Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware!)


4 Things to Know Choosing an Executive Coach

Having an executive coach is a huge investment of time and money. As with many things, however, people want quick, fast, and cheap. Good coaches are none of these things, even though we are sometimes led to believe that.

Before you read any further, it should be said I am biased. I earned my M.Div., MSW, and had lengthy, rigorous internships focused on human behavior and relationship dynamics. I practiced as a psychotherapist for several years before working in corporate America for seven years. I have been serving my clients as a well-trained, transformative executive coach for nearly twenty years. And so, I am not one to encourage anything but the best when it comes to the pursuit of finding the right executive coach.

These are some rules of the road:

  • Holding a senior title in an organization does not mean a person is trained to be a coach
  • Completing an online certification program does not mean a person is versed in the nuanced complexities of human behavior, human dysfunction, and the complicated psychological dynamics of relationships, mental illness, and addiction (yes, all of which can be present even at the highest levels of success)
  • Writing a book does not mean a person has what it takes to deal honestly in real time with powerful executives.

The ability to truly connect with someone comes from spending time in their presence so you can pick up on body language, energy, and the powerful nuances.

When you choose an individual executive coach or a team coach, make sure you choose one that will give you a substantial ROI and an experience that will be transformative. Consider these four tips as you make your selection:

  1. Is your Coach Well Trained? In addition to hopefully having their own corporate employment experience, do they have an advanced degree in leadership/business, clinical behavior, organizational development, or psychology? Organizations are living, breathing organisms, and a well-trained coach must understand how to navigate these complex systems in addition to being well-versed in human, psychological behavior.
  2. Physician Heal Thyself! Is the coach you are considering participating regularly in their own personal, transformative growth? Do they have a coach? A therapist?
  3. Is your Coach Present? Phone coaching is a helpful supplement. However, it is no substitution for an in-person relationship. The ability to truly connect with someone comes from spending time in their presence so you can pick up on body language, energy, and the powerful nuances.
  4. Is Your Coach a Connected Leader? Do they practice and manifest: self-awareness, empathy, curiosity, accountability/trustworthiness, confidence, calm during uncertainty, and healthy connections? Are they appropriately transparent about their own struggles and the times they fall down? If they do these things then they will be more apt to be balanced and compassionate … yet also speak truth to bullshit, even if it comes from the corner office.

I recently received a call from the Chairman of a Board of Directors. Their CEO was unravelling, was emotionally unstable complete with explosive anger, and had been creating chaos for a long time. Based on what they were describing I felt very concerned. Within the first few minutes of the conversation, I hit the pause button and asked one question, “Has this person suffered any personal, childhood trauma that you know of? They sound like they are suffering from a possible borderline personality disorder.”

Without my clinical training I would not have been able to ask that question. The organization said they had other coaches that never had asked that question and that none of them worked out. Of course, not! In this particular situation, with the deep challenges associated with this CEO’s personality, Moses himself would not have been successful.

As a result, of the conversation I had with select members of the Board they decided to go a different route with the CEO: a route that would provide the appropriate psychological and psychiatric resources.

By all means pick someone with whom you feel comfortable and have good chemistry. This is critically important – just make sure that the other four tips above are explored as part of the conversation with the coach you are considering.

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Karen Hardwick brings decades of expertise to her work as a trusted advisor and coach to C-level and senior executives, their teams, and organizations.

Karen is known for sharing her own life-stories with clients in order to role-model transparency, foster connection and empathy, and enhance success. She has created a unique model for deepening connection — The Connected Leader™ — which gets to the core of a company and its people with compassion, intuition, and business savvy. Her upcoming book, The Connected Leader, is filled with her powerful voice and inspires others to lead with emotional wholeness, spiritual strength, and mental well-being in order to become their best selves and help others do the same.

Karen lives in Atlanta with her husband, Greg, and their 17-year-old son, Matthew, where she can be found around the table with friends and family eating nourishing, home-cooked meals and sharing stories. She is the biggest contributor to the family ‘swear jar,’ despite her daily practice of meditation and prayer. And above all, Karen believes that living a life of connection is courageous; a sacred calling that requires all we’ve got.

Karen J. Hardwick, M.Div., MSW


The Power of Connection

Karen is currently writing a book about how the power of connection can transform leaders into catalysts, groups into teams, and businesses into places where people lean in to courage, clarity, and compassion.

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