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.

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.

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.

English poet John Donne once wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself”, and while this is usually attributed to the general idea that nobody goes through life alone, it’s easy to see how this can be used in the professional sense. As in, no WOMAN is an island, and everyone should look for a Mentor, Sponsor and Coach to pull them up and through the ranks in their career.

But what exactly is a Mentor, a Sponsor and a Coach, and why do these people need to be in your Career Corner? If you think of it as a sporting analogy, it’s like having a team behind the athlete, training them and pushing them to go beyond their personal best. Without the team, the athlete is training alone. Therefore, without a Mentor, a Sponsor and a Coach, you’ll be gliding through your career without any exciting momentum to carry you through.

What’s a Mentor?

…a mentor is a person who helps you define your dreams.At a Career and Networking event in Sydney recently called, The Power of Mentoring, the keynote speaker, Career Strategist Megan Dalla-Camina explained that a mentor is a person who helps you define your dreams. They don’t necessarily have to be your seniors in your direct line of work, but they are people who you see as a good role model for you. They guide, support and assist you in your growth and learning. However, Andy Rachelff, Executive Chairman at Wealthfront Inc., says that a mentor is someone who can teach you something great in the field you want to build your career in.

A relationship with a mentor is generally long-term, and, just like any relationship, requires regular catch-ups and a genuine connection. If you choose the right mentor, they may even be your ally through any job transition or position throughout the rest of your working life.

Why you need a Mentor

Many women unfortunately don’t seek a mentor, but it’s important that we look for one. Why? Because while we believe we either don’t have time or don’t need one (i.e. we think, “There is nobody in the world who understands my industry/position/responsibilities”), a mentor shows us things about our working life that we might not see. In an article by Forbes Magazine called How a Mentor can help your Career, they say a mentorship is, “like holding up a mirror to your operating style and clearly seeing your reflection”.

Mentors are like your spirit guide – they’ll be honest with you when they know you’re doing something wrong, and they won’t mince words in trying to get you to see the light. They will offer constructive criticism, whether you like it or not. Your mentor is your motivator, and everyone at any level needs a motivator, a cheerleader offering positive yet constructive reinforcement.

What’s a Sponsor?

An ideal sponsor is probably 2 levels in the career ladder above youWhile your mentor is your dream-definer, your sponsor is, according to Megan Dalla-Camina, your dream-enabler. He or she pulls you through to leadership roles and shouts your praises to those with clout for further promotion. An ideal sponsor is probably 2 levels in the career ladder above you, and holds a bit of clout themselves in your industry or company. You may not want to be exactly like them in terms of their position, but your sponsor is definitely someone you want on your side.

In an article by Business Insider called Why you need a Sponsor – Not a Mentor – to Fast-Track your Career, sponsors “have a voice at the table and are willing to be your champion … While mentors listen, sponsors act — by telling you what you need to know, clearing obstacles from your path, and making your success their business”.

Why you need a Sponsor

If a Sponsor is willing to sing your praises, then it’s very obvious why you need a sponsor. A sponsor is great for career advancement, and they have the connections and clout to promote you to the right people. They develop career opportunities for you, in ways a mentor might not. A mentor may turn into a sponsor, but without a sponsor, it may take longer to get to the next level in your career. However, you need to show a sponsor that you are worth the trouble of promoting. Remember, he or she is putting their name on the line right along with you, and it would be just as detrimental to them to support someone who wasn’t up to the task.

Another reason a sponsor is a good idea, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, is that sponsors promote “greater female representation at senior levels of organisations by increasing the numbers of women moving through the management pipeline, and helping them stay on their career tracks”

What’s a Coach?

…their advice helps you make decisions that directly relate to your career path.Like a good personal trainer or sporting coach, a Career Coach tells you what to do to get to exactly where you want to be. Their advice, much like a mentor, is invaluable in regards to how you navigate your way through the professional landscape. Unlike a mentor, though, their advice helps you make decisions that directly relate to your career path.

An article in The New York Times called Ready for the Big Leagues? Ask a Career Coach, says that, particularly for midlevel professionals, a Career Coach can help you see what you need to work on to get to an executive level in your career. “Coaches also focus on interpersonal skills, helping people communicate and network more effectively”.

Imagine a personal trainer helping you prepare for a marathon. They start with a plan of action and tell you how many kilometres to run, how to build up your stamina etc. A Career Coach is much the same. He or she is the performance-based person that keeps you on track with your professional goals and keeps you results-oriented. They are able to keep you focussed and disciplined.

Why you need a Coach

In an article from Transition to Civilian called Why Use a Career Coach, a Career Coach is particularly useful for anyone who wants to stay a step ahead of the pack, or are transitioning from one phase of their career to another, sometimes even if you’re switching career paths. They can be beneficial if you:

  • Need to confirm your long-term and short-term goals
  • Need assistance in your job search
  • Want to learn how to promote yourself and your area of expertise

So remember, no man, no woman, no manager and no junior is an island. It’s up to everyone, at any stage in your career, to encourage support and guidance throughout a career.

Featured photo credit: Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung) via photopin cc