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While much has been said about the significance of the coaching relationship, less is known about what factors predict and maintain a successful, enduring coaching relationship. Is it likeability, common interests, expert influence, or an ICF certification? If the quality of the coaching relationship is so highly correlated with coaching outcome, the answer to this question should be the leading criteria for selecting an executive coach.

Based on our coaching work at AIIR, we believe there are 6 critical skills that a coach must possess to develop and manage a successful coaching relationship:

  1. Building Trust: Demonstration of ethical judgment, clear communication around confidentiality,  conscientiousness, and creation of a safe environment to speak openly and take risks
  2. Creating Connection: Warmth, acceptance, empathy, and genuine interest in the other
  3. Maintaining Curiosity: Listening more than talking and asking questions that elicit deep insight
  4. Being Invested: Demonstrating through words and actions a strong interest in the success of the client
  5. Establishing Influence: Achieving respect and credibility through consistent displays of professionalism, acumen, humility, and likeability
  6. Demonstrating Authenticity: Walking the walk. If the topic is executive presence, the coach should understand this not only intellectually, be express it dispositionally.

Leveraging these 6 skills of coaching relationship management creates a platform in which coaching conversations become meaningful and clients feel comfortable enough to take risks and try new behaviors.

Unfortunately, all too often we see HR, talent management, and business leaders misconstrue the concept of a coaching relationship as the ‘chemistry’ between 2 people. In these terms, it’s as though there is some magical connection that can be established between a coach and client. Symptoms of this romanticized version of chemistry, or coach-fit, are: (1) an expectation that the coach needs to have a similar background or life experience as the client in order to understand them; (2) providing coaching candidates more than 2-3 coach options to interview; or (3) a belief that a coach’s experience needs to closely match the culture of the organization.

However, based on our outcome data at AIIR, coaching results are more closely correlated to a coach’s proficiency in the 6 skills for managing a coaching relationship than any other variable. For this reason, we believe this data should guide decisions in the coach selection process whether you are seeking a coach for yourself, or selecting a coach for a business leader in your organization. These 6 areas are equally valuable for coaches to continuously develop in order to maximize their impact on coaching outcomes.

In our next featured blog post, we will focus on the second critical area of coaching for maximizing sustained behavioral change: deriving a valid leadership assessment.