How to Interview an Executive Coach (or a Doula)
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:
They are both *really* up in your personal business. I can think of few other professions where you hire someone with the explicit task of seeing you at your best and at your worst. Exec coaches have a penchant for asking just a few more personal questions than you might feel comfortable answering, stripping away your “professional mask” and leading to a level of vulnerability that might feel foreign to you in a work context. And doulas will quite literally see everything...the way you contort your body in discomfort, the fluids you excrete from multiple orifices, the tears you shed. They may hold the unique honor of being one of the few people on the planet who may ever hear you moo like a cow in pain. Given all this, trust in both relationships is paramount to your mutual success.
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.