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Questions to ask a leadership coach to find the right fit

Updated: Nov 28, 2023

Have you ever considered working with a leadership coach to reach your personal or professional goals, but quickly became overwhelmed by the sheer number of options out there? If so, you are not alone.

In the past 10 years there has been a seemingly endless stream of executive coaches entering the profession with more arriving each day. But how many of these coaches are truly experts?

Beginner vs certified executive coach

Because of the low barrier to entry into the coaching industry, unqualified people can become “coaches” with little to no experience and minimal training. For example, there are “coaching programs” out there that will certify an individual after as little as 4 hours of training.

To make matters worse, a glitzy website and marketing campaign can quickly make a rank amateur look like a seasoned professional. This can make differentiating an experienced executive coach from a novice one a daunting task.

Mentoring vs leadership coaching

There is also a distinct difference between mentoring and coaching. Sometimes mentors mistakenly position themselves as leadership coaches simply because they have worked in a particular field or have had specific experiences. They may make a very qualified mentor because they are willing to share their experience and provide guidance, but that in and of itself does not qualify them as a coach.

While a mentoring approach is centered around a person’s individual background, working with an executive coach is a more comprehensive, holistic experience. Coaches pose questions, help clients connect the dots, set accountability standards, and create a safe, supportive environment for clients to share what they’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing in relation to their coaching goals. A coach is someone who provides the tools and solutions that help their clients overcome their obstacles, achieve their goals, and reach their full potential.

For example, one of my clients had worked in HR for ten years and had positioned herself as an executive coach. However, during our conversation she realized she was not providing tools and solutions for change as a coach would. Instead, she was sharing her own experience and providing tips to guide others toward success, but was not supplying the actionable tools and posing thought-provoking questions as a coach would. This realization helped her gain clarity in her work and excel at mentoring others in her field.

Now that you can identify the key differences between a mentor and a leadership coach, you will be able to quickly decipher between the two when talking with a potential coach.

Most leadership coaches will offer a preliminary, complimentary call or meeting for you to share your goals and to determine if working with them may be a potentially good fit. During the initial meeting, a good coach should come prepared to ask insightful questions to discover your needs.

Choosing a leadership coach

You should also approach this preliminary meeting prepared to determine not only if this coach has the experience and qualifications necessary to help you, but also whether or not you feel a connection with them as someone you can know, like, and trust. One way to determine the level of expertise this coach may have and whether or not they are qualified to help you is to ask the following questions:

How long have you been an executive coach?

While many executive coaches may be “certified”, it is crucial that your coach has extensive experience working with clients from various backgrounds and with different struggles.

What is your training and certification?

With the amount of programs and organizations that can certify someone as a leadership coach in a short period of time, it is crucial that your coach be thoroughly trained and certified in different areas of coaching.

How many clients have you served with similar needs and/or in my industry? For example, in the field of finance, IT, or real estate.

When searching for an executive coach, it is important to ensure that the person you hire has experience coaching people around your specific goals or in your specific industry or role, as each career comes with different challenges and solutions to those challenges.

Do you have any other careers or is this your full-time business?

This question will inform you on whether or not this is their full-time career or a side hustle. While there is nothing wrong with a side hustle, leadership coaching is a significant investment and you need to ensure you’re investing with a person who has serious credentials and experience and that coaching is their primary career focus.

A few more good questions to ask a executive coach

Aside from coaching certifications, what other professional organizations are they certified by?

There are a multitude of highly-accredited organizations that businesses can become certified by, and those certifications are an indicator of the legitimacy and standards of the business. For example, Coach Monique and Associates™ is verified by both the largest certifier of women-owned businesses in the U.S., Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), and the leading non-profit for business disability inclusion worldwide, Disability:IN. Other examples include veteran and minority-owned business certifications such as the Veteran Owned Small Business (VOSB) and the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) certifications. The standards for these certifications are rigorous and require official documentation and on-site visits to confirm application documentation and are legally binding. When you find a business that is certified by these or other highly-recognized professional organizations, you can be sure that it is a well-vetted business.

Does this executive coach have a physical location or are they simply an online business?

Even though I work with clients around the world, many clients have shared that my having a full-time professional office contributed to my credibility with them during our initial conversation and was a key factor in them deciding to work with me, even if they knew they would never actually come to my office.

Are their online platforms, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, or whatever else they use branded and consistently updated?

For example, if they write blogs but haven’t posted a new one in 3 months, that is a potential issue. I myself was looking for an executive coach a few years ago and one person’s website stood out to me. It was professional, provided value, and made it seem as though coaching was his full-time career. However when I viewed his socials, they had not been updated in over a year. This was a red flag for me, and through more research I discovered that executive coaching was his side hustle, not his full-time business. After this experience, I learned not to put a large emphasis on someone’s website alone, but to look at their online presence across all platforms.

How do you know if a leadership coach is legit?

When asking these crucial questions, it is important to remember that a great coach is willing to answer you with transparency. If their answers flow easily and add value, insight, and clarity to you, it is likely that they are an experienced leadership coach who is a potentially great fit for you. But if they leave you feeling uncertain or confused about how they work, they are likely not the best choice.

When a great executive coach is answering these questions, they will also be vetting you to determine if you are a good fit and they feel you are someone they can help. An experienced coach knows their capability, respects their own capacity, and should have the intuition or experience to recognize who their ideal client is and not be afraid to express when a potential client is not a good match. When that happens, a great coach will make recommendations to other coaches or resources that might be better for you.

As a leadership coach who has served over 1,200 clients with diverse needs such as leading successful businesses and managing the complexity of family-owned businesses, Coach Monique’s 17 years of experience combined with over 8 certifications has given her the expertise to help you ask all the right questions when talking with a potential coach. This is why she has developed the Questions to Ask a Potential Leadership Coach To Find The Right Fit Guide to help you eliminate unqualified coaches, organize your search, and ultimately vet the perfect executive coach for you. It includes all the essential questions to ask a potential coach and tips on what to look for in order to determine if they are the right fit for you and your goals.

Finding a coach that fits your needs

To get the full complimentary copy of Coach Monique’s free Questions to Ask a Potential Leadership Coach to Find the Right Fit Guide, which includes more essential questions to ask and things to look for when searching for a leadership coach, click here to have it delivered directly to your inbox.


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