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With 2016 around the corner, it’s time to take a step back to reflect on your executive coaching strategy and identify ways to ensure you have the very best coaches developing your leaders. With no shortage of coaches in the market, a great starting point is to re-consider primary criteria for coach selection.

We know from research and our own anecdotal experience that coaching done well can generate powerful results. We also know from research that the coaching relationships account for the most variance in successful engagements. That means the coaching relationship is absolutely fundamental for success. But what does a good coaching relationship look like and what are the ingredients that formulate this invisible dynamic? Is it likeability, common interests, expert influence, an ICF certification? If the quality of the coaching relationship is so highly correlated with successful coaching outcomes, the answer to this question should be the leading criteria for selecting an executive coach.

In reviewing the past 5 years of coaching outcome data at AIIR, we believe there are 6 critical skills, or competencies, that an executive coach must possess in order to develop and manage a successful coaching relationship:

  1. Trust Building: Demonstration of ethical judgment, clear communication of the boundaries of confidentiality, conscientiousness, and the creation of a safe environment to speak openly and take risks.
  2. Creating Connection: Consistently exuding warmth, empathy, and a genuine interest in understanding the other.
  3. Candor: Delivering data-driven feedback, reactions, and impressions, no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable, in order to assist the coachee in excellingbeyond their comfort zone.
  4. Curiosity Mindset: Spend significantly more time listening than talking. Asking questions that elicit deep insight.
  5. Professionalism: Achieving respect and credibility through consistent displays of professionalism, acumen, responsiveness and humility.
  6. Authenticity: Walking the walk. If the topic is executive presence, the coach should understand this not only intellectually, but be able to express it dispositionally, as well.

Leveraging these 6 skills of coaching relationship management creates a relational atmosphere in which coaching conversations become charged with meaning and coachees begin to feel comfortable enough to take risks, try new behaviors, and operate outside of their comfort zone.

Unfortunately, all too often we see HR, talent management, and business leaders misconstrue the concept of a coaching relationship as the elusive ‘chemistry’ between two people. In these terms, it’s as though there is some magical connection that can be established between a coach and coachee based on ‘fit’, like two puzzle pieces coming together. Symptoms of this romanticized version of coach-fit, are:

  1. An expectation that the coach needs to have a similar background or life experience as the coachee in order to understand them.
  2. Providing coaching candidates more than 2-3 coach options to interview.
  3. A belief that a coach’s work experience, style, and mannerisms need to closely match the culture of the organization.

Based on our coaching outcomes at AIIR, results are more closely correlated to a coach’s proficiency in the 6 skills for managing a coaching relationship than any other variable. Wearing jeans when meeting with a high-growth, millennial driven enterprise may have value, but it is not nearly as important as leading with the 6 Coaching Relationship Management competencies.

Whether you are seeking a coach for yourself, or selecting a coach for a business leader in your organization, these 6 Coaching Relationship Management competencies can serve as a useful guide to ensure your coaching strategy is positioned for outperformance in the new year ahead.


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