Getting the most from your executive coach

In a recent post, we wrote about choosing the right coach and preparing for your sessions. In this week’s post, we look at ways you can put in the effort and maximise the outcomes from your coaching experience.

Your organisation has decided to invest in you by engaging an executive coach. Or you’ve decided to invest in yourself. Either way executive coaching is a significant investment in time and money, so you want to make the most of this experience.

Executive Coach Exchange hurdle pixabay domeckopol
Putting the effort into your coaching sessions can help you clear career hurdles

Stephen Key has written about coaching as a two-way street and suggests 11 steps to take to get the most from this experience. Amongst these are some we believe are critical to your success:

  • Get in the habit of recapping what you’ve learned via action steps. What are you going to do next? Document what you are planning to do and share this with your coach.
  • Make the focus of your course a top priority. Actively work toward accomplishing assigned tasks each week. Look for ways to get the work done, not for excuses as to why you couldn’t.
  • Listen with the intent to take action. Focus on action steps at all times. There’s a big difference between passively taking something in and actively noting what needs to be done. All the instruction in the world won’t help if it falls on deaf ears.
  • Do the work. Better yet, return asking for more.
  • Be patient. Nothing happens overnight. Accept that it might take longer than you want.

Joyce E.A. Russell from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business advises that for executives to get the most out of the coaching they should:

  • Periodically provide feedback to their coach about what is working or not in their sessions.
  • Remain open to the feedback they get in return. She writes, “You may hear things that you never heard before. Instead of immediately denying and rejecting the feedback, ask questions to better understand it.”
  • Make sure the coach works with their client on crafting a developmental plan. “At a minimum, this should outline your key strengths, developmental areas for improvement, obstacles to changing, and action plans along with timetables.”

Jeannette Purcell suggests you should “Be clear about what you want to change. The more specific you can be about your coaching ‘goal’ the more effective your coaching will be.”

She then writes about the importance of preparation. “Prepare for each session by reviewing what has happened since you last met your coach. What has gone well? What has not worked well? Has a specific issue arisen that you would like to discuss with your coach…?”

Next, she points out the importance of follow-up. “Make sure that each session ends with a summary of what has been discussed and what actions you are going to take…Agreed actions allow you to put into practice some of the good ideas or options you have discussed at the session.”

Finally, she points out the importance of being open to the experience: “Be prepared to challenge yourself and your ways of working. Be open to new ideas and to trying new things. Coaching provides you with a safe environment in which to be honest and open about what is happening at work and what needs to change. If you are not completely open you will not realise the full benefit of coaching – it will be a missed opportunity.”

To sum up, at Executive Coach Exchange we believe you will get out what you put in to your coaching experience. Invest in yourself and have faith in your ability to make positive changes. Coaching can be a very challenging experience but by making the effort in preparing, doing the work, taking action and being open to new ideas, you will have a rewarding experience with long-lasting benefits and exponential personal and professional growth.

Choosing a coach for a senior executive

In last week’s post, we looked at how to go about choosing a coach for yourself.  This week’s post is particularly aimed at human resources managers, who are deciding whether and how to choose an executive coach for a CEO or senior executive.

Executive Coach Exchange wocintechchat meeting
Photo: wocintechchat

Choosing a coach for someone else can be a difficult task. Not only do you need to find someone who will be a good fit for your executive, by challenging them in the right ways and helping them find their own solutions, but sometimes you need to decide whether engaging a coach is the right solution for this client.

Henna Inam suggests you consider a series of questions before deciding whether to engage a coach.

One area that Inam suggests you consider is the seniority of the person to be coached and if they are in a high potential or high impact role. “As individuals get promoted to executive levels, developmental feedback becomes even more important, more infrequent, and less reliable. After all, who wants to tell the emperor they have no clothes?” She points out that a coach can provide an impartial and truthful perspective when others in the organisation may be reluctant to do so.

Another aspect to consider is whether the executive is prepared to make the necessary commitment to coaching, both in terms of time and in terms of being open to the experience. While we agree that these are both important considerations, we think they are different in kind. Being prepared to find the time for coaching is essentially a matter of prioritisation by the executive.

Being prepared for “being vulnerable or open to developmental feedback”, as Inam puts it, requires a commitment of a completely different kind. We believe an HR manager needs to consider whether a prospective coach has the skills to help the executive respond positively to coaching in this way. We have written previously about the way in which a coach, having earned the trust of a client, can provide a safe and confidential place for the client to explore approaches to difficult problems, including ones of their own making.

