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What Makes Coaching Successful?

Coaching is a simple concept but infinitely varied in how it can be applied. It combines simple exercises with profound insights into how an individual sees themselves in the world and how they can change their perceptions and behaviours. It requires commitment from both the company and the individual being coached, and both need to be sure that the benefits will justify the time that needs to be found from a busy schedule, and the direct cost of the coaching.

What makes for a successful coaching engagement ? Having coached several hundred managers and executives over the last few years, I believe there are some simple principles that need to be considered if you are considering engaging a coach for yourself or someone in your organisation.

The Relationship is Key

For coaching to be effective both parties must trust each other and be able to talk openly about the issue at hand. This may take time to develop and may be restricted to the context of the coaching engagement, but unless the coachee feels that the coach understands them and their issue, and is able to see the world from their perspective, it will be difficult for them to really share what is on their mind. Having a coach with real business experience – ideally at a level equivalent to the person being coached – can help establish credibility which can make it easier to establish the trust which is at the heart of the relationship.

Both Coach and Coachee are Fully Involved

Both parties have to believe that the coaching can be effective and be willing to commit wholeheartedly to exploring and creating a solution. The coachee has to be open to change and self-learning, but so does the coach who needs to check for their own assumptions and judgements. Zen Buddhism has a concept called “beginner’s mind” which refers to an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions – this applies to the coach as much as the coachee. Using coaching in a remedial situation or to compensate for a management issue in the wider organisation is less likely to be successful.

There Needs to be an Outcome

This may need to be redefined and enhanced – or even changed – during the process, but coaching is intended to produce a tangible change in understanding and behaviour, not just be a nice chat. It is often helpful to agree up front what will have actually changed in the coachee’s perspective of themselves or how they are seen by other people if the coaching was successful. Defining this clearly, and checking in during the engagement as to whether progress is being made toward these specific outcomes, can help structure the engagement. It is likely that other issues and opportunities will arise during the engagement, and these may create additional desired outcomes, or may change the definition of the outcome originally agreed.

Life Goes On

Coaching happens in the middle of other activities, family and work events, and changes in the broader context. There may be other immediate concerns or family issues outside of the scope of the coaching – but of concern to the coachee which will have an impact on their focus. The situation may change significantly during the coaching process which may require the required outcomes to be re-evaluated. Both the coach and coachee must be aware of the wider context in which the coachee exists and be sensitive to how this is impacting on the engagement.

It is Not about Techniques

There are many different coaching tools and techniques, but they are often interchangeable depending on the situation and personal preference. What is important is that the coach is flexible about what approach is brought to each element of a session – and understands why it is relevant in that instance. The observation that “to a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail” applies to coaching as well.

Change Takes Time

We are so used to everything happening fast that we often underestimate how long it takes to change ourselves. Personal change happens in biological time rather than electronic time. Coaching sessions are often set up over an extended period with perhaps a month between them, to allow for reflection and the ability to create new habits. Much of the real change work takes place outside of the sessions – and it is important to allow time for this to happen. There also needs to be some momentum in the engagement to build on previous sessions and to ensure that there is a sense of progress. Meeting every 2 to 3 weeks for say an hour, perhaps after a longer initial session, can work well and would suggest a duration of six months for a typical 12-hour coaching engagement.


Calum Byers is an Aziz executive coach with an excellent perspective on varying cultural and leadership styles in different countries drawn from years of working in C-Suite roles in operations, sales and leadership (Europe, the Middle East and Asia).

Leadership Development, Team Coaching and Change Leadership in the New World

The Power of Coaching

Surviving the First 90 Days in a New Leadership Role


About Aziz Corporate

Aziz was founded over 40 years ago by Khalid Aziz, a media pioneer of his day who at 21 became the youngest ever appointed BBC producer.

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