Q&A About Executive/Leadership Coaching

by Margo Boster

I was on a (long) flight last week and my seatmate asked, “So what do you do?”  I answered that I was an executive and leadership coach.  This elicited a response I often hear – so what is that, what do they do, what happens?

I recounted the story of Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, who was asked the question, “What was the best advice you ever got?” His answer? “Get a coach.”

The one thing that people are never good at is seeing themselves as others see them. A coach really, really helps,” he explained.

As I explained executive/leadership coaching to my seatmate, I realized that others may have the same questions.  Below are some of the answers:

What is executive/ leadership coach? Coaching is a one-on-one personalized leadership development relationship between a coach and an individual executive or manager.

What do coaches do? Coaches help individual leaders build on their strengths, develop flexibility and change-readiness, create awareness of shortcomings and build commitment to self-development and achievement.  Coaches do the following:

  • Help their clients set better goals and then reach those goals.
  • Ask their clients to do more than they would have done on their own.
  • Focus their clients to more quickly produce results.
  • Provide the tools, support and structure to accomplish more.


How do coaches do that? Coaches are trained to listen, to observe, and to customize their approach to individual client needs.  The coach’s job is to provide support to enhance the leader’s skills, resources, and creativity. Many coaches are also trained in the use of a variety of assessment tools that help provide further insight for the leader.

What are the benefits of hiring a coach?  The coach can help an executive or leader see things differently, resulting in a better outcome.  There are a number of studies on the ROI of leadership coaching.  However many of the benefits of coaching are difficult to quantify (i.e., what would the leader have done had they not had coaching compared to what the leader did since they received coaching?)  In general, executives/leaders who receive coaching tend to lead better (rather than just tell people what to do), communicate more effectively, have enhanced thinking and decision-making skills, improve interpersonal effectiveness, and increase confidence in carrying out chosen work and life roles.

Can Executive/Leadership Coaching help our poor performers? My answer to this question is a resounding “NO”. Coaching does not save poor performers; it helps good leaders or those with potential to be better.  Executive coaching is an intervention that works with individuals who are at a level of performance that meets or exceeds expectations.  Coaching helps leaders excel in their current role and expand to the next level.

What can I expect to happen during a coaching session? Each meeting is conducted in-person or over the phone. You can expect honest feedback, clarifying questions, support and challenge. You can also expect confidentiality. In order for coaching to work well, we provide individuals the confidential space to speak candidly about their successes, frustrations, mistakes and possibilities.  We may use assessment tools such as competency assessments, MBTI, DISC, or a 360 assessment.  We may also “shadow” you to meetings or presentations to observe your performance and give you confidential feedback.

How do I choose a coach? The most important thing to look for in selecting a coach is someone with whom you feel you can easily relate to and create the most powerful partnership.  To learn more, click here to read about types of coaches and selecting a coach.

If you and/or your company have consider engaging in executive or leadership coaching as part of your development, please contact me for a free, no-obligation (and no pressure!) consultation.  I am happy to discuss leadership development and coaching at any time – even on long airline flights.

A Coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see,  so you can be who you have always known you could be.” – Tom Landry

  • Sharon Payne

    How does one go about finding an executive coach?

  • Mary Millholland

    So agreewith your comment above – a coach is not someone to help a poor performer. So many times I have been in that position, with a poor manager or executive and asked to get them a coach. I found this information veryhelpful. Thanks

  • Jane

    Margo, this is an excellent summary on coaching. I am always startled at what a good coach can do for folks who are already performing exceptionally well. A coach can elevate them to a new level. We all have personal weaknesses that we either can’t identify, chose not to, or know about but are not sure how to proceed. A coach helps sort and sift the areas for growth. Thanks.

  • Thanks for the question Sharon.

    First, I suggest asking colleagues for referrals. Remember that an Executive Coach is about “fit” so who works well with a colleague may not be the right one for you or your company.

    I also suggest looking at http://www.coachfederation.org/clients/crs/, which hosts a free searchable directory of ICF Credentialed coach members. You can enter in what area(s) in which you are looking and find ICF Credentialed coaches from which to contact.

    After you have a few names for consideration, I recommend talking with at least 2 or 3 different coaches and see who seems to be right for you or your company. Sometimes companies will engage 2 different coaches so that the leaders in the company have a choice of which person they feel will best serve them.

    Of course, feel free to give me a call at 703-864-8334 (or 480-359-6147) and I’m happy to discuss with you (no charge, no pressure).

  • Thanks for the comment, Jane. I often tell my clients I wish I had had me (a coach) 15 – 20 years ago!

  • Thanks for the comment, Mary. As an HR Director, I’m sure you have seen many good managers or executives who could further grow with an executive coach, and you’ve had to explain why coaching isn’t the answer for the problem employee.

  • The question and answers that you have given over here are really interesting one and useful also. I must say that everyone should just read all this at least once so that they can get to know about the importance of leadership coaching.

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