The Executive Coaching Guide – Part 4

The Executive Coaching Guide P4

As demonstrated in part 2, the benefits of executive coaching can be far-reaching. Effective executive coaching supports executive satisfaction, individual performance and organisational outcomes.

The critical question, however, is how do you make sure that this happens, that executive coaching actually delivers on its potential? The seven critical steps, written from the perspective of someone potentially receiving coaching, are outlined below.

Step 1: Coaching Readiness

Readiness for coaching refers to the extent to which you are ready, willing, and able to be coached. Simply put, the higher your level of readiness, the more likely you are to make the most of the experience and the bigger the likely return on investment for your organisation.

This is important because, no matter how capable a coach might be, no progress or improvement will occur if you do not take responsibility for it. Ultimately, it is your motivation and commitment that matters most.

Critical questions for coaching readiness:

  • Do you have a strong desire to improve?
  • Are you willing to learn and change in order to improve?
  • Are you willing to invest the time and energy it takes to improve yourself?

Step 2: Strategic Alignment

Strategic alignment means ensuring that executive coaching is consistent with and supportive of your organisations strategic priorities. This sounds obvious, but it is surprising how many coaching assignments do not align individual and organisational objectives.

Thus, strategic alignment is important, as coaching effectiveness is far greater when tied directly to strategic and mission critical objectives.

Critical questions for strategic alignment:

  • What are your strategic priorities?
  • What are the implications of your strategic priorities for your role in terms of what do you need to be good at?
  • What are your development objectives?
  • What is the linkage between your developmental needs and those of your organisation?

Step 3: Organisational Support

Organisational support means ensuring that the key people involved in your development have bought into the value of executive coaching and are supportive of you and your involvement in that process. Simply put, the more supportive your organisation is, the more likely you are to receive the developmental opportunity.

Enrolling support, however, requires that you clearly articulate the benefits of any programme for you and your organisation. Therefore, your goal should be to communicate the ways in which your coaching programme can add as much value as possible.

Critical questions for organisational support:

  • What are the benefits of coaching for you, your team and your organisation?
  • Who are the stakeholders who have an interest in your success and how should you to keep them involved?
  • What organisational support do you need to succeed with coaching?
  • How can you make sure you have enough opportunities to apply the new skills at work?

Step 4: Understand The Drivers Of Executive Success

In terms of executive success, it is fair to say that some executives are average performers, some are good and some are truly outstanding. However, it is the possession, and more importantly the application, of competencies that determine which category you fall into.

One way to think about competencies is to view them purely in terms of the extent to which they support an executives’ ability to make an impact. There are three levels:

  1. Commonplace competencies, which are usually management-related. These are necessary for success but often have the smallest positive impact on strategic priorities, for example. An executive who is only strong in this area is usually just seen as an average performer.
  2. Distinguishing competencies, which are usually leadership-related. These competencies have a stronger impact on strategic priorities because they are usually related to the movement between now and the future, for example. An executive who is good in this area is usually seen as a strong performer.
  3. Defining competencies, which are usually related to creating and maintaining personal peak performance. These competencies drive personal impact and the successful application of the other competencies, for example. Executives who are strong in this area are usually seen as outstanding performers.

Unfortunately, most organisations operate with an incomplete model of executive success. Either success is narrowly defined around one competency area and neglects other critical areas; or it is too broadly defined and assumes that every competency area is equally important for success.

The 80:20 principle also applies to the competencies that drive executive success. That is, 20% of your competency set likely contributes 80% of your impact. The trick is identifying the competencies that make up the 20% for your unique set of circumstances.

Critical questions for understanding the drivers of executive success:

  • What are the critical drivers of executive impact as it relates to your organisation/situation?
  • What are your strengths as a manager, leader and peak performer?
  • What are your development needs as a leader, manager and peak performer?

Step 5: Find The Right Coach

Finding the right coach means hiring the right provider to ensure you get the most out of coaching for you and your organisation. Unfortunately, this is not always easy because:

  1. Coaching accreditation is no guarantee of quality as most accrediting bodies will accredit all their students rather than just the best;
  2. Business consultants coming to coaching often don’t understand individual development and the requirements for personal change and therefore tend to underplay the key psychological drivers of results; and
  3. Counselling professionals who come to coaching often don’t understand business requirements and deliver a glorified therapy session that has little relationship to organisational objectives.

