5 ways to get the most out of leadership coaching

At some point in their careers, many leaders will opt to receive high-level coaching. Executive coaching is one of the best investments you will ever make in yourself. A good coach helps you gain clarity and provides a safe yet challenging environment for you to practice self-awareness and to learn from experience. Whether you want to learn how to be more effective at work, need guidance in navigating a transition in the workplace, want to hit the ground running in a new leadership position, or simply want to further develop certain skills, the right coaching can help you accelerate your learning curve, gain more confidence, and reap benefit after benefit.

Moving forward with an executive coach is a very big investment, not to mention an important commitment. Just as you might ‘shop around’ for other big investments, you want to do the same when it comes to a coach. Below are 5 things to keep in mind to make the most of your leadership coaching.

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1. Set up a ‘discovery session’ before moving forward with a coach

A discovery session is an informal conversation that precedes a commitment to coaching. Think of it as a ‘get to know you’ conversation. This is your opportunity to speak with your potential coach, discuss your challenges and goals, and truly gauge whether or not you and your potential coach are a good fit.

Though this is a conversation, think of it also as an interview. You’re trying to find the right individual to help you achieve your goals. Don’t be afraid to ask your coach questions about their experiences, their methods, their accreditations, and so on. Most importantly, don’t feel pressured to make a commitment at the end of this conversation. If you want to think it over, you’re under no obligation to commit on the spot, and you shouldn’t feel as if your coach is pressuring you to move forward.

Though this is a conversation, think of it also as an interview.

Throughout the conversation, check in with yourself: do you feel comfortable and relaxed with this coach? Remember, you’ll be spending a great deal of time with them, so this is important.

2. Make sure you and your coach have compatible styles

Are you a very structured and time-conscious person? Then you might find it frustrating to work with a coach who is always late or reschedules appointments regularly. Are you very organized? Then a coach who doesn’t follow-up with you as promised may drive you up the wall. Maybe you’re a deep, reflective thinker who needs time to process information. If that’s the case, then a coach who talks all the time and doesn’t give you thinking space will overwhelm you rather quickly.

An expert coach will gauge your style and seamlessly adapt to you, but if you find that your coach isn’t doing this, then it’s time to move on and find someone else who’s a better match. That said, get clear on who you are as a person, as a leader, and as a thinker…and then ask yourself what qualities you need to have in a coach in order to feel as if your regular coaching sessions are spaces in which you can grow and thrive.

A coach often wears a number of hats during the coaching experience. They can be a feedback provider, reflective thinking partner, expert mentor, practice partner, accountability creator, positive reinforce, supporter, and more. Ideally, your coach will flexibly switch hats depending on your needs at the time, which is why it’s important you know what those needs are.

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3. Ask yourself if you feel confident in your coach’s expertise

One of the worst things you can do is enter into a coaching commitment with your head full of doubts

Don’t be afraid to ask for testimonials and references. An expert coach who’s worked with countless people and has helped them to achieve their goals will be more than happy to point you in the right direction when it comes to praise from past clients. The same goes for qualifications and accreditations, especially if you’re interested in working on specific skillsets or with certain diagnostics/psychometrics.

One of the worst things you can do is enter into a coaching commitment with your head full of doubts regarding your coach’s qualifications. You’ll begin to question their guidance at every turn, which will result in a waste of time, money, and energy. However, when you do feel confident in your coach’s expertise, it’ll motivate you to put their recommendations into practice and you’ll find yourself growing like never before.

4. Have a contract or coaching agreement in place.

You and your coach should both be clear about the timeframe of your coaching commitment. This is best outlined within a formal contract or agreement that both parties sign. Such an agreement will highlight the duration of the coaching as well as the cost of the investment.

In addition to regular sessions, there may also be a provision for ‘on demand’ sessions. Just as well, there should be an ‘out clause’ that allows you to discontinue coaching if you at any time don’t feel that you’re getting what was agreed upon.

5. Get clear on what you want to get out of your coaching

Finally, you and your coach should both be clear about the objectives of the coaching. What is it that you want to achieve over the course of executive coaching? How would you like to grow? What would you like to learn about yourself? What goals would you like to accomplish? What skills would you like to acquire and/or develop further?

These objectives will help to create a structured approach in your coaching sessions. You and your coach should also discuss how you both plan on measuring your progress from session to session.

Additionally, ensure that your coach has a system in place to keep you moving forward in between sessions. This might mean following up with you with a reminder of next action steps, providing you with key notes from a previous session, and/or delivering any promised materials or readings.

These are 5 ways you can ensure that you make the most of your next commitment with an executive coach. Of course, your results aren’t dependent on your coach alone. You need to be committed to making change and be prepared to put in the time and energy. The leaders I work with who achieve the biggest outcomes are people with skin in the game. They have a very compelling reason to be coached, they are committed, responsive and reflective, and they are open to challenge. As with anything, people who are not committed to change will not get results. Ultimately, while your coach is a trusted guide, the outcome of the sessions depends on you.


Rosalind Cardinal is The Leadership Alchemist and Principal Consultant of Shaping Change, an Australian consultancy, specialising in improving business outcomes by developing individuals, teams and organisations. Ros’ expertise spans leadership development, organisational culture, team building, change and transition management, organisational behaviour, employee engagement and motivation, strategic direction and management.