How Leaders Select The Right Coach


By Jas Singh

About a year ago, I finally started to take golf lessons. A lot of my friends have taken up golf in the last few years as my age group becomes less, ahem, “agile”. And now that I am starting to think that the phone call from Manchester United Football Club might not come, I thought it might be a good idea to give golf a try.

I can firmly say that golf is the most frustrating sport I have ever played. After 6 months, my progress had been limited. You see, it’s all to do with technique – there are a lot of moving parts to consider. I tried 4 different coaches, but just couldn’t build the consistency required.

On the verge of giving up, my next door neighbour recommended I try a part-time coach he knew. Apparently he had a different approach – rather than teach you the perfect swing from scratch, he worked backwards – he would look at your “natural” swing and try to suggest improvements to make it better.

On the first lesson, all he asked me to do was hit a hundred balls with a 7 iron. He just wanted to observe what I was doing. I must admit, at the time I thought it must have been the easiest £20 he’d made in his life. After half an hour of consistent hooking and slicing (with the very occasional straight shot) he finally spoke. “Try keeping your right arm straight” he said. “You’ll probably hit it straighter”. Twenty quid for that I thought?! But he was right. Rather than one in every 20 balls going right, it was now one in every seven or so.

And so he went on. Each lesson, he’d just focus on one aspect – stance, striking, follow through and so on. After 10 lessons, most of my balls were going straight – although admittedly not very far….(something I’m still working on…).

Coaching is a multi-billion dollar and fast growing industry. Top leaders understand the benefit of learning from an expert so they can develop outstanding skill sets and make better business decisions.

But just like my golf teacher, not all coaches are equal. Leaders must select the coaches that are best suited to them. The following guidelines may help:


1. What’s their speciality?

No-one can do everything. Everyone has a particular specialism and generally speaking the more focussed the coach, the greater the impact they can have for leaders seeking that particular specialism.

For example, my coach mentioned from the very start that his main “speciality” was getting first-timers to improve what they have. He almost created a “manufactured” swing for me to help me hit the ball straighter and at least compete with my friends. It was never intended to for me to hit the ball 300 yards like Rory McIlroy. A good choice for a thirty something amateur – not the best for a young prodigy looking to compete for majors someday.

What’s the “sweet spot” of the coach you are considering?


2. What’s their coaching style?

As a hiring specialist for the past ten years, I can confidently say that people learn best from those who they get along with. Essential to learning is making sure that the personality of the coach and the student match – wasn’t it always the teachers that you liked the most where you tended to perform better at school?

Rather than just looking at reputation, leaders should also ensure that coaches use a style that resonates with them. Formal or Casual? Theory based or practical? On-the-spot assessment or project based?

One of the best CEO’s I know, uses a leadership coach every Sunday morning. They always meet for breakfast after they attend the local church.

What style suits you best?

3. How flexible is their program?

When I first decided I was going to offer a more value based hiring service to my clients rather than just find candidates for searches, I was excited. In my enthusiasm I made sure I was fully prepared – I had powerpoints, brochures, case studies, training programs – you name it.

I discovered quickly my approach didn’t work. My clients understood the value of developing their own hiring power, but didn’t have the time to continuously learn the methodology as well as go about their day jobs.

I had to become more flexible based on their schedule – often factoring some of the new concepts into the candidate screening process (and describing them as we de-briefed on candidates) or breaking down the information into smaller more actionable items.

Leaders are busy – and need to be able to respond in an emergency. In order for them to follow through and use coaching effectively it must be flexible based on their requirements. Weekly or monthly? Can we do a conference call or webinar if I have to travel? Can you do a Sunday?

Coaching only works if used regularly – which often requires flexibility on behalf of the coach.


4. How do they measure success?

All learning works best when there is an end goal in mind. An outcome that can be measured.

It’s essential that both coaches and leaders begin with the end in mind so that they can work towards that goal as effectively and quickly as possible. The simpler and easier to measure the outcome the better.

As a hiring coach I always insist that my hiring managers have a single, most important performance outcome they are trying to achieve. Sell $250,000 of software in the first 12 months? Build the new product proto-type by December? Increase the profitability of the company by 10% in the next 2 years?

All great coaches hold themselves accountable to results by a deadline.


Executive coaching is a billion dollar and fast growing industry, with numerous studies showing that executives that use coaching perform considerably better.

Whether it is for leadership, hiring, strategy or anything else, in the increasingly competitive business world, those who seek the advice of experts will perform better than those who use trial and error.

Hiring managers need to make sure they partner with the coaches and specialists – either internally or externally – to ensure they hire people who are most likely to perform.

Whose your hiring coach?

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