Getting the most from executive coaching

Although it’s still a relatively “new” (less than 50 years) practice, executive coaching is firmly established as an effective development route for senior leaders, with credible data from bodies such as CIPD, Sherpa, Ridler, EMCC and ICF validating its use. 

Here are a few hints and tips based on feedback from clients, research and our own experience as executive coaches working in the UK, Europe and the Gulf states to help you get greatest benefit from executive coaching.

Clear purpose, goal and defined outcome: Make sure that you have a clear purpose and objectives for the coaching; the coaching process has obvious momentum, so it’s essential that there’s a defined direction and destination, and that you can recognise progress and identify “when you’ve arrived”. (Often a general overview of key development areas is sufficient to start with; the coach will help you/ the organisation to refine and define objectives and outcomes.)

Choosing your coach: Whilst coach selection processes will vary from organisation to organisation, it’s likely that an initial “pool” of potential coaches will be identified and from that “pool” the coachee will select/ be allocated a coach.

Selection criteria for the “pool” will typically include: personal recommendation, coaching experience (years, typical assignments, role of those coached, track record of achievement), coaching accreditation/ qualification, membership of a professional body (e.g. EMCC, AC, ICF), coaching approach (models/ style), supervision/ ethical guidance. (Refer to “CIPD” – Guide to Coaching and Buying Coaching Services” for additional criteria and interview questions.)

Tip: Be rigorous in your selection process; getting it wrong can prove costly and time-consuming.

Chemistry– Research has shown “chemistry” between potential coach and coachee to be the single most important “ingredient” in the selection process because for coaching to be productive, the relationship needs to be based on openness and trust.  Most reputable coaches will offer no-obligation “chemistry” meetings as part of the selection process.

Contracting – What, where, when and how - Contracting is the name given to the initial set-up conversation, and provides the agreed platform and framework within which the parties will work together.  Typically this contracting conversation will include discussion around the goal, session structure/ scheduling, as well as the nature and style of the coach working relationship. As contracting forms the basis on which the coaching will be reviewed and measured, it’s often the case that the organisational sponsor may be involved in some elements of the contracting conversation. (e.g. goal-setting)

Tip: Contracting is fundamental to achieving results; without a framework and agreed parameters, the assignment – and relationships – can drift off course.

Challenge – one of the greatest benefits of coaching is the challenge provided by the coach, without judgement or personal agenda. It’s important to establish at the outset the degree of challenge required/ desired, and then to recalibrate after each session to ensure that the coachee is receiving what’s needed to get to the next level.

Commitment – Coaching is a proven method for accessing and directing an individual’s “discretionary effort”; because it’s “discretionary”, coaching is most effective when the individual is motivated to develop/ resolve the dilemma. (An individual “forced” or coerced into coaching is unlikely to put effort into making changes or taking action.)

And finally…if you’ve any questions about using executive coaching, or training to be an executive coach, contact Jane Harders or visit the Portfolio website.


Jane is an incredible coach at the very top of her profession. Amazing coaching experience which delivered beyond my wildest expectations.

CEO, Public Sector

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