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Seven questions to ask when looking for an executive coach

By Staff

As more lawyers turn to professional and personal development, it’s helpful to understand how executive coaching works and what options are available, Toronto lawyer and certified executive coach Michael Bury tells

“Many members of the legal profession now see executive coaching as a practical investment in both themselves and the firm,” says Bury, founder of Blue Pond Coaching.

But he says the coach has to be a good fit and it’s important for the lawyer to do their due diligence before they make their final decision. He says there are seven key questions lawyers can ask when they’re shopping around for an executive coach.

1. How does the coaching process work?

An effective coach will walk you clearly through their process, says Bury.

“That process should include helping you determine your key challenges by finding where you’re starting from and exploring where you want to go,” he says.

He likens it to developing a roadmap based on measurable results. What’s essential is for the coach to explain how they will help you to learn new skills and behaviour, and how they will support you as you then transfer those proficiencies back to your daily law practice.

2. How long will it take?

Bury says it takes time to develop new skills and change ineffective ones.

“Six to 12-month commitments are common as new skills take time to build a practice,” he says. “Receiving feedback is also critical.

“It will likely take more than one session to start moving in a forward direction. A good coach will work with you to design a package to meet your needs.”

Find a minimum time commitment and set a reasonable time frame, he adds.

3. Can you share testimonials?

“Ask your coach for real-life stories. An experienced coach will be able to describe very specifically how they worked with others in the legal community to improve their personal and professional lives,” he says.

Bury says testimonials from other clients are often a good indicator of how effective the coach has been. Those who take the time to talk about the benefits of coaching will typically have something valuable to share, he adds.

The prospective coach should also be able to share these life stories with you.

4. Will this be private?

Bury emphasizes that this process is personal and good coaches will make agreements about confidentiality up front.

“If a potential coach is at all evasive or unclear about what’s being shared and what’s held in confidence, don’t waste your time, look elsewhere,” he says. “The last thing you need is gossip that could potentially damage your legal career.”

5. Can I try it first?

For those who have never had a coach before, the process might seem somewhat intimidating or even embarrassing because you’re talking about your strengths and weaknesses with a complete stranger, Bury says.

But many executive coaches offer a complimentary session, either in person or via Skype, he says. That allows the lawyer in search of a coach to assess if it’s a good fit.

“Try before you buy. Or at least have a good conversation to get a sense of your prospective coach’s personality and style,” Bury says.

6. What’s your specialty?

Executive coaches can be specialists or generalists but Bury warns to make sure they’re not too general.

“Be wary of coaches who claim they can solve everything from weight loss to helping with a divorce and planning your next career change,” he says.

Bury suggests asking if your needs fall within the coach’s specialty. He says it also helps if the coach has a deep knowledge of your profession so they can appreciate the issues. Someone who has worked in the profession will understand where you are coming from.

7. Is coaching what I really need?

Coaching is not a substitute from mental health counselling, he says.

“Coaching is usually about the here and now and future planning,” Bury says. “It is forward thinking and deals with setting and changing behaviours that may be getting in the way.”

But mental health counselling often involves looking at the past to examine current difficulties and often includes an element of distress.

“Coaching is about setting and reaching goals with a coach you can trust,” Bury concludes.

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