Executive coaching – a chemical reaction?

There’s a lot of talk about chemistry in coaching, especially executive-level coaching. When choosing a new coach, aside from their experience and specialist knowledge, you’re told to look for someone with whom you have chemistry, a connection, a good gut feeling. In any other recruitment scenario, this is seen as dangerously close to looking to hire ‘people like you’. But with the very personal nature of the coaching relationship (and coaching conversations) it seems reasonable to include the criteria of ‘chemistry’ for someone you’re expected to be so open with.

Indeed, our own website cites “Prioritising logic over chemistry” as one of the three most common mistakes when choosing a coach, on the grounds that, “unless it ‘feels right’ you’re unlikely to work well together.”

Finding the chemistry

Executive coaching is well-established as helping with a wide range of boardroom and senior executive challenges, including business change and transitions, stakeholder engagement, personal impact and influencing with integrity, developing resilience, and managing senior teams. And on all these issues, you should expect a coach to bring some professional experience to the table. But what about the elusive chemistry? What is it, and how do you test for it when meeting a potential coach for the first time?

The so-called ‘chemistry meeting’

The first meeting between you is a chance to check each other out, in particular going beyond the contents of anyone’s CV and trying to find a deeper, or at least more personal connection that can support future coaching sessions.

Yes, during this meeting, you’ll also probably discuss your desired outcomes and goals, coaching methodologies, confidentiality, the length and frequency of sessions, the question of feedback to the organisation, and so on. But as for chemistry, how do you know it when you have it. Leaving aside such unhelpful (though undoubtedly true) bromides such as, you’ll know it when you see it (which risks putting executive coaching in the same category as elephants and true love) the more observable outcomes you’re looking for from a chemistry meeting are:

  • A feeling of having been listened to.
  • A sense of respect for your experience and what you’ve done so far (however much you have still to do).
  • A feeling of confidence that the coach understands your situation
  • A sense of having been challenged (supportively, of course).
  • A feeling of unity of goals (though the route map may be subject to a lot of further discussion).

Usually, these impressions are left not by the factual content of the conversation or answers to your questions, but rather by their manner of speaking and communicating. Yes, the ‘facts’ are important, as is the coach’s personal competence and experience, but that nebulous chemistry is important too. What helps is to consider beforehand examples of people with whom you’ve had (workplace) chemistry in the past – for you, personally, what did that feel like – the more you can define past chemistry, the easier you’ll spot it in the future.

You’re not the only assessor

Finally, remember that a good coach is assessing the chemistry during the meeting too because they’re looking for a client with whom they can make a difference, succeed. What are they looking for in terms of observable behaviour? Apart from the facts about your career and goals, strengths and weaknesses, they’re also looking to gauge your motivation and commitment; your levels of self-awareness and perception; and your openness to change and development.


For more on the executive coaching and finding the right coach for you or your board, check out our executive coaching page; or give us a call on 01582 463465. We’re here to help.

Categories: Boardroom, Training

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