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What does it take to be a Great Executive Coach?

As a successful coach of over 20 years, Graham is uniquely qualified to share his advice with any budding coaches out there, or those wanting to improve and hone their skills to become better coaches, have more fun and learn along the way.

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I've said before in previous podcasts that coaching is a profession. It's a set of skills that you learn, that you acquire over time as you hone as you continue to work and develop your practice with new clients and new situations.

But that alone isn't enough. You can have acquired all of the appropriate coaching qualifications. You've worked really hard to understand the theory around coaching, as well as getting lots of hours of practice under your belt, but the reality is there's a lot more to it than that, although that is clearly a very good foundation.

It's not necessary to have been a very senior executive. It's not necessary to have lots of years of experience already on your clock. It's not necessary to be somebody who has done the job of the people that you are coaching. Those things may well help, and they may help a lot, but they're not prerequisites.

What is important is a real desire to help your coachee. What is important is a real, professional approach to what you are trying to achieve. So that means being clear with your client about what it's they want to achieve and how you are going to help them achieve it. Because at the end of the day, success is theirs. They will be the ones who've done all of the work to make the changes in their life that they are keen to achieve. And your role is a facilitator. Your role is a sponsor. Your role is the person that holds them to account. And so being very clear with your client, they understand the nature of the relationship between you.

It's also really important to have a huge amount of empathy for your client. Typically, a client is seeking change in their life. Now, that could be rectifying bad things, or it could be building on fantastic success, but the point is they want help and they want to change. And so understanding their position from a purely personal human perspective is crucial to helping them work through the challenges that they're going to face. And those challenges won't be similar. They may be common themes, but they won't be similar from person to person. One person's personal life might be fundamentally different to somebody else's and yet impact on their work-life balance very directly.

Another great attribute of very successful coaches is a professional approach. Turning up on time, having done your preparation in advance of the session, having done the follow-up notes from the previous session well in advance so the coaching knows, having the summary of what was discussed and agreed last time being very focused, being very present in the session, giving them a hundred per cent of you during the period that you're working together.

All of that is a critical issue in being effective as a coach. I don't believe you can blag being a coach. I don't believe you can do it on firing on half-cylinders. I think you've really gotta be totally focused on the client at that moment, dealing and helping with the issues that they are trying to discuss with you and share with you.

Having said all of that - I'm making this appear to be awfully sour and awfully boring - the truth is coaching can be a huge amount of fun. People can say the funniest things. You can find yourself discussing some of the most unusual and interesting situations, so a sense of humour that you can share and you can enjoy with your client is another important ingredient. I don't mean making things frivolous and jolly just for the sake of it, but at the same time, opening up and making yourself vulnerable and accepting that you are going to laugh at something that is really quite humorous together is part of the bonding part of the trust-building of the relationship.

Another aspect of being a very effective coach is honesty, and by honesty, I mean frankness - being very clear about what you believe or you feel is the situation for your client. Having the courage to perhaps suggest the difficult thing or challenge the difficult thing, being the kind of person that they will rely on to say the difficult subjects need to be tackled. The person that they can truly respect will be objective and straightforward and, and not pull any punches or have a side agenda that in some way undermine the integrity of the coaching program.

Finally, I think someone who truly wants to help someone, who is very keen and enjoys seeing the success and progress of their client - if that's for you and if you've got these sorts of attributes in addition to your coaching qualifications, I am sure you will be able to be a very effective executive coach across a wide spectrum of personalities that you're going to bump into and work with.


That was 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

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