Supercharge Yourself: The Why and How of Working With Executive Coaches

by Melissa TauntonDec 17, 2019

When we partner with founders, we are committed to not only helping them grow their companies, but also to helping them grow as leaders. We do this through feedback, 1-1 mentoring, events, and curated group sessions with fellow founders. We are also deep believers in the value of executive coaching as a personalized method of self-improvement and a way to gain meaningful exposure to best practices. Engaging with a coach is brave, because it requires you to hold up a mirror to yourself. It is difficult, but doing the work creates breakthroughs. We’ve experiences ourselves and seen firsthand within our portfolio the benefits of helping CEOs and executives level-up to organization-wide challenges and build self-awareness. Nearly fifty percent of NEA CEOs have an executive coach and have reported significantly improved outcomes in not only their business’ well-being, but also in their personal and emotional wellness.

At NEA, many of us also use or have used executive coaches. Personally, I’ve [Amit] been involved in extensive coaching practices for the past few months, and have seen tremendous benefits. The increase in my self-awareness has been both illuminating and fulfilling. I worked with
my coach to find an area of personal development (demonstrating more empathy) and have actively made progress on improving this over the course of the year.

Still, for first-time founders and even more experienced leaders who have not yet explored executive coaching, how to begin the process is somewhat of a black box—so we wanted to help. We recently partnered with Nina Church, executive coach and matchmaker, for a candid discussion on the why and how of working with executive coaches. Here are the takeaways...

Why seek an executive coach?

As humans, we are terrible at self-awareness, which is directly correlated to our bottom line and to a team’s desire to work with us. To combat this, an executive coach will roll up their sleeves and help you see your organization clearly. They will help you identify blind spots, extinguish fires more quickly, and fulfill the realization that a virtuous cycle of feedback truly enhances outcomes. A great coach will also guide you to finding the correct answers about yourself in your business—rather than having the answers to every pain point of your business (i.e. a consultant).

What are the different types of coaches?

There are three key types of individuals who work with executives to improve outcomes—mentors, consultants, and coaches.

  • Mentors are people with several more years of experience in your position who can provide high level anecdotes and tactical advice. They typically give you words of wisdom and inspire you more broadly rather than getting into the weeds and actually helping execute on your goals.

  • Consultants are brought into an organization to perform a specific task within their realm of expertise—for example, a sales consultant may help craft emails to a specific customer. They will typically do a bulk of the execution, and you will mostly outsource the work to them rather than being deeply involved in the nitty gritty details.

  • Coaches will help you develop self-awareness and empower you to evolve and scale. They will help you identify areas where investing time and effort can bring forth significant progress and can hold you accountable to your goals. Instead of writing the sales email to your customer, a coach may help you identify the emotional block that is preventing you from writing an effective email in the first place.

Most coaches also serve as mentors in the leadership realm, and can also be therapists in helping you overcome emotional setbacks. It is best for you to find a coach that has a mix of all of these characteristics as you optimize for areas where you are seeking the most improvement.

When is the right time to seek an executive coach?

JD Ross of Opendoor states that the right time to seek a coach is when “you’re no longer being primarily measured by your personal output, but by the collective output of other people.” For example, in the instance that you blew a really important meeting, it is okay if it only affects you and perhaps your CTO, but if it’s a teamwide meeting focused on quarterly KPI’s, you have suddenly incurred a much higher cost—that of your entire team’s progress. During a time when your decisions have truly multiplicative effects for you and your direct reports, it is critical to seek an executive coach.

It is never too early to do this reflective work and show up better as a person in every area of your life.

How to find a coach?

Executive coach matchmaking services, such as Nina’s, can be extremely helpful in navigating through the field of options. If you are approaching the search on your own however, the following approach can yield great results::

  1. Write a spec for what you’re looking for in a coach. We recommend using diagnostic tools such as the HuMethod to be more precise. Additionally, think of the times you have worked with a great coach in the past—i.e.your high school swim coach or college debate coach—and reflect upon the characteristics that set him/her apart from the other coaches in your life.

  2. Reach out to your network of founders, executives, and investors with your spec to see who they’d recommend. Coaching groups such as the Conscious Leadership Group, Reboot, and 10x are also useful resources.

  3. Once you find a coach, we would recommend doing 1-4 practice sessions with them before committing. Some coaches may even have complimentary sessions. Think of this as an investment, with a solid ROI even if you have an initially rocky start.

  4. To evaluate your coach before fully committing, ask for references. We would recommend asking for two references from clients with positive experiences and one reference from client who has moved on and didn’t find the relationship to be particularly fruitful.

We hope this helps you on your journey as a startup leader and constantly scaling up. In addition to looking for an executive coach, we’d also recommend reading a few books on coaching, which is an affordable lens into what sort of skills you could work on with a coach and how you might benefit. Some of our favorite books are:


About the Authors

Melissa Taunton