Many of the books and literature on executive coaching emphasise the importance of the coaching relationship. However most of these seem to do this from the perspective of practitioners rather than that of clients. This could be seen as a particular problem, if as suggested, the clients’ view of the quality and strength of the relationship may differ to that of the coach, but provide a better prediction of coaching outcome.
As a result in 2010 I carried out research with clients of executive coaching to find out more about what in their view had an influence on the strength of the executive coaching relationship. For those that are academically minded all the references for the points in this article can be found in the full research report at the website address shown below.
Few writers on executive coaching seem to provide explicit definitions of the executive coaching relationship, preferring instead to give a description of its characteristics. It appeared that in these accounts the executive coaching relationship encompasses more than the personal coach-client relationship, and includes aspects such as the goals for coaching and the agreed ways of working together (for example confidentiality boundaries). The executive coaching clients interviewed as part of my research also felt these were important aspects of relationship, but went on to highlight other important influences not emphasised in the coaching literature.
Demonstrated Understanding in Executive Coaching
The executive coaching clients interviewed all felt that their coach’s ability to understand them and their circumstances was essential to the relationship. Clients were able to tell how well their Executive Coach understood them by the way the coach summarised, but also by the tools and exercises the coach suggested. In several cases the suggested tool indicated to clients that the coach did not really understand them. Executive Coaches may not always be aware how their interventions and suggestions indicate their understanding.
Trust and Confidentiality
Also important to clients was the trust they could place in their Executive Coach. This not only related to confidentiality, but also to the competence of the Executive Coach to manage the type of things clients may raise as part of the executive coaching discussion. Linked to this clients felt that the skills of their coach had a strong influence on the executive coaching relationship. The Executives interviewed were very results orientated and goal focused. They wanted more from their Executive Coach than a warm relationship, they also wanted an Executive Coach that would challenge them and stretch their comfort zone in order to help them reach their executive coaching objectives.
The Executive Coaching Process and Relationship
Other influences on relationship that arose during the interviews related to the executive coaching process and the location for coaching. Clients felt that coaches who opened the session with a summary of the last meeting had an active interest in them and had prepared for the meeting. Also seen as important to the executive coaching relationship was the availability of the coach between sessions to provide telephone or email support. The location for coaching was perceived to provide a psychological bridge to and from the coaching session. The majority of clients preferred a location that was away from their normal office environment and its familiar distractions. Such a location did not have to be entirely private, but needed to offer a relaxed environment. The geographic distance from the office seemed to provide the time for executive coaching clients to mentally prepare for the coaching session and absorb its outcomes afterwards.
The Implications for Executive Coaches
Often in coach training and actual practice aspects such as the executive coaching process and location are not seen in the same context as the relationship. Given the importance of the clients’ perspective of the strength and quality of executive coaching relationship to successful outcomes, it seems critical that Executive Coaches are aware that clients may incorporate into their view of relationship the wide range of factors described in this article. This should improve future executive coaching practice and therefore be of benefit to executive coaching clients.
Much more information on the clients’ experience of the executive coaching relationship is available in the full research report.
Key words; Executive Coaching clients, Executive Coaching relationship, Executive Coaching, Executive Coach, Executive Coaching Company, Executive Coaching Provider, Executive Coaching Services,
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