8 Principles Behind Successful Executive Coaching


The term “coach” suggests different things to different people. It invariably creates an image of sport – the team coach standing on the touchline, directing and getting involved. Whilst this analogy is understandable, it is not particularly helpful in the context of executive coaching.

Nor is a coach a Counsellor, Mentor or Therapist. Each of these provides a different function. Each is valid and valuable, but only in the right context and with the right requirements and permissions.

For the purposes of this post, it’s important to make a distinction between career coaching and executive coaching. Career coaching is a more generic type of coaching, usually designed to help employees and managers advance their careers and achieve objectives, which are often defined by their managers and HR departments, within the confines of the business itself. Executive coaching specifically helps senior, more experienced managers to make significant and sustained changes to the way they lead and manage their departments, functions or business units. To do this effectively, issues outside the realms of the business often need to be addressed.

For executive coaching to be effective, there are a number of key principles which should be observed, and following these principles distinguishes a high calibre coach from the more run-of-the-mill professional coaches out there. These principles are as follows:

  • 1 – Executive coaching must address the whole person: It can be a mistake to believe coaching to be exclusively business related. Issues going on elsewhere in the client’s life have a material and fundamental bearing on their attitude or performance ability at work.
  • 2 – It must be assumed that the client is resourceful: They should have a high degree of ability to address their own opportunities, issues and problems. This does not preclude the coach from offering useful information, but it is ultimately the client’s choice whether or not to use it.
  • 3 – The executive coach’s role is to skilfully question, challenge and support: The coach’s skill lies in taking the client into territory they have never previously considered. In doing this, the client builds their own resourcefulness and confidence.
  • 4 – The client must set the agenda: When time is of the essence it must be used valuably, addressing the subject(s) of most importance/concern to the client. The coach will seek solid commitment from the client to agreed actions, so they have to matter.
  • 5 – The executive coach and client are equals: The coach and client work together in a partnership of equals. It is not the coach’s role to pass judgement.
  • 6 – Executive coaching is about change and action: The client wants to become more effective, to close the gap between potential and performance. The role of the coach is to help them achieve it.
  • 7 – Agreement on the type of outcomes desired: These relate not to specific actions, but rather the scale, level and general importance of both transactional and transformational changes. This can be changed, by agreement, as the coaching relationship progresses.
  • 8 – Commitment to action: Once the client commits to a particular action they should be accountable. Notwithstanding that the client may wish to discuss a new or differing issue at their next session, the session should still begin with a review of the commitment(s) made by the client previously.

Only when these principles are adhered to, can the client achieve the results they require. The coach gains the confidence of the client and both parties get clarity on the issues which need to be addressed. When the client sets the agenda, the outcomes are prioritised so that the client achieves the results that are important to them. With a commitment to carry out the required actions, the client becomes accountable for the actions that will make the coaching a success.