Other aspects Inam considers to be important are when sustained change and a step-change are required in the leader’s behaviour. “Coaching helps them become self-aware about both the strengths they will bring to being successful in this new environment as well as what can derail them. It also helps them develop new skill sets required and become more agile to change.”

Two of our coaches at Executive Coach Exchange were formerly senior HR personnel, with responsibility for choosing coaches for other senior staff.

Marg Lennon was Vice President of HR and Organisational Development in an ASX 100 company. In considering a coach, she looked into the prospective coach’s qualifications, methodology, experience and their method for involving the client’s manager, where appropriate, because in most instances, the manager should be involved in helping set the goals for coaching.

Trish Kelly was General Manager HR in a huge public sector agency. Her first step was to ensure that both the executive and their manager were committed to coaching. She also ascertained their reasons for pursuing coaching, to enable her to make an appropriate short list of possible coaches. She had an initial discussion with potential coaches to assess whether their style and approach was likely to suit the executive, and then made sure the executive had an introductory meeting with the coach to check they were a good fit before formalising the arrangement.

Finally, from an HR perspective, it’s essential to undertake an evaluation of the coaching process and outcomes, using inputs from the coach, the executive’s manager and, most of all, from the executive. In this way, you can build up a set of criteria to help you choose the right coach for the right person at the right time.

What are you looking for in an executive coach?

Executive Coach Exchange doors pixabay qimonoAs you start your search for an executive coach, have you jotted down some ideas about what you are looking for?

  1. Guidance on a challenging work issue

Do you need help to make your communication with team members more effective? Or perhaps you are dealing with a person you just can’t seem to get along with? Working with an executive coach can provide you with insights on how to manage these situations, and on how to build and maintain effective relationships, which can provide you with huge benefits and make your workplace more rewarding and enjoyable.

2.  A mentor

A mentor is usually someone working in your organisation who can give you an insider’s view, while a coach usually comes from an external organisation. However, an executive coach who has worked in your industry or sector can be invaluable, bringing both objectivity and relevant experience, and combining the skills of coach and mentor.

  1. Career progression

Making the transition from team member to team leader is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do in your career. Reporting to a board for the first time can be a very daunting experience. An executive coach can assist you to adjust your approach to meet your new challenges.

  1. Leading organisational change

Today, organisational change is a constant. Leaders need to be able to establish a new course for their organisation and implement change effectively and efficiently. Managers at all levels of an organisation are expected to lead their teams effectively during times of organisational change. An executive coach can be a trusted ally who provides a confidential environment for you to test your concepts and work through the challenges of leading change.

  1. Help with career transition

Taking the big step to move a new career, either by choice or as the result of a redundancy, is extremely challenging, both emotionally and professionally. When you have been an expert in your field, the first year in a new sector can make you doubt your ability and question your self-confidence. An executive coach with experience in career transition can help you make your change successful.


Starting out with some ideas about what you are looking for will make it easier for you to find the right coach. Different coaches bring different skills and experience. Some coaches specialise in particular skills, like team building, or strategy and business planning. Others work with particular professions, such as lawyers or doctors, or particular sectors, like government. Others still focus on particular points in your career, like on-boarding or career transition. At Executive Coach Exchange you will find a diverse group of executive coaches who cover all these area and more.

Don’t make your plan too detailed and inflexible, however. A coach can shed new light on an old issue and help you see it differently. The process of working with an executive coach can be a catalyst for change.

An interview with our executive coaches

How do you find the right executive coach for you? What should you expect from your executive coach? How can you measure your progress? Should managers use executive coaching to address performance issues or to reward great staff?

Founding Partner, Catherine Burrows, spoke with the foundation members, Marg Lennon, Claudia Lantos, and Trish Kelly, about the big questions of executive coaching. Catherine began by asking how they got into coaching.

Marg said she had been coached as an executive and found it very helpful in clarifying her goals and giving her another perspective on the situations she was facing.

Claudia told Catherine that she is passionate about helping people achieve their objectives, in both business and personal growth.

Trish said that, as GM of HR, she had seen the power of coaching, for individuals and organisations. She gained great professional and personal satisfaction from working with people to help them achieve their potential and find solutions to issues they were confronting.

Catherine asked what people should look for in an executive coach and how to tell if an executive coach was a good fit.

All our coaches spoke about the importance of trust. As Claudia said, “The executive coach should build trust and a safe environment to share things in.”

Claudia also mentioned the importance of feeling comfortable with the coach, both their personality and professional background. Clients should be confident that the coach can guide them to achieve their goals and they should feel good about the executive coach’s track record and results. Finally, the client should “feel the coach has empathy and knows their world”.

