowadays, so many people have taken to calling themselves a coach — and unfortunately many of them don’t have the training or competence to do right by the clients they purport to serve.

It is also fair to say that in certain precarious situations these so-called experts can undoubtedly be more harmful than helpful. An important and timely article written by Thea O’connor about this issue recently published in INTHEBLACK magazine, titled, “9 essentials of executive coaching”. O’conner delivers in it the warning, “With low barriers to entry, no regulation and market confusion about what coaching actually is … the ground is fertile for rogue players.”

This uneasiness about the coaching landscape now isn’t something new. In 2002, executive coach and clinical psychologist Dr. Steven Berglas wrote a cautionary article for Harvard Business Review, titled, “The very real dangers of executive coaching”. In it Dr. Berglas describes executives who were coached by the wrong coaches for the wrong reasons with potentially disastrous consequences.

How does Dr. Berglas see today’s landscape? He was asked by O’Connor for his assessment, saying, “If anything, the situation has become worse in the last 14 years. The field is being flooded due to the lucrative nature of the work. There are so many degree-less professionals out there. It’s a horrific landscape for people to navigate.”

Executive coaching is best defined as an “inquiry-based approach to personal and professional development that is aimed at creating awareness, generating action, and facilitating learning and growth”. It is an open and dynamic process between coach and client with trust and confidentiality central to the relationship.

With these issues in mind, what are the key factors in selecting a coach? A study published in the APA’s Consulting Psychology Journal, Executive coaching: An outcome study, points out that talented executive coaches must be grounded in both business and psychology. Mastering interpersonal skills — such as listening, empathy, adaptability, analytical problem-solving, creativity, and humor — are essential for effective coaches. The study underscores the importance of clinical experience, stating, “there are coaching engagements that require the specific expertise of professionals who have been trained clinically — especially if sustained behavior change is the desired outcome.”

An executive coach’s personal characteristics also are key to coaching performance. Attending to peoples’ needs, while maintaining strict ethical standards regarding client privacy and confidentiality is nothing new to psychotherapists. The ability to develop a strong connection with the client is crucial to the success of an executive coaching relationship. Effective coaches establish trust and build rapport: the greater the rapport the greater potential for transformation and lasting results.


This article first appeared on LinkedIn.