When you’re looking to work with an executive coach do you ever need a coach with a specialism? TPC Leadership’s founder Charles Brook explores the factors you should consider.
As a baseline, you would hope that an executive coach has a background in leadership themselves. If for no other reason than so they understand the weight of your decisions as a leader. But should you look for leadership coaches with specialisms beyond the general executive world?
They might understand you better
“To effectively communicate, we must realise that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” – Tony Robbins, entrepreneur and coach
Sometimes you need a specialist to talk to a specialist. It’s difficult to trust someone who doesn’t seem to understand you. Trust is essential to making any coach – leader dynamic work. If an executive of an IT company knows their coach has a background in coding, it can help them to feel in safe hands.
TPCL coaches come from all kinds of backgrounds including education, business science, philosophy, psychology and neuroscience. Our founders bring specialisms to their coaching too – for Andrew McDowell it is health and psychology, whereas Charles Brook has years of experience in business and sport.
Their experience might be relevant
“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus, Greek Philosopher
Which is more important: specialist corporate or coaching experience? Every coach is an amalgamation of both, but some will have spent thirty years in their field before beginning to think about coaching, whereas others will have been coaching for decades.
For those that like formulas, there isn’t one here. Although a coach may have been the CEO of an insurance company, that doesn’t mean they stayed true to their values, resolved conflict well or experienced a happy life during that time. Specialist experience helps a coach to engage with the complexity of a leader’s work, but it doesn’t prove they are proficient.
It’s worth being aware of a certain kind of executive coach, who’s story looks like this: They spent their life operating in a dysfunctional manner, reached burnout, recovered slightly before deciding that they will be a leadership coach (in their specialist field) to prevent the same thing happening to others. They may have some success as a coach, but at no point in their tale did they learn to lead others in a holistically successful way. In the words of Oscar Wilde, sometimes ‘’experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.’’
It’s not about expertise
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller, the first deaf-blind person to achieve a degree.
Ultimately a coach’s role is not to give you specialist advice in your field. Their purpose is to help you find the answers yourself. Be wary of coaches that jump quickly into giving you a diagnosis and cure. Lasting change isn’t found in specialist advice; it requires you to do the hard work of introspection that digs way below the surface.
The best coaches are the ones who have gone to the depths themselves. They are self-aware and have learned to navigate the unknown, to resolve conflict in their relationships. They have learned that coaching is about skilful listening more than knowledge and that leaders are unique and cannot just be forced through a cookie cutter coaching model.
There is another kind of specialist coach though: They might be practised at helping leaders find their voice, or adept at helping executives recover from burnout, or at enabling teams to resolve conflict. They may have a relevant background that helps you feel in safe hands – or they may just be such an expert listener that you trust them regardless.
For further advice on what to look for in an executive coach, read our 15 signs a coach can deliver what they claim.