Executive Coach Exchange Trish Kelly & Claudia Lantos
Trish Kelly & Claudia Lantos, foundation members

Trish believes the client should be comfortable with the coach’s style and feel they will be able to build an open and trusting, collaborative relationship. The coach should have a proven track record and the leadership and coaching experience to provide value. A coach who is a good fit will show that they are genuinely interested in their client’s goals and will encourage them to openly pursue the achievement of those goals in a flexible, respectful and, at times, challenging way.

Marg told Catherine it could be useful for the coach to have had executive experience, although not necessarily in the client’s field, because this “aids understanding of aspects of executive work that cross all professional categories.” A solid coach training background is important and the coaching approach and methodology should be considered too. A client could consider the merits a coach of a different gender might bring. She added, “If you find the questions the coach asks hard to answer, in that they cause you to think about things in a different way, then they might be right for you.”

An issue coaches often discuss is how clients should measure their progress when working with a coach. Our foundation members took different approaches to answering this question.

Executive Coach Exchange Claudia Lantos & Marg Lennon
Claudia Lantos & Marg Lennon, foundation members

Claudia noted the use of 360 assessments and third party interviews, before and after coaching. Observations and feedback from their manager, colleagues and peers could be useful. The client’s own experience during the coaching program could assist too: for example, a client might recognise that they have become a more effective communicator. Clients should expect a change in behaviour and more richness in the tools available to them if they put in the hard work.

Marg told Catherine that clients should expect to begin their work with a coach by creating some goals to be achieved by the conclusion of the coaching process. Although these goals may change as the process unfolds, it’s useful to have agreed goals to start with. Marg noted that the client’s manager should usually be involved in the creation of those goals. A client could expect regular discussions about their goals and progress toward achieving them as part of their coaching experience.

Trish emphasised that a client should not expect the coach to provide them with answers. They should feel listened to, supported, energised and sometimes challenged to think about their goals and issues, often in ways they might not have done before. The client should also feel that they are able to take away actions they have identified that will progressively help them reach their potential.

Some coaches express strong views about whether coaching should be used as a way of addressing performance issues or whether it should be reserved for use as a reward for great performance. Catherine asked the group what they thought.

Executive Coach Exchange Trish Kelly
Trish Kelly, foundation member

Trish feels coaching is a method of supporting individuals to achieve their goals, so this means people are coached for a range of reasons. “Many managers and organisations do not deal with day to day performance issues and don’t have clear and meaningful discussions with employees when an employee is not performing to the standard required.” Programs to support employees to address performance issues need to be customised: while coaching can certainly have a place in this, it is likely coaching will have a focus on improvement.

Marg feels that in addressing performance issues, the client, their manager and the coach need to get very clear on the outcomes, so everyone knows what success looks like. Regular reviews are useful to ensure progress towards these agreed outcomes. When coaching is a reward for high performing executives, “a key success factor is that the client needs to want to be coached, to do or think differently.” Here, she said, goals were still useful, along with the development of a vision: the sessions would have a focus on improvement and clients could expect to participate in conversations and answer questions that would stretch their thinking and thus their actions.

Claudia said that while both approaches are valid, she is passionate about people who are truly interested and committed to reaching their best potential: this could be whether they were not yet performing well or when they were performing well but wanted to do even better. “Also, sometimes it’s a more personal journey, with a lot of insights and a new awareness of themselves, their job or their purpose. I love it when it’s all of the above.

Executive Coach Exchange Catherine Burrows presenting
Catherine Burrows, founding partner

Two of our foundation members were formerly very senior HR practitioners, so Catherine asked them about choosing coaches for other executives.

Marg was Vice President of HR and Organisational Development in an ASX 100 company. She looked for qualifications first when choosing coaches. She then asked about the coach’s methodology, including how they planned to communicate and involve the manager, where this was appropriate. She also asked about their experience across a variety of industries.

Trish was General Manager HR in a huge public sector agency. She first ensured the executive and their manager were committed to coaching. “I also ascertained, in broad terms, why they were pursuing coaching to enable me to identify possible coaches with the relevant background and experience.” Trish would have an initial discussion with potential coaches to assess whether their style and approach was likely to be a match for the executive. She then arranged for an initial meeting between the executive and the potential coach. Following each assignment, she sought feedback from the executive and their manager to assist with sourcing future coaches

And executive coaching as an experience?

Catherine concluded, “As these observations show, executive coaching is as individual as the clients and coaches themselves. It’s such a personal experience. One thing comes through above all, however. It’s the quality of the interpersonal relationship between the client and coach, the trust that develops between them, that makes executive coaching so powerful – and so rewarding.”

Edited 23 March 2021