Working with an Executive Coach

Rob Sadowsky toasts the best clients

I was interviewing for my big job, serving as the Executive Director of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation. The interviews were exhausting, three of them totaling more than eleven hours. But I made it through the gauntlet with one caveat: they wanted me to hire an executive coach. Actually, they assigned me an executive coach. I was a bit nervous about the idea, not sure what it meant. But the coach, Dr. Robert Wright, was impressive. His price tag was $250/hour, but he was offering pro bono services as a favor to our board chair.

I learned a lot in those sessions. I learned about myself, and what worked and didn’t work with coaching. Bob was not the right coach for me. He had no familiarity with nonprofit management or with advocacy, so it was often difficult to translate the issues I wanted to work on with his own experience. But even so, he was a calming influence and helped build my confidence as a manager.

Later on, I had the opportunity to work with other coaches, who were much more suited to my style. I’ve become a huge fan, so much that I enjoy coaching others myself. This article hopes to provide some guidance in working with an executive coach so you can get started on the right foot.

What is an executive coach?

There is no one formal “definition” or job description for an executive coach. But I like to see them as an individual who will work with others to become a better executive through listening, guiding, problem solving, and providing homework. Some coaches are strong motivators with philosophies of change (like Dr. Wright) and others see themselves more as a work therapist, ready to listen to your problems so you feel heard.

Some coaches have very formal procedures and systems that they use. Others work with you to design a system that works for you. For example, I worked with a coach, Ted Sarvata, who is affiliated with Gazelles International. Ted worked with me and my whole management team to learn a very specific accountability system based on the Rockefeller Habits. This style of coaching was perfect for me. I had a need to develop a better system of reporting and developing quarterly objectives and Ted had the goods. It was straightforward work with a clear beginning, middle and end. Ted provided this work pro bono as a donation to our organization.

My next coach, Michelle Sosinski, worked with me on something much more personal, elevating my Emotional Intelligence or EQ. This work was much more one on one, very much like therapy. Again, work that I looked forward to on an area that was identified by my board supervisors as an area of deficiency. I asked around for some referrals and found a coach who was amazing. We would meet weekly. I had reading assignments and even took a few tests to help better understand who I was, where my strengths lied and where were my struggles. Michelle was certified as a Hudson Master Coach. Using certified coaches can be wonderful. They come with training and often have a set of ethics and standards that are sound.

Why would you use an Executive Coach?

There are as many reasons to use a coach as problems that exist with managers. Unless you are perfect, and only my mother is perfect, then you can gain from guided work. If you have had an employee review, you can work with coaches to improve on weaknesses or even improve on strengths. Or you might want to work on a specific problem that your organization is having. I find using coaches to be more effective than taking a “management class” that rarely understands the intricacies of working in a non-profit environment.

What can you expect to pay?

This is a great question and depends on several things. First of all, your own regional market. Secondly, your need. Some coaches have high price tags, are coveted and work with very select clients. Others are less expensive but might not have the formal training. You can expect to pay anywhere from $50/hour to $500/hour. In a few situations, I have known coaches to offer discounted or pro bono services to nonprofits as a way to give back. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

How do I find a coach?

You ask around. You’d be surprised who is out there that knows a great coach. You should find someone that you trust, that can meet with you one on one (either in person or through video chat). Just like finding a therapist, you should find someone who fits your style and personality, not matching it, but one who you find personable and excited to work with you.

By Rob Sadowsky, S & G Endeavors

Rob works as a consultant and executive coach focusing on nonprofit organizations that are looking to level up. He can work with Executive Directors or upper tier managers looking to become better managers. Contact [email protected]


Trainer, consultant, strategic planner and executive coach for S & G Endeavors.

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