How to Ask for an Executive Coach
Are you taking on a stretch assignment? Responsible for delivering breakthrough results? Are you being asked to deliver a project where the stakes are high and the risk of failure is great? Perhaps it’s a new product, a new business, a turn-around or a merger integration… or maybe it’s just a really important project or a new team.
These are the times that challenge even the most seasoned executives on a good day. Of course, you wouldn’t be tapped to do the work if you weren’t capable, and you likely have a proven track record of success. And let’s face it, as a senior leader, learning through big opportunities is a lot more effective than attending a class.
But what if you could accelerate that learning, minimize the risk, optimize the chance of success, AND deliver results faster? This is what a great executive business coach can do for you. Yes, a senior-level executive coach is an investment. The question is when the chips are down and results (and your development) matter, how can you or your organization afford NOT to give you the best chance of success? That’s what you should be asking.
Now, to be clear, I’m NOT talking about the armies of junior-level coaches who populate cohort organizations who do generic executive coaching. Most of that is question-based and designed to help you examine yourself and your feelings. That certainly has its place, but when results matter and you’ve got to deliver, you need an experienced business advisor who has seen similar situations and can help you navigate rough waters. They may ask about your feelings, but they are a lot more likely to recommend solutions and become your thought partner to drive the results you need. I’m talking about someone with the critical experience to get to know your situation, help you strategize, advise you, and help you see around corners you don’t even know are there yet because they’ve seen those corners before. Perhaps more business advisor than a coach.
If this sounds relevant to you, the first thing you need to do is figure out how to ask for one. Here are a few tips:
1. Build the business case.
Know exactly what you are being asked to deliver and what it is worth to the company. Understand the consequences (the stakes) if you fail AND if you succeed. Anything you can quantify is likely most helpful, but think through impacts on the organization, the team, and your boss (positive AND negative). Think about the precedent the work will set for the organization and the value of getting that right the first time. When you can clearly articulate through this lens, suddenly the cost of coaching might not seem like a large percentage.
I had a client once who was responsible for launching a new product. While my fees paled in comparison to the opportunity the product represented to the company, what really sealed the deal was that in addition to developing this product, the organization wanted to use this experience to build a process for incubating other new products. Much of my work included capturing learnings and establishing precedents that could be replicated to do just that.
2. Talk to the right person.
It makes no sense to ask for a coach from someone who doesn’t have the authority to make that decision or who is likely to say no. If you know your boss does not have the appropriate spending authority or has had a bad experience with a coach, be judicious in who you choose to approach. Perhaps HR or your boss’s boss would be more appropriate. This play is about accelerating your experience and giving you the best chance of success. Identify the person above you who has the most to lose if you fail. You want to preserve both your credibility AND theirs in mitigating any risk of failure. An onboarding coach with the right set of questions can meet with HR, the recruiter, and a set of key stakeholders before you step foot in the door. There is an enormous advantage in having an advocate on day one who understands critical stakeholder expectations of you; picks up on any misalignment, cultural nuances, things to do/not do right up front; understands the legacy of your predecessors and key messages you need to send right away. Of course, you’ll likely learn all this eventually, but imagine having it all before you walk in the door so you can plan your first steps accordingly. This can literally shave months off your ‘ ramp-up’ time.
3. Ask for the “right” coach.
Make sure you’re asking for a very experienced executive coach or a business advisor if that is what you need. I have one Fortune 100 client who has a contract with a large coaching consortium for what they call “executive coaching.” These coaches are generally experienced at coaching but not at delivering business results. Most have never run a P&L. They do behavioral coaching and while that can be quite revealing, they simply don’t have the business experience to strategize and help solve business issues. For this client, we call what I do “business advisory”. That way I don’t compete with their cohort which does something entirely different and they don’t get in trouble for hiring a coach outside of their established contract. In your organization, find out if semantics matter and ask for someone who meets the criteria and services you need, even if they are outside the norm.
4. Make your request with confidence.
Asking for a coach is not a weakness. It is a sure way to reduce risk and is a best practice at many Fortune 500 companies. You can ask with confidence knowing that this is a strong statement that you want the best for the organization and are willing to do what it takes to develop yourself and deliver it. You are being creative to accelerate your experience to provide the best chance of success. Your coach will provide an objective point of view, loads of experience, and act as a confidential thought partner to help you demonstrate visible leadership quickly.
There are a few factors that may increase the justification for a business advisor/executive coach. Certainly, the higher the level of investment the organization is making in the work, the less likely they will be willing to risk failure, and the smaller percentage the coach’s fee will be. The more critical that project is to the organization, the more reasonable it is to consider coaching. The speed with which the company would like to see results can also provide a reason to ensure acceleration.