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Being an Executive Coach

Graham shares what it's like being an Executive Coach, the skills and support they can offer to clients. These insights might just help you to select the best coach to help you meet your goals and to progress in your career.



Today I'm going to talk about what it's like to be an executive coach; this might seem a bit self-indulgent, but actually, I thought as potential coachees yourselves, this might be an insight that is useful in helping you make sure you get the most from your coaching experience.

As a professional coach, someone with two coaching qualifications, someone who's studied the profession, I'm pretty clear about what my role is in the program; My role is to give the coachee focus, to give them accountability for the things they're going to try to do and to give encouragement and support and where possible. If I've got insight to share, my knowledge, training and previous experience will add to that knowledge and insight to the particular problems that clients are wrestling with.

However, as a coach, it's not my role to own the problem, to own the goal, nor to own the objective. It's my role to allow the coachee to be able to focus on it and make progress.

Sometimes clients really struggled with individual issues. My role is to keep their head up. My role is to keep them absolutely determined to find a new way. If, when dealing with that particular challenge, they've tried something and it hasn't gone as well as they might‘ve thought, my job is to pick them up, dust them off and help them to have another go.

Sometimes it's just to celebrate success, which is lovely. Sometimes my job is just to be there; to be the one that says ‘well done. Congratulations. Wasn't that fun?’.

As an executive coach, you are in a privileged position in many, many ways. You get to see the truth of the situation from the client's perspective, it doesn't necessarily mean that everything they tell you is completely balanced and correct; clearly, there is more than one opinion about something, but you're seeing it from their perspective.

A really good coachee is going to be absolutely upfront, honest and open. They're going to make themselves vulnerable because they want to learn and they want to develop and they want to change. You have to respect that privilege as a coach, you have to acknowledge that the confidentiality of what they're sharing with you is sacrosanct.

The way I characterise that with a coachee is... as long as you’re not telling me you've committed a crime, or you tell me you're doing anything to the detriment of the sponsor (your company, the person who's paying for the program) - what you're telling me is secret.

I think that reassurance, I think that level of integrity, is pretty crucial for both parties. If I don't think I can do that if they don't think I can do that, then we're going to, by definition, limit what we can actually achieve together.

In this line of work, I often work with people for a very long time. I can share with you that for some people, these experiences are literally transformational. They really do take control of their lives in ways they never thought were possible. They do achieve things that they previously thought wouldn’t be able to.

For some people it's not quite as transformation; it's just moving into a much better place. It's addressing issues that have been a problem for them for some reason or another, it can be a relationship issue, it can be a piece of hard learning, that they've never really had the determination to get that skill, but because of the program, they have chosen to do it.

The other thing that I found is that the more vulnerable someone makes themselves, the more open that someone makes themselves; the more honest with you and with themselves that they are, and the much higher level the likelihood of success. This sounds a bit obvious in many ways, but the truth is if you don't start by saying ‘I have a problem’, how are you ever going to get here?

Therefore, as a coach, you have a responsibility in that situation. No one else is ever going to know what that problem is, how they feel about it, and what they're going to do about it, you're going with them on that journey. You're not doing the work; they're doing the work. But you are there as a spectator watching exactly how it unfolds.

If you are coaching a team, and that happens a lot - you could be coaching them together, or you could be coaching them individually- but collectively as a team, you will end up seeing a multitude of perspectives on similar problems. You'll get a multitude of different understandings of a situation and your job is not to pass judgment. Your job is not to say they're right and they're wrong. Your judgment is to help them work out individually and collectively what they believe the truth to be, what they believe they should do in that situation, commit to it and crack on with it.

You are not the judge. You are not the referee. You are not the mediator as the coach.

It's quite normal for sponsors (the person paying the bill) to want a certain coachee to focus on one or two key things in their personal development. It's perfectly normal, in my experience, that there's almost never a lack of understanding of those issues by the coachee, because any kind of relationship that's led to a positive investment in them, such as a coaching program, means there's a fairly tight cohesion between them on what the state of the development of the individual is. Therefore, any kind of conflict between what the coachee wants to do and how they want to go about it, and what the sponsor wants to see developed is very, very rare and it's usually very minor.

The coach can inject a degree of perspective that might not be there from the coachee, but it's not you imposing yourself on them. You perhaps hold up a slightly different light on the subject. As a coach, it is incredibly fulfilling to be able to help people. It's incredibly satisfying to believe that you've been part of that person's fundamental journey from one place to another, but you're only the facilitator. The work was done by them. The risks were taken by them. The reward is theirs in terms of what it achieved for them in their career and their lives.

For you, it's just another professional job well done. And the satisfaction of having done your job appropriately. I do find often that the difference between mentoring and coaching is not understood as a mentor. I'm happy to share my experience, my insight, my knowledge, if you want me to do that, but doesn't make me right. It means I have an informed opinion.

As a coach, I have no opinion. As a coach, I am simply asking you what you need to do, what you think of a situation and what you're going to attempt to achieve differently now that it's come to the fore because of that difference. If someone says to me ‘you told me as that coach’ I will say ‘no, I didn't’. If someone said ‘you have given me this advice’, I will say, ‘no, I didn't. I gave you some input. You chose to do whatever it was you chose to do with it’. I'm not going to own responsibility for the coaching program in terms of the outcomes they are exclusive, the coachee's responsibility.

As a coach, I invariably spend significant time preparing for each session. To reflect on previous sessions, what was said, what was committed to, what's the journey that we're on, what’s the level up to, and I'll give thought to how I would like to guide the conversation that's coming. Invariably, I can't dictate that; invariably there is feedback, developments that the coachee needs to share and we need to pick up and work with.

So, a coaching conversation is very current, very low level and very often. Nonetheless, there are overall objectives and goals of the program that you don't want to deviate too far from, and you want to make sure each conversation is in that context.

So as a coach, it's a privileged position. It's a challenging position and it's a very rewarding position as you help people become the person and enjoy the life they choose to live.


So, there you have it, the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at

If you want to reach out you can send us an email at you can book a free 30-minute coaching session at which will give you a really good feel for how coaching can help you.

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