Gold circle patternsAn earnest coach asked me: ‘How do I know my coaching is successful?’ Inspired to explore this notion, I realized that many roads to success lie in front of us as we begin a coaching assignment. Sometimes we take one road and merge onto another. Other times we use a map and there are times we do not. One big measure of success in executive coaching is that we arrive in a different place from where we started.

In sports, a coach’s success features the athlete on the podium or scoring points well. For an acting coach, one’s resume may feature prized roles and awards earned by their students. American Pharoah, winner of the 2015 Kentucky Derby, was trained by Bob Baffert who sent out horses to win nine Triple Crown races and 10 Breeders’ Cup events. Using these analogies, executive coaches might claim raises and promotions via achieving business results as strong indicators of success. This requires that the coach know what business drivers demand of the executive. Part of a coach’s contracting at the start of an engagement will include review of business objectives and company strategy with the executive. Then the necessary skills and performance improvements implicit in the performance objectives become the roadmap for the coaching work. In this mode, the client defines success.

Sometimes the work in a coaching session looks mechanical similar to drills for an athlete or scales for a musician. Called skill building, this type of coaching may focus on delegation or communication. Other coaching requires the building of a new habit to replace an ineffective one. Often, the coaching domain is leadership. Together with the executive, the coach builds reserves of courage and personal motivation to challenge the status quo. For the executive who is unafraid of self-awareness and vulnerability, coaching may bring about a personal transformation. Whatever level of coaching and whatever its duration and focus, business impact is the gold standard of success.

Quantitative Success Indicators for the Coach

Let’s amplify the original question: ‘How does a coach know the executive client is improving and changing behaviors and ultimately improving their business performance?’ The quantifiable answer to this line of questioning arrives some distance away when the year’s results are tallied. Learning those results and reflecting on the annual performance review requires delayed gratification on the part of the coach. Sometimes, the actual coaching work finishes before these annual reviews and the coach may never learn about them. Fortunately, there are more immediate signs of success that the coach may observe and take to heart.

Qualitative Success Indicators for the Coach

Consider what may occur during a coaching session to glean indicators of change or shift on the part of the executive. What choices vary or habits alter? What the coach observes, feels, and tracks in the coaching sessions prove progress and forward momentum. Here are some sample indicators of successful coaching that the executive may display:

  • Assumptions and opinions are examined and questioned leading to a new way of looking at a challenge or opportunity
  • Resistance to someone or something is explored and a shift in approach ensues
  • Focus improves and clarity of purpose is emphasized
  • Reflection on one’s motivations deepens – – a healthy vulnerability leading to self-acceptance, some humor, and more confidence
  • Emotions are safely discussed and valued
  • Body language changes: energy is visible. Posture improves.
  • Issues are spoken about differently and constructively
  • Feedback is sought from the coach.
  • Options for personal change increase
  • New goals are set with increased commitment to them.
  • Notes are taken.
  • Laughter happens.
  • Gratitude is expressed

When these moments occur in a coaching session, the coach may allow him or herself to consider coaching a success. Why? If the change (or shift in attitude or behavior) does not occur in the coaching session, it probably will not happen on the job (Hawkins and Smith 2006, p.28). Over time, ingrained patterns of behavior that impede an executive’s performance are addressed and new ways of acting emerge. This coaching leads to business success. Sometimes it takes five meetings; sometimes it takes 20 or more.

Reference: Hawkins, Peter and Smith, Nick (2006) Coaching, Mentoring, and Organizational Consultancy, Open University Press, p. 28