How to Interview an Executive Coach (or a Doula)

I hired an executive coach the same month that I hired a doula. As it turned out, these were pretty similar tasks. So, I thought it might be helpful to share some reflections about how I approached this process and a couple of questions that might help you, too.

First off, let’s start with some basics.

What Are They?

Executive Coach: Someone who coaches career professionals on their personal and professional development. Often, they serve as a “mirror” to their clients, reflecting back on themes or ideas that might be hard to see for yourself.
The Goal: Help you identify areas of self-awareness, identify any blindspots, and coach you through behavioral changes to help you “level up” your leadership skills.

Doula: Someone who coaches women through the process of giving birth. They stay by your side throughout the entire process of labor and delivery, offering a mix of coping mechanisms, motivation, and hands-on techniques until the baby is born.
The Goal: Help you and your partner manage through all of the sensations and stages of giving birth, including navigating relationships with the hospital or medical system.

How Coaches & Doulas are Similar:

  • There’s a spectrum of philosophies.
    Like any people-centric profession, there’s a wide range of approaches. You might speak with coaches that insist on mindful meditation or poetry readings at the start of each session, or with coaches who ask you to create a “business plan” for your personal development that they hold you accountable for. One doula I interviewed would only agree to work with me if I committed to meeting with her on a weekly basis for the four months leading up to my birth so we could form a stronger spiritual connection and bond. As a result of these gradients, the “personality fit” is key in both contexts.
  • Both relationships require work on your end.
    Yes, you are hiring someone to help you execute a task (“help me be a better leader” or “help me get this baby out!”), but neither one can do that work alone. With exec coaching, you need to be willing to be open-minded in your approach to professional development, challenge your own assumptions, and practice some new behaviors. Similarly, at the end of the day, no matter who else is in your hospital room, you are the only one who can push that baby out of your body. In both contexts, friction develops if you fight against your coach’s methods or practices too much. In other words, you need to first want their help in order to benefit from their help. It’s a two-sided street.

Interview Questions for Your Exec Coach (or Doula)

Question 1: What makes your practice or philosophy different from others?

Question 2: What does a session look like? What’s happening? How is it structured?

Question 3: What have your most successful client relationships had in common?

Pulling it all Together

While we’re clearly still in the thick of the process, I do believe that I chose well in both cases. In both relationships, I feel a deep sense of commitment in the relationship. And even though both individuals often ask me to explore new processes (in the case of my coach, a new way of thinking; in my doula’s case, a new way of helping me relax my muscles), I am willing to play in these new spaces because we are starting from a foundation of trust.

At the end of the day, whether you’re looking for a coach, a doula, a business partner, a romantic partner, or someone else, I imagine that’s what it all comes down to the most.

Originally published at Dry Erase.

GM @USV, alum of @StackOverflow and @NorthwesternU, board member at @CompSci_High and @NUalumni, co-founder of #BeyondCodingNYC

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