top of page

Who Would Make a Great Executive Coach?

Whilst not a simple answer, nor a simple process, you can become a great executive coach. By asking the right questions and by applying a positive mindset you can encourage your client to make a change.



Today, I thought we would talk about who makes a good executive coach. I say that slight tongue in cheek because there's no simple answer to this. There's no process you can go through that suddenly turns anybody and everybody into a brilliant executive coach, it's not really like that.

What makes a really great executive coach for me, the first point is that it’s really got to be something that you really want to do. If as an executive coach, you really enjoy helping people - and I don't just mean telling people what to do and giving them instruction - I mean actually helping people work out difficult challenges, work out what they're going to do, possibly the risks they're going to take, that they might not have otherwise chosen to take; that's a really, really good starting point for an executive coach.

If you believe that being an executive coach is all about sharing your knowledge, is all about giving people the value of your wisdom and experience, that's really mentoring and that's not in itself coaching. It can be part of a coaching program, but that’s getting into being a trainer. You're very nearly into getting to be someone actually giving instruction and that is not really pure coaching in the normal understanding of it in the profession.

Another great attribute is someone who's really, really empathetic and understanding exactly the perspective from your client's point of view does give you a brilliant starting point. Understanding the questions to ask how to help them explore the problems that they're being faced with and how to help them believe that you are on their side, and you're not simply trying to set ridiculous tasks or explore things that don't really help.

Another great attribute is a very positive frame of mind. If in a coaching session, you are going to spend a lot of time sympathising with how difficult things are then you're encouraging the coachee, not to take steps to make a change. The whole point of the coaching program changes. The whole point is that they'll be better at some things at the end of the program than they were at the beginning. And so, if by sympathising with them, encouraging them to believe something's impossible; that's not awfully helpful to the idea of the program. If you then take the positive side a little bit further, the beauty of a positive frame of mind that you have will become infectious.

We all know that the way we feel and the way we turn up to any event directly impacts how other people interact with us. Well, it's particularly true in a coaching program. If you turn up a bit ruffled and a bit tired and a bit vacant and perhaps not really focused on the job at hand, then that will reflect in the way that the coachee sees you and sees the coaching program. So regardless of where you are coming from, the moment you're on the stage of the coaching session, you need to be fully present, fully focused and totally positively minded to help the person sitting in front of you.

Another attribute is to have a really, really good understanding of their personal situation. I don't mean being nosy, understanding all of the ins and outs of their domestic situation. What I mean is having a really good understanding of the things that are affecting the way they're trying to deal with their issues. So, do they have a relationship problem with somebody at work? Do they have challenges with subordinates that they’re finding particularly difficult? Is there something going on with their boss or their boss's boss that is impacting their ability to take risks and so on? So, understanding sensitively, the influences, the softer influences that are going on around them in the workplace, and being able to extrapolate that into the way in which you coach them through these change programs is going to be really, really helpful. In a nutshell, understanding the culture that they're living in and being able to not be put off by that, but be able to build on that constructively for them, is a great skill.

Another aspect that I think helps great coaches is being humble. One of the fantastic privileges that I experience as a coach is seeing people grow and develop and achieve the things they want to achieve. But the reality is that they did it. You were the facilitator, but you didn't do it. They did. And recognising your role in this is really the humble facilitator.

Absolutely celebrate success, and absolutely help them reflect on how well they're doing. But, don't interrupt that by assuming that without you, nothing of this could possibly have taken place. The reality is - and this is where the humility piece I think is particularly important - recognising that the coachee may well have taken a very substantial risk in that program to achieve those changes and you didn't - you were always in the safe space.

Another aspect I believe is particularly conducive to being a good, effective executive coach is having a generally wide experience of working life, whether it's different cultures, whether it's different kinds of professional practices or whether it's different kinds of hands-on working. So, as an engineer or as an architect, or as a doctor; having a good understanding and a vision in your own mind of the kind of world they live in, the kind of things they experience day to day can be really helpful.

Often, if I can, when I'm working with new clients, I like to visit their premises. I like to tour and understand their world. Whilst a lot of senior people do work in offices, depending on the business that they're in, there is an extension of that office, which is where the magic happens, whether it's a factory, whether it's a warehouse, whether it's a building site, whatever it is, whether it's a design studio, whatever the reality of their productive world, I like to get a good sense of that. Then, being able to build that into your understanding and the way in which you're going to help and coach them through their change program is really, really useful.

It's also important to understand as an executive coach, that you're going to be coaching people at very different stages of their careers. And you're also going to be coaching in very different ages. So, understanding what's going on in their life at those different stages, in those different situations and making adjustments to the way in which you're approaching it is really, really helpful.

That spills over into recognising the importance of diversity when you are coaching people who don't look like you. It's really important not to in any way, allow any form of judgment to arise in the way in which you talk to them the way, in which you question them the way in which you help them work their problems out because of their situation may be alien to you. It doesn't mean the process that you're going to take doesn't work equally well, because clearly, it does.

Finally, I think a really good executive coach is somebody who takes a pride in their professionalism, takes a pride in the way in which they conduct the whole process. At the beginning of the process, you've got a contract with the sponsor - usually the employer - the person paying the bill, they have a series of objectives they want from the process. What are they? You've got goals and objectives from the coachee. How do they bond in with what the company wants, and what the sponsor wants and then agree on what, therefore, the program goals are going to be between you and the coachee bearing in mind all of the three parties involved? Then, as you go through that program, record diligently at each session, what the coach has agreed to do and share that with them afterwards as an aid memoir, and also to get their commitment to those tasks, commitment to those objectives, those things they're going to go and do between the sessions is pretty imperative to keep their focus.

Then at each session, make sure you review the goals, make sure you review how you've agreed that they all behave between the last session and the new session and therefore review the results. How did it go? What worked, what didn't work? What does that lead to for the next period? What are they going to adjust and what are they going to focus on?

Then as you're going through the program, perhaps about halfway, have a review with the sponsor, are they seeing the change that they're looking for? Is it working for them? And again, in the end, exactly the same. Did, did everybody get what they wanted? Did the coachee really get what they wanted? Did they have feedback for you as the coach? Have they got some learning for you to take away from the experience? Has the sponsor got what they think they've paid for? And is it really a foundation for the continued development of the coach that everybody wanted it to be?

As a coach, as an executive coach, do you believe that you've delivered what you promised that you would deliver both for the coachee and the sponsor and recognise therefore that as a professional people are paying you for outcomes, not for processes - you may be a brilliant coach - but if you can't help them actually make the changes that they need to make, then that's not what people are paying for.

So, there we have it. That's what I think it takes to be a great executive coach.


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

If you want to reach out you can send us an email at you can book a free 15-minute coaching session at which will give you a really good feel for how coaching can help you. SUBSCRIBE to 'The Coaching Conversation' Podcast:

Watch our video series here:


bottom of page