January 28, 2022

The 5 Questions to Ask Before Agreeing to Coach an Executive Coaching Client

Is Your Exec Ready for Coaching

Is your potential executive coaching client ready for coaching? Answer the five questions in this blog to find out!

I have been coaching execs and biz owners since 1999.  It has been the joy of my life.  And…at times, it has been a pain in the rear, and here is why:

It is not uncommon for the CEO to call me and say “Umm….we have a problem on our team.  John Smith (totally fictitious name) is just not fitting in.  He is great…really great at what he does, but we are having a problem with him, and he needs coaching.

You know what I think?

The CEO needs coaching!

This scenario of a CEO calling a coach to come in and “fix” the problem team member is just never a good idea…trust me.  Every time I go behind closed doors, perform a 360 degree feedback or talk to members of the team about the “potential client”, the CEO comes up in the conversation.  I have never had a client where this did not happen.

There is an old saying that “S— does not flow upstream.  It flows downstream”.  So, if there is a “problem child” on the team, it always makes me wonder why in the heck the CEO hired this team member or what he has done to help the situation.

I know that we all know the score of “Are you ready for coaching?”  My question for the CEOs are a bit different.  I always ask 5 questions:

Please know that the name Bill is totally fictitious…I actually chose it, because I have never coached an exec named Bill.

Here’s what I do.  I sit down with the CEO, we exchange a little bit of chat, and I then go for the core questions:

Was the coaching YOUR idea or Bill’s idea? If bringing in the coach was the CEO’s idea, Bill may be totally ticked that you are being called in to coach him.  It may be that the CEO needs coaching, and Bill knows it.  To be singled out as someone who “needs coaching” is still a bit of a stigma, so just know that before going in.

If the coaching does not work, are you planning on firing Bill? I know this is a direct question, but as coaches, we are not saviors.  We cannot “save” someone from the inevitable pink slip.  If the company is trying coaching as the last option before letting them go on their merry way, I would run in a heartbeat.  At the end, you will be blamed for not “healing Bill”.

Can Bill do the job you are asking him to do? I have been hired multiple times to “make a manager or a great employee into a leader”.  This just does not always work.  Some people are great technicians and great managers (getting the to do list done, staying on task) but they are never going to be leaders.  I am going to talk out of the other side of my mouth right now…I believe that everyone can be a leader but only if the desire is there.  You can TRAIN people into leadership roles.  I have seen it multiple times.   But at the end of the day, if a technician or a manager does not want to really be a leader (driving vision, inspiring people, moving in a strategic direction), you may just be taking money for an end result you will never see.

How does Bill respond to constructive feedback? This is a BIG question.  Many CEOs fumble around with this question, because they have never given feedback due to a fear of confrontation.  Again…a red flag.  The CEO needs coaching…not Bill.  Having said that, if Bill is open to feedback, he may be a GREAT coaching client.  If he wants to argue with you about the feedback and has no interest in hearing the feedback, you will feel like you are pushing string.

As the CEO, how open are YOU to coaching? It is not uncommon for the CEO to be pulled into the coaching of a team leader at some point in the game.  So, make sure the CEO is open to and supports coaching.  If he doesn’t, then again, it may not work.  Once you leave, who is going to be responsible for Bill?  You got it!  The head guy or gal!

I would love to encourage comments from any of you who are coaching executive clients and how you handle these scenarios.  Thanks everyone for chiming in!

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