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What do Leaders want from a Coach?

Reading a recent article Executive Coach or Trusted Advisor? reminded me of many conversations I have had with senior business leaders, to the extent that I felt compelled to build on it.  And it’s that time of year when you are probably reviewing your year, setting targets for next year and thinking about what support would help achieve them.

I must be clear at the outset that my observations led to one of my own business offerings, Commercial Coaching. However, I believe this enhances the weight of argument as coaching was not part of my initial business plan, rather something specifically developed from the conversations mentioned above.  The fact that I formed this solution, and clients have purchased it, reaffirms what ‘the market’ is saying.

Having gained immense benefit from two long term coaches over my career, and been trained as a coach, like many other leaders, I am a fan of the ‘Executive’ Coach.  As the first model Pierre references illustrates, a good coach enables you to make step change development.  They help you to understand yourself, and through this, impact your results and those around you to best effect.

But speaking with many business and HR leaders they want more!  “It would be great to have someone who has who has broad commercial experience and can advise as well as develop”.

They currently see coaches as coaches, rather than business experts.  Now, many coaches have business experience, however from what I hear, many have not led at the highest level in commercial functions.  Therefore, although better, they are not seen to have the credibility to bring solutions to the coachee’s business issues.

The role leaders are asking for takes the Trusted Advisor that Pierre references to a different level.  In that model the outputs still come from within the coachee.  The coach is Truth Telling about them, Reinforcing behavior, Reminding of past situations and Sparking from within.  These techniques can all be extremely valuable; however, the executive leader wants more: ideas, someone who can provide an independent commercial view, examples of success (and failure).  This is where the traditional Executive Coach is limited.

Leaders want a new type of coach: The Commercial Coach.  A trained coach who has been there and done it in tough business situations, made the mistakes and had success.  They want someone whose breadth and depth of experience enables them to bring fresh perspectives.  An independent equal if you like, that the coachee can bounce ideas off in a safe environment with someone who also deeply understands them from their coaching relationship.


The spin off benefit is flexibility.  The Commercial Coach has a twin focus: develop the coachee to help them maximize personal performance and provide a sounding board for commercial challenges.  If you have a coaching session booked in when a business crisis hits, then it’ll probably be cancelled, unless your coach can help you not just act appropriately, but find solutions that help fix it.  The focus switches seamlessly to the business, and of course learnings are then deeper as you review what happened.

The Commercial Coach is different from a mentor who will have plenty of relevant experience to offer, usually in a more general and informal relationship.  The Coachee should seek out mentors in parallel to coaching to provide another viewpoint.

So, good Executive Coaches continue to have a place in helping leaders at all levels to perform and improve.  And as their relationships develop, their role may expand, evolving into more of a Trusted Advisor.  However, to become the valued advisor today’s top leaders want, The Commercial Coach could be the ultimate answer.


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