Career Advice

6 Ways to Get the Most Out of a Leadership Coach

As a new executive or entrepreneur, you’re probably juggling what feels like a million competing priorities all at once. Big changes are happening all around you, and you need to learn quickly. No pressure. 

Increasingly, new leaders are turning to leadership coaches for help with everything from developing 30/60/90 day plans and managing performance to cultivating a company mission and avoiding burnout. And they’re smart to do so. Why not learn from those who’ve been there before? 

Coaching requires an investment of your time and your money, so you want to be sure that you’re maximizing your ROI. (And as a quick aside, don’t be afraid to get creative with coaching packages – if you can’t afford six sessions, ask for three). Here’s how you can get the most out of your coaching relationship, according to some of my most successful C-level clients and fellow coaches.   

#1 Find the Right Match

Look for a coach who you connect with, respect, and feel comfortable turning to with challenging situations. Cindi Bright, President of the Bright Group suggests keeping in mind that “the right match may be someone who doesn’t fit your typical level of comfort.” Growth comes from discomfort, so finding a coach who will challenge your preconceived notions may be just what you need. A great coach will offer support and encouragement, be tough when needed, and be resourceful. They may not always have the answer, but they know where to look.

As you explore your coaching options, remember that in this space, reputation matters. Anyone can call themselves a leadership coach, so be sure you take a hard look at their accreditation, methodology, industry expertise and track record. 

#2 Set Realistic Goals

Nothing happens overnight. Have a candid conversation with your coach about where you are now and where you’d like to be. From there, you’ll be able to set attainable goals – together. Meara Clark, founder of Work with Candor advises, that “every coaching engagement should have some kind of written agenda. It could be one word, like “Action” or three specific goals, like delegating administrative tasks, practicing e-team presentations and creating accountability in one on ones.”

I know it may be tempting to try to tackle all of your goals at once, but selecting your top three will feel much more manageable. Be patient. If you’ve never managed a team before, it’s going to take some time for you to get comfortable making hiring decisions and delivering critical feedback. You’ll get there eventually.

#3 Be a Voracious Learner 

In the wise words of my client, Max Makin, Co-Founder and CTO at Modern Electron, “gobble up as much information as you can.” Take notes, ask questions. Be curious. The best mentees have a healthy dose of self-awareness and a genuine desire to be their best.

The most successful clients show up ready and willing to learn. That also includes being prepared to hear tough feedback. 

#4 Ask for Help

After all, that’s what your coach is for. They don’t expect you to have all the answers (even though your employees might), so don’t be afraid to ask for help and be vulnerable if you’re feeling stuck. We all need help sometimes. 

I know this can be challenging. The vast majority of my clients are type-A, high achievers who believe they should be able to figure everything out on their own. But, as Teri Citterman, Forbes Contributor and Executive Coach at Talonn LLC wisely advises, “the ‘going it alone’ approach is not scalable.” You don’t need to do this on your own. Turning to a coach doesn’t make you a failure – it makes you wise. 

#5 Be Ready to Push Yourself

Or as Max puts it, “don’t rest on your laurels.” The whole point of working with a coach is to become the best leader you can be. So be prepared to challenge yourself. Ask your coach for feedback about what you’re doing well and where you can improve.

Getting feedback can be tough for some – especially those who feel like they need to have all the answers. But I promise you that honest, constructive feedback is the most direct path to improvement. And if your coach isn’t able to be straight up with you, find one who will. 

#6 Be Radically Honest

The goal isn’t to pull the wool over your coach’s eyes. If you aren’t upfront about your leadership style and opportunities for improvement, what’s the point? Meara advises, “being radically honest with yourself and your coach allows you to learn from failure or inaction, evolve your goals, and maintain a growth mindset.” Remember that your coach isn’t here to judge you, and she can’t help you if she doesn’t have the full picture. Being honest about your behavior, your patterns, and your missteps will enable your coach to steer you in the right direction. 

This goes both ways, so don’t be shy about giving feedback to your coach too. If you disagree with something or their approach is not working for you, say so. 

Partnering with a coach can have an invaluable impact on your success as a leader. But, given the constraints on your time, and possibly your budget, you’ll want to be sure that you’re optimizing every minute you have with your coach. Finding the right match, being prepared to learn and accept feedback, and showing up with an open mind will help maximize your return on investment – not to mention empower you to become the best leader you can be. 


Mikaela is the founder and CEO of uniquelyHR, providing fast-growth companies including startups and scale-ups with flexible HR services from consulting to leadership development and executive coaching. Prior to founding her company, Mikaela was an HR leader with several iconic Northwest brands including Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, PopCap Games and Redfin. Mikaela continues to work as an executive coach specializing in CEO and leadership development and working with high potential women leaders. Find her on Twitter @uniquelyHR or LinkedIn.

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