6 Essential Attributes of an Executive Coach

By August, 2018Blog

What exactly is the value of engaging with an executive coach and how do I know I have a good one?

Because I’m often asked this question, here are a few attributes to evaluate if executive coaching actually makes a difference in your leadership behavior and organizational performance.

An executive coach can help achieve results such as greater profitability from improved organizational problem-solving, efficiency and effectiveness. While this comes because of a valuable and effective executive coaching engagement, there are usually deeper psychological issues and challenges that have more to do with individual management style, personal power, values and vision.

Ask yourself: What are the most important underlying “beneath the iceberg” concerns and expectations for yourself and then your organization?

During my 30-plus years of experience in this profession, I ensure that in the initial “sensing” conversations we determine the appropriateness of a coaching relationship. This requires an initial inquiry, calling on the individual to disclose personal vulnerabilities and specific personality traits that might sabotage the executive’s honest attempt to be an effective leader and manager.

As a trusted advisor and coach, it’s important for me to understand how one views the world in general and your place within it. This focuses specifically on one’s individual struggles more than the individual’s vision, strategy and goals. The struggles give a much more informative and accurate picture of the main reason for coaching or consulting in most cases.

Personal values, ethics and relationship norms need to be clearly stated as well. Accordingly, this sensing phase is a collaborative two-way street. Before either my client or I can move into an intimate yet professional relationship, we need to see if there will be synchronicity, synergy or relatability between us to undertake this deep work.

So, while you are searching for an executive coach to propel you from a effective or good CEO to a highly effective and great CEO, you need to assess your level of being coachable, willingness to be open and vulnerability.

Terry Bacon and Karen Spear developed a framework in their 2003 paper that includes seven levels of coachability, reflecting the degree of difficulty in coaching a client. Here’s a summary:

Coachability Level Description
Not coachable at present Identified psychological or medical problem that is beyond the scope of a coaching intervention in the workplace.
Extreme low coachability Narcissistic personality. Arrogant. Sees no need to change.
Very low coachability Resists or deflects feedback. Rationalizes negative perceptions. Is openly negative toward the coaching, saying that it is not helpful.
Fair coachability Is complacent and unmotivated to change. Pays lip service to change but is not really committed to it.
Good coachability Demonstrates some resistance to the coaching process but has a growing awareness of the need for change.
Very good coachability Accepts feedback and shows an earnest desire to improve.
Excellent coachability Has an intrinsic need to grow. Is a lifelong learner. Has a realistic sense of self.


The determination of coachability will help with the development of “curriculum.” Not surprisingly, the most coachable executives are those who are highly self-aware and learning agile. Coachability is the baseline that will determine the effectiveness of a coaching engagement.

The leadership and executive coaching program I design is not a quick fix, but a highly individualized and focused curriculum of four-hour sessions, twice a month, for a minimum of one year. The popularity of leadership development and personal training – the addictive craze for quick fixes and short-term impact, utilizing seminars, self-help books, motivational conferences and university programs – only gives added credence to undergoing the much deeper, personal experience an that individualized coaching offers.

For your own assurance and before you engage any coach, you should make sure that the following essential attributes are in place.

  1. A clearly expressed time commitment from your executive coach and yourself and the willingness on his or her part to get into your organizational system and “swim” with you, to become personal and understand your company’s culture. They need to have the capacity and the empathy to reflect on your situation with its unique challenges and opportunities
  2. The ability of the coach to ask the tough questions upfront. The coach has a responsibility to determine the coachability of the leader or CEO and be willing to ascertain whether the likely outcomes of coaching are worth the investment of time, energy and money.
  3. Ability of your executive coach to maintain an ethical third-party role and be a confidential sounding board, which will allow them to become objective and develop decisions they might otherwise be uncomfortable with.
  4. The skills and experience to impart knowledge on relevant leadership – the management tools and processes that will assist you as the CEO to strengthen your leadership skills and empower your team to become self-managed and accountable.
  5. The coach’s ability to influence individual skills, behaviors, roles, team performance, productivity, leadership and culture, as well as strategy execution and business objectives.
  6. The wisdom to help you navigate the path to your own personal purpose and personal vision and to help you achieve your goal to become an excellent CEO/leader.

The best way to assess your potential executive coach is to communicate with their clients, past or present, and ask if they are willing to share the results of their experience.

The more the coaching objectives align with organizational strategies and business needs, the greater the return on investment companies are likely to receive from both the coach and their client.

If you want to know more about how I can help you in this significant decision, please visit https://johnequinlan.com/executive-coaching/, and contact me for a more in-depth conversation.