One on one coaching by an independent external coach can be a powerful business tool for a leader to use for him/herself or for selected personnel within a firm. While coaching is a much used term it is also much misunderstood. It is also not regulated. Leaders should therefore proceed with some care and fully understand what coaching should and should not be used for and what it is and what it is not. (Disclosure – I undertake specialist coaching assignments and am presently undergoing Master Coach certification)

Coaching is a much-used but much misunderstood term; properly understood and utilised, particularly in executive-coaching mode, it can be a rewarding process for individuals and firms - even for executives who are already 'successful' and want to move to a new level of performance. Or who simply want an experienced, external sounding board ((c) Sean Larkan graphic).


  • focuses on the future
  • can be distinguished from consulting (more focused on the organisation) and therapy (diagnoses & treats dysfunctionality from a medical perspective)
  • fosters individual performance and well-being in a business context
  • ideally helps a coachee to discover their own pathway to success
  • importantly assumes an equal relationship between coach and coachee
  • generally works where you are dealing with otherwise  healthy individuals (this of course is always a question of degree!)
  • success is usually measured by the success achieved by the coachee
  • should seek to make the coachee independent (and most definitely not dependent)
  • should be implemented around a time-frame with a cut-off point

An independent executive coach can help you:

  • better realise your impact or that of the coachee, on others
  • reduce derailing behaviour
  • enhance your ability to look inwards and become more self–aware
  • identify goals that will help realize potential

The keys to success, based on my coaching experience and the master coaching certification I am presently undergoing, are:

  • the development of a trusting and quality relationship between coach and coachee
  • a proper structure and articulated methodology by the coach
  • where appropriate and depending on the circumstances, the undertaking of a scientifically based, validated diagnostic providing an assessment of coachee styles of behaviour, thinking and how the coachee interacts with others. (An example would be those developed by Human Synergistics (for whom I happen to be an Accredited Practitioner), but there are others)
  • a willingness by the coachee to look inward
  • the support of the firm or organisation
  • a willingness on the part of the coachee to learn and evolve
  • no serious character flaws or deep–seated behavioural issues or clinical depression or anxiety (these should be treated medically)
  • an alignment of the values of the coachee and the values of the firm
  • clear agreement and parameters around communication and confidentiality
  • authentic but non-judgmental quality feedback
  • the coach posing the right questions and drawing understanding out of the coachee

Challenges you should be aware of:

  • coachees who are chronic blamers.  They are always looking out the window rather than in the mirror for the causes of their difficulties; it is always someone else’s fault or some external factor at play
  • Related to the above point, coachees with a serial victim mentality
  • Coachees with an unshakeable, ironclad belief system
  • fundamental tension between the coachee and the firm, particularly around values

In some cases where these circumstances exist in extreme form coaching may not be the answer. Preliminary and early discussions should be aimed at identifying such stumbling blocks.

The process undertaken will differ from assignment to assignment and could include some or all of the following steps:

  • agreeing the methodology and framework for the assignment; for instance, agreeing upfront how communication and confidentiality will be dealt with and how progress will be communicated to anyone the coachee reports to, if at all.
  • surveying relevant staff or colleagues particularly those who work closely with the coachee
  • data gathering and review – performance review reports, exit interviews and related documents such as engagement surveys
  • one or more initial one-on-one discussions with the coachee
  • outlining a timeframe; realistically usually between six and 12 months (coaching is very much a journey rather than a quick fix remedy but it should not, ideally, be open-ended)
  • outlining a realistic ROE (Return On Expectations) for the coachee and the firm
  • where appropriate a scientific diagnostic
  • completion of a personal/professional plan
  • identification of coachee’s objectives and agreement around key result areas
  • agreement on future meetings. In the past it was usually deemed essential to undertake such personal assignments face to face. In my experience, while it is important to do this from time to time, much can equally be achieved via Skype or Google+ video, the internet or even the telephone. This also has the benefit of being more flexible and less costly for all concerned.
  • measuring progress
  • reviewing progress

The coach needs to be clear about his or her role:

  • adopting a structured approach
  • helping to increase self-awareness on the part of the coachee
  • focusing on desired conduct and outcomes
  • getting to the core of issues
  • targeting behaviours to change
  • providing appropriate feedback
  • keeping the coachee focused and disciplined around the assignment
  • ensuring gains are not lost
  • building rapport, trust and throughout, being a good listener
  • recognising that while there is some “science” to coaching, it is essentially something of an art.

In my experience executive coaching can achieve significant outcomes in the right circumstances. One on one coaching is flexible and versatile – it can assist a coachee overcome difficulties arising from derailing behavior, or it can help someone realize untapped potential or even assist an already successful person reach new heights. In doing this it can help a coachee identify behaviors and thinking to change. I hope the above pointers provide a useful framework! (an informative HBR research report by Carol Kauffman and Diane Coutu titled The Realities of Executive Coaching (PDF) (January 2009) provides an excellent reference)