Tips for using a leadership coachLeadership coaching has changed – gone are the days when leaders thought of coaches as resources to fix a “problem” employee.  Now the vast majority of leadership coaches help high potential leaders speed and expand their growth.  And coaching is moving out of the C-Suite and becoming available much more broadly in the company.  As coaching expands and becomes a more common part of companies’ leadership development programs, it’s important for first timers to understand how to use a coach effectively.  And in this spirit, we offer our top ten essential tips for using a leadership coach effectively.

1. Know your coach’s expertise. There are many different kinds of coaches, and they help clients with different kinds of challenges.  They also use different techniques and tools.  Try to understand the challenges you would like help with and make sure the coach has experience and expertise in your area.  A mismatch between what the coach does and what the client needs is a common cause of failed coaching.

2. Understand what coaches do – Your leadership coach is a facilitator, she helps clients work toward greater insight and skill. Coaches are not teachers, trainers or therapists.  Good coaches don’t give answers or tell clients what to do. They also are not teachers or trainers.  Your coach might give you books, links to videos, etc. as resources, but she likely will expect you to do the learning on your own.  She will ask questions, provide feedback and challenge your assumptions to help you think about and approach issues in new and different ways.  Most coaches don’t provide easy answers, but rather help you find the answers yourself.

3. Understand the process – There are many different styles or schools of coaching, but most share a common process (except for very short engagements, such as career coaching that lasts an hour or two). Regardless of your coach’s style, she likely will follow steps like these:

* Establish the Relationship, Establish Mutual Commitments

* Assess the Current Situation

* Define Goals

* Prepare a Plan to Achieve the Goals

* Act on the Plan and Feedback

* Practice Successful Behavior

* Conclude/Transition

By understanding each step, you can work with your coach to help him move through each one as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Don’t be afraid to ask your coach what you’re trying to accomplish in that session or with materials they provide you.  The more you can be clear on want you’re trying to do, the better.

4. Own it – Nobody can make you change, it has to come from you. Your coach can help, and will certainly hold you accountable, but you have to be committed and focused on doing things differently.  And that means being committed to change, being willing to take risks and work through mistakes and failure.

5. No pain, no gain– Your coach will ask you to do activities, practice new styles and approaches to problems and so on. Often these activities will be hard or uncomfortable – which is no accident. The activities your coach asks you to do are designed to present you with new approaches, or to help you gain insight about yourself or the impact you have on others.  They are an important part of helping you learn and grow.  If you don’t do the work, and approach them with an open mind, then you are unlikely to get much out of your coaching.  If you don’t think an activity is useful, talk to your coach about it and understand what it is intended to accomplish.  You can collaborate with your coach to make sure your work with your coach is moving you forward.

6. Plan your sessions – The more you can go into your sessions with a plan and a set of issues to address, the more productive you will be. Your coach likely (though not necessarily) will have a plan, but the more you can direct the conversation to your goals and challenges, the better.

7. Keep your eye on the prize – It’s easy to get caught up in the challenges of your day, and some coaches will “meet clients where they are”, which for some coaches means addressing the topic that the client brings. But keep in mind that you have a goal or reason for your coaching, and try to make sure that every session s moves you forward on that goal.  It might feel good, or be satisfying to deal with the flare up of the day, but it often isn’t something that helps with your overall progress.

8. Feel the burn – Your leadership coach will push you outside your comfort zone. The idea of coaching is that you have areas where you could stand to improve, and that means that you have ways of thinking or acting that are not productive.  But they’re what you do or think, and they’re natural and comfortable – even though they are not productive.  The purpose of coaching is to help you think about things differently, or to try new approaches that are different than your usual.  If you’re comfortable in your coaching, then you aren’t stretching or challenging yourself.  Pushing past your usual behavior is hard, but with work, you can overcome your comfort zone.

9. Be open – Your coach can only help you as much as he can understand where you are and what your challenges are. It’s important to be open and sharing, and to listen and try new things.  Being open also means accepting a coach who might not be just like you.  If you’re really trying to make a change, you don’t need someone who will affirm who you are – after all, your goal is to learn new ways of acting or thinking that make you happier or more productive.  Your coach should be able to push you in new directions.  And that often means asking tough questions, or giving feedback that might hurt.   Remember, your coach isn’t trying to hurt you and isn’t picking a fight.  If you don’t understand where your behavior is counterproductive, how can you change it?  She’s helping you with insight.  If you don’t trust your coach to open up to her or to take her challenges, then you should consider a new coach.

10. Accept that you can change – this is the most important part of coaching. If you don’t think you can change then you won’tAlmost anyone can change how they act, but believing you can do it and working hard at it are absolute requirements.

A great deal of research has shown that coaching is one of the most effective ways to improve leadership skills and performance, and it’s no surprise that it’s becoming a more important part of companies’ leadership development programs.  As more leaders have the chance to work with a leadership coach, making sure they use their coach effectively is important for building great leaders.

Todd Murtha is CEO of Careerwave. Todd is a former workplace psychologist and CEO of a 350 person internet company and is a frequent speaker on leadership, coaching and technology.

Careerwave’s technology-based leadership coaching service is effective and affordable enough to provide a coach to every manager in your company.  Whether you need to coach 1 leader or 100, or need a full leadership program or just an addition to your current program, we can build a program for you.   To learn more, sign up below or contact us at, or visit our leadership solutions page.

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