In fact, this step is so important that I have devoted a separate section of this guide report to understanding the critical questions you need to ask to hire the best possible coach for your needs. There are, however, three overarching questions that you must get a good answer to.

Critical questions for finding the right coach:

Does your potential coach:

  • Offer a guarantee of results?
  • Have a strong enough knowledge and experience base to support your success?
  • Have strong relationship skills?

Step 6: Make Sure Your Coach Is Using A Systematic Approach

A systematic approach means ensuring that your coach uses a consistent coaching process spanning assessment, coaching delivery, action planning and progress review. Unfortunately, too many coaches suffer from ‘objective drift’. That is, they tend to lose sight of individual and organisational priorities as the coaching engagement progresses.

While you can expect some evolution of your goals over the coaching assignment, the fundamental focus on strategic impact should remain.

Critical questions for ensuring a systematic approach:

Does your coach:

  • Follow a structured coaching process?
  • Use a consistent approach for working with the critical competencies for executive success? (See step 4)
  • Have a way of tracking and monitoring progress and achievement?

Step 7: Make Sure Coaching Delivers

Making sure coaching delivers means ensuring that coaching, as a whole, is delivering the agreed results for you and your organisation. What you absolutely must avoid is participation in an executive coaching programme where there is no way to track the contribution of your development to personal and organisational objectives.

Critical questions for making sure coaching delivers:

  • How will your coach make sure that success criteria and proof of success are clearly established at the start of the coaching assignment?
  • Does your coach apply robust coaching evaluation approach at the end of the coaching assignment?
  • Does the coach provide an opportunity for post-session feedback and an informal mid-point evaluation and review?

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Leadership Success: The Quick Start Guide – Part 3


Here is a simple truth - you can’t become a better leader without learning and you can’t learn without the experiences that go with leadership. In this sense, everything you experience - ‘good’ ‘bad’ ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’– can feed your development as a leader.

So what then constitutes an experience? Basically, it is whatever captures your attention while you are in the middle of it (or after it is over). Thus, your challenges, successes and frustrations all offer the potential to advance your development as a leader. You just need to make the time to reflect and learn from what is in front of you.

What do I need to understand?

Each leader must find his or her own way of succeeding through understanding:

  1. Themselves and what drives them;
  2. The context or world they lead in;
  3. The people they work with and work through;
  4. What constitutes successful action; and
  5. How 1-4 above relate to each other.

Thus, learning to lead is as much about learning how to learn as it is about what you learn; and it is an ongoing experience rather than something that you ‘download’ only at a training course.

The truth is that leaders develop over time through hundreds, even thousands, of experiences beginning in early childhood through young adulthood and into senior leadership roles.

So if you want to become a better leader it means becoming better at learning from experience, particularly those challenging or problematic experiences that cause you to rethink what you are doing as a leader.

Central to this process is the art of reflection. That is, the process of stepping back from an experience to carefully take stock and, through doing so, drive your development. The process of reflection challenges you to view problems, obstacles and successes in new ways; and it helps you to generate insight into yourself and your situation and then helps you to put those insights back into practice.

So how then do you make the most of reflection as a learning process? It can be as simple as creating a leadership learning journal. In fact, as little as one hour spent reflecting on a challenging situation, using some simple questions and guidelines, can significantly increase your learning from that situation.

So what kind of questions can I consider?

Think of a challenging leadership situation, that you have been or are currently faced with, and then consider the following questions:

  • What were you trying to achieve?
  • What worked in that situation and what did you do well?
  • What didn't seem to work as well as you would have liked?
  • Did anything push your ‘hot buttons’? Why? What does this tell you about what you think is the right way of doing things?
  • If the person you respect the most in the world was to give you some guidance about this situation, what would they say?
  • What possible options for new action have you identified now? What others can you think of?
  • Which option(s) might you focus on to improve your results next time around?
  • What is the first small step you can take today that will get things heading in the right direction?

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Leadership Success: The Quick Start Guide – Part 2


The purpose of leadership is to advance the greater good of others, to contribute to something bigger than yourself. In other words, the success and well-being of your people, organisation or community. Put another way, the purpose of leadership is not to advance your personal status, career or glorify your own ego. Awards and recognition do come with good leadership, but they are the by–products of good leadership not the purpose.

A Leadership Map

Unfortunately, in spite of what many leadership gurus say, there is no magic formula for leadership. Each leader has to discover for themselves the best way of succeeding in their world. Adopting such an approach better equips you to understand the unique challenges of your world. And this is always more useful than trying to fit your situation to some guru's over-simplistic formula of how leadership should be.

The four main areas that are important to the evolution of your leadership are:

1. Learning To Lead

Learning To Lead is at the heart of becoming a better leader. In spite of the popular myth, nobody is born hardwired to be a great leader. The reality is that great leadership evolves from learning successfully from hundreds and thousands of, not always easy, experiences. The key is understanding how to accelerate this process.

2. Leading On Purpose

Leadership On Purpose refers to being clear about what you stand for as a leader and making sure your behaviour is congruent with that. This is important for two reasons. First, if you are not clear about what you stand for, this will create unnecessary self-doubt and stress. Second, if you are incongruent, your team will not believe in you nor trust that you 'have their backs'. You can not lead people anywhere if they don't respect you as a leader.

3. Leading For Impact

Leading For Impact refers to how well you manage your energy, talent, and mindset around the process of achievement. In short, it is a form of success management. That is, organising the talents and resources you have, for the best result, with the least amount of effort. The goal is to understand the few key things that you can do that will have a disproportionate impact on results for a relatively little effort.

4. Leading For Change

Leading For Change is the central work of leadership. As soon as you decide to move, in some way, from where you are now to where you want to be, you are in the change business. What many leaders tend to forget, however, is that all organisation and social change is still fundamentally a form of people to change. Even if the focus of your change is on systems and structures, these are still created and used and improved by people. Therefore, in order to be successful in leading change, you need to become outstanding at understanding how to help people to change. Redrawing the organisational chart, contrary to popular opinion, is not a form of change leadership.

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The Executive Coaching Guide – Part 3

The Executive Coaching Guide P3

There is growing body of evidence as to the value of executive coaching as a performance improvement tool. This section provides a very brief overview of the research on reactions to coaching, changes in behaviour and return on investment.

Reactions to coaching

Research in this area explores how executives view the coaching experience. In summary, research findings include:

  •  86% of executives rated coaching as very effective and 95% would recommend coaching to other staff members; and
  • Executives saw the major benefits of coaching as being continuous one-on-one attention, expanded thinking through dialogue with a curious outsider, self-awareness, including blind spots, personal accountability for development, and just-in-time learning.

Behaviour change

Behaviour change measures the extent to which executives change their on-the-job behaviour after being coached. Recent findings include:

  • 92% of coaching participants improve their personal performance, leadership and management effectiveness;
  • Significant improvements in the areas of people management, peer relationships, goal setting, prioritisation, engagement, productivity and interpersonal communication;
  • Executive coaching makes a particularly valuable contribution at key career transition points and when leaders face new and/or complex challenges; and
  • A significant effect on the psychological variables affecting performance such as self-efficacy; and a positive contribution to leadership retention, stronger corporate working and better management of risk.


Research in this area refers to the effect of executive coaching on the achievement of organisational objectives. One area that has received a lot of attention is the return on investment (ROI) of executive coaching. Research findings on the utility of executive coaching include:

  • An average return of $7.90 for every $1 invested in executive coaching,
  • An average ROI of 5.7 times the initial investment, and
  • A 529% return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business.

One note of caution, however, is that while the ROI numbers above may appear impressive, they are based on case studies created by commercial consultancies. That is, they have not been subjected to the same level of rigour as articles appearing in peer reviewed academic journals.


  1. Parker-Wilkins, V. (2006). Business impact of executive coaching: Demonstrating monetary value. Industrial & Commercial Training, 38, 122-127.
  2. Turner, C. (2006), Ungagged: Executives on executive coaching, Ivey Business Journal.
  3. Chiumento, S. (2007) Coaching counts. London: Chiumento Research Report. Retrieved from
  4. Kombarakaran, F.A., Yang, J.A., Baker, M.N., Fernandes, P.B. (2008) Executive coaching: It works, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and research, Vol 60, No 1, 78-90.
    Simpson, J. (2010) In What Ways Does Coaching Contribute to Effective Leadership Development?International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, Special Issue No.4.
  5. MetrixGlobal LLC (2001): Executive Briefing: Case Study on the Return on Investment of Executive Coaching.
  6. Manchester Inc. (2001). The Impact Of Executive Coaching.
  7. MetrixGlobal LLC (2004): The Business Impact of Leadership Coaching at a Professional Services Firm.

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The Executive Coaching Guide – Part 2

The Executive Coaching Guide P2

Leadership has long been seen as a critical determinant of organisational success. Simply put, better leaders produce better results. Becoming a better leader, however, requires learning and development.

It was in response to this need that the field of Leadership Development emerged. Leadership development is the process of building a leaders’ skills and capabilities to better meet the demands and challenges that their organisation or community faces. Effective leadership development, therefore, begins with greater impact as the central goal and ensures that any development activity has a strong strategic focus.

The Emergence Of Executive coaching

The term ‘executive coaching’ first emerged in the late 1980’s It has grown rapidly over the past three decades in popularity and application as a viable leadership development practice.

Initially, executive coaching was developed to rescue talented individuals who were in danger of derailing because of a particular weakness in their performance. More recently, the scope of executive coaching has broadened beyond the ‘deficit’ problem to include a much broader focus on the development of executive-level skills that impact the entire organisation. The specific needs that executive coaching now addresses include:

  1. Accelerated achievement where there is a focus on accelerating the development of specific skills necessary for achieving key results quickly;
  2. Transitions where the executive has stepped into a new role, or taken on new responsibilities, and needs to develop new skills in order to succeed;
  3. Times of rapid change or growth where the leader is confronted by multiple challenges and demands and needs to navigate a way through them; and
  4. The talent pipeline where the focus is on developing the capabilities of ‘high potentials’ to broaden the talent pool for leadership succession.

What Has Driven This Growth?

The growth in demand for executive coaching services has been driven by the need to:

  1. Help executives to develop and deal with novel problems for which there is no ready-made answer;
  2. Help time-limited executives to transfer skills back into the work environment, quickly evaluate progress and make adjustments as necessary;
  3. Create a confidential and objective “space” for self-reflection - a sounding board on organisational dynamics and strategic matters;
  4. Deliver constructive feedback on current behavioural patterns and how effective these are in producing business goals; and
  5. Challenge thinking and decision-making processes to make sure that any proposed action has a robust foundation.

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Leadership Success: The Quick Start Guide – Part 1


Successful leadership is usually defined in terms of goal achievement. For instance:

Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how it can be done effectively, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish the shared objectives (Yukl, G., 2001).

While such definitions address the importance of achievement and working with others, they miss two critical aspects of leadership - who you are and why you lead.

Thus, successful leadership also requires being the best person you can be and being clear about who and how you want to serve.

In other words:

  • You are the catalyst for making good things happen in your world, and as such, you need to learn to be the best catalyst possible; and
  • The ultimate goal of leadership is to serve the greater good of others in some way, whether that be in your family, organisation or community.

The Purpose Of This Guide

The purpose of Leadership Success: The Quick Start Guide is to provide you with a series of questions to help you reflect on your leadership. Ultimately, it is the power of such reflection that allows you to:

  1. Strengthen your credibility;
  2. Have more impact, and
  3. Create lasting change.

To make the most of this guide, take some time to review a section each week and make it fun while you do so. Perhaps you could take yourself out for a coffee at your favourite cafe or perhaps you could talk these ideas over with another leader whose company you enjoy.

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My Top 10 Leadership Books

I have been asked a few times recently about the leadership books that have most shaped my own thinking. Below is my top 10 list, though not in any particular order. It is a very eclectic list - not all of these books are 'leadership books', but all of them speak directly to leadership, the challenges of change, or to who you are (or perhaps could be) as a leader.

I have checked their availability and they can all be found on or (though looking for them might also give you a good excuse to ‘waste’ a few hours in second-hand bookstores!).

Here they are:

1. First Things First (Stephen R. Covey and A. Roger Merrill, 1999)

first-things-firstWhen I first started becoming serious about living my own purpose as a leader I  struggled with moving from my big picture to 'what I am I going to do on Monday morning'. I didn't have a bridge. This book helped me to start creating it. In First Things First the authors argue that the activities that become most important in our lives should not be guided by ‘to do’ lists and urgency but by our internal compass of purpose and values. In other words, this book is a principle-centered leadership approach focused on personal leadership. It is a fantastic resource for helping you to organise your life as a leader in order to drive impact and legacy and balance your work and personal life.

10 Common Leadership Questions

What Is Leadership?

A typical leadership definition looks something like this: “Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how it can be done effectively, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish the shared objectives.” Yukl, G. (2001)

We prefer: Leadership means being the best person you can be in the service of the goals and aspirations of the organisation or community that matters to you.

How do I discover what I stand for as a leader?

Basically, this is the ‘Who am I?’ question for leaders. That is, your values, principles and purpose as the leader. Consider these questions:

  1. What is important to you about leadership?
  2. Why do you want to lead?

The more clearly you can articulate these answers to yourself, the more likely you are to behave consistently and communicate what you stand for to others.

The Executive Coaching Guide – Part 1

The Executive Coaching Guide P1

If you are considering executive coaching for you or your organisation then this resource is designed to help you.

Before we begin, let me ask you a couple of questions: Would you like to be able to:

  1. Take your own or someone else’s performance to the next level?
  2. Unlock the power of executive coaching as a tool for driving better results?
  3. Know the critical steps for ensuring that executive coaching delivers on its promise?

These questions represent the common concerns that should be addressed by anyone considering executive coaching. Executive coaching represents a significant investment of time, money and resources. Therefore, it is important to make sure it delivers results quickly and provides real value for money.

This special guide will lead you in the right direction to make the best possible choices for you and your organisation.

What is an Executive?

An executive is a leader in the top or upper levels of an organisation or business. That is, a CEO, senior manager, business owner, or director.

The challenges an executive faces are many and varied. Not only are you trying to achieve results for your organisation, but you are faced with continuous change, competing priorities and practical challenges on a daily basis; and a need to work with and through people who are often very different in terms of personality, competence and commitment.

To be a successful executive, you need to become outstanding in the key capability areas. Executive success then, is the right mix of skills and competencies, developed at a high enough level, to drive results. And this is where executive coaching comes in.

What is Executive Coaching?

Executive coaching is a development process facilitated by a coach focused on helping executives to improve their performance and, as a result, the performance of their organisation as a whole. In short, the focus is on making it easier for you to reach goals that were previously difficult to attain. Executive coaching is also characterised by:

  1. A strong focus on accelerating achievement and improving the impact of executives;
  2. The organisation, the executive, and the executive coach working in partnership.
  3. The creation of a tailored, one-to-one solution for the specific needs of the executive.

Executive coaching can have a significant impact on performance, but like any successful approach to performance improvement, it needs to be managed properly.

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The Book About Leadership 2: Chapter 1

Rethinking Leadership is the first of a series of long articles as the basis for 'blogging a book'. I don't know exactly what the book will be called yet and this is an edited, but not perfect draft. I decided it was more important to write this material quickly, to a good standard, than to wait until it was perfect before I started putting it into the world. If you have any feedback or questions about my writing, please contact me here.

CH 1 - Why L Matters

Her name, I think, was Elsa. I spent only an hour with her, but she had a really significant impact on me and how I think about leadership. She was an Austrian woman in her 80s and a concentration camp survivor. She didn’t tell me she was a survivor, but when I sat down next to her I saw her concentration camp number tattooed on her wrist.