In the past I have described factors to be used in selecting your executive coach and how an individual could make the most effective use of their coach. A gap in this information relates to whatYOU SHOULD EXPECT from your coach once selected and engaged. Coaching is a partnership and like all partnerships is only as effective as the quality and commitment of the participants. While I believe a coach can't work harder than their client it is just as clear that a coach should deliver on a number of expectations and obligations in order to support client success.
Why this topic at this present time? Unfortunately, after having been at this work awhile, I have heard several client experiences and circumstances where an acceptable standard of performance has not been achieved - to my way of thinking. This reality might not be that different from a variety of other sectors where individuals/firms offer products/services for sale that really don't deliver on their promises. High price and flashy marketing doesn't equate to quality of offering or results.
Much of the challenge, I believe, comes down to lack of client knowledge and awareness of what "good" or even "great" quality and performance for a coach should look like. While I have talked about how you should go about selecting an executive coach that doesn't address what you should expect - and perhaps demand - from a coach. What I offer below is informed by personal experience as a coach and feedback from my clients about what they have appreciated in our work together.
Clarity of Roles and Expectations. This starts with actual documentation that serves to describe the partnership role between a client and coach. This certainly doesn't have to be a form vetted by respective lawyers - a trust-based relationship, which coaching is, should not have to go down that path! However, there should be enough clarity between you and your coach to understand what each person is expected to bring to the work, the pattern of work, access between formal sessions and an emphasis on confidential nature of the work.
Confidentiality. This should really go without saying...but I'll say it. This is a particularly important consideration when an individual is being sponsored by an organization to utilize coaching, when a coach is involved in group/team coaching, or coaching multiple individuals in an organization. There is no question that there is great value to me as a coach in having a greater understanding of organizational context through working with multiple clients or engaging with a client's executive sponsor. However, it also requires the coach to confirm up-front - and subsequently DEMONSTRATE- how confidentiality between sponsor/client/coach or between team members will be maintained. Just as important, the coach also has to actively guard against any risk of bias or triangulation in their coaching experience with any one individual.
Purposeful Process. As the coaching client you drive the coaching agenda. The coach should help you in confirm and clarify this agenda and then help hold you accountable to your goals. Your coach should be able to balance the need for structure in a coaching engagement (e.g., consistent focus) while at the same time being agile and flexible as client learning and circumstances evolve. Bottom line for me - no canned approach. While I do have coaching agreements, intake forms, leadership and team assessments at my disposal, and other tested methodologies and processes, all of that takes a back seat to strongly understanding individual client challenges and opportunities and the organizational culture from which they arrive. A coach's approach should be tailored to the client - not the other way around.
Challenge. To be truly effective a coach must challenge your beliefs, assumptions, sacred cows and preconceived notions. There is nothing I appreciate more than hearing clients say that our work together has made them uncomfortable (in the good way, not the creepy way...), expanded their frame of reference or possibility, and perhaps even radically altered their entire direction. Paradoxically, if you are finding your coaching sessions to be lovely chats and highly validating you might not actually be getting real value from your coaching partnership. Your coach needs to bring the right balance of compassion and courage to your work in pursuit of your goals.
Capacity Building. Akin to Challenge noted above, your coach should be actively working to build your skills to the point of helping to dissolve the coaching partnership at some point in time. The goal is not to create dependency but rather capacity for the individual leader to soar on their own. In this regard, I often work with my clients in the scheduled last month of our time together to confirm a decision to continue - if value from the client's standpoint is still being delivered - or to strongly transition out of coaching by using skills learned/developed/enhanced during coaching. This can often mean creating structure on a go-forward basis (e.g., continued pattern of thinking time replacing coaching time) that replicates the successful elements of the coaching partnership. It's why I share freely any and all of my coaching tools with my clients post-engagement.
Preparation, Continuity, Accessibility, Responsiveness. I recently had the opportunity to interview a number of my current and former coaching clients for a developing video production. Key elements of benefit identified by a number of them was their appreciation for how prepared I seemed to be for each coaching engagement, how I seemed to be able to retain the narrative string between formal coaching sessions and throughout the entirety of the coaching engagement, and the level of accessibility and responsiveness afforded to them between formal meetings. None of this occurs by chance. I have created processes for myself - and my clients - that strives to prepare us both for upcoming coaching sessions. By the very nature of my work I am constantly scanning my environment for resources and tools relevant to my work and the success of my clients. Despite being busy, my clients are my priority and quality and speed of response are foundational for me. What would you expect from your thinking partner, your sounding board, your coach?
Coaching Presence and Trust. Like confidentiality this seems to me to be an area that should not have to be emphasized. How engaged and attentive do you find your coach? Are they fully focused on you and your work - whether in-person or virtually? Do they practice active listening? Do they provide you all the space you need to think and work? Are they talking more than you!? Are they providing you a safe space to be vulnerable? Do their (powerful) questions relate to the issues you are actually grappling with? Coaching - it is all about you!
Holds to Coaching. Your coach is supposed to coach you. Not advise and certainly not direct you. Your coach is not there as mentor or consultant - these roles imply some level of superiority versus partnership. The coach must continuously demonstrate a belief in your personal ability to tackle your challenges and opportunities. The coach must understand their own boundaries and the boundaries of their profession - unless otherwise trained, we are not counsellors or therapists. At times you may expect that your coach, acting in YOUR best interest, would connect you with other professionals or resources even if it meant personal financial loss to the coach. The coach needs to be able to demonstrate an ability to act in your best interest, not theirs.
Drives Action - and Results. At the end of day coaching has to be much more than active listening, powerful questioning, being a sounding board, a place of safety/vulnerability - something active and positive has to come out of the partnership. Demonstrating a compassionate edge, your coach should help you design actions and deliver results. You or your company are investing time, money and energy into this endeavor - there must be purpose to the endeavor. Get pushed and get results.
I believe these are some of the qualities and experiences you should be looking for as you experience coaching. Lofty goals perhaps and I admit to feeling some misgivings as I document these expectations - can I live up to these requirements in all circumstances? I am constantly striving to do so! It's About Leadership! And in the case of coaching - It's All About You!
Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions