8 qualities of the best executive coaches

There’s a good reason why so many business leaders have turned to executive coaching: it works. One study found that executives with coaches had better revenue and more engaged employees.

Another found that coaches help business leaders improve their leadership, self-confidence, and self-awareness. Countless businesses, from startups to Fortune 500 companies, are hiring executive coaches and seeing results.

But what do great coaches bring to businesses? They have years of experience—successes, failures, and everything in between—they use to guide business leaders through tough issues. Rather than lecturing, coaches listen, think, and ask thoughtful questions, allowing business leaders to grow without being forced in one direction. The best executive coaches do all of this selflessly—not for their own glory, but for the betterment of the business leader.

Below, we’ve compiled the eight best qualities of executive coaches.


1) Coaches are great sounding boards

The best executive coaches possess conversational intelligence and can actively listen to business leaders. Coaches focus on what business leaders are saying without interruption, then respond thoughtfully—they’re Socratic teachers rather than by-the-book lecturers. They give business leaders a unique perspective, one they could only get from someone who has years of their own experience, while allowing the business leaders to grow organically.

2) Coaches impart their fundamental understanding of business

Coaches use their knowledge and experience to offer business leaders the chance to explore issues that may be stunting their potential.

An executive coach is akin to a football coach. A head football coach won’t be able to tell a quarterback how to move or where to throw the ball amid a hectic play. But before the play, they can impart knowledge of what they’ve seen in similar situations to help improve the quarterback’s situational awareness. In turn, executive coaches can listen to a problem and tell a business leader what they’ve seen, discussing different ways the problem could be solved. Coaches can’t make decisions for the business leaders—just as football coaches can’t sub into the game for a quarterback—but coaches can guide them toward better thinking and decision-making.

3) Coaches have emotional intelligence

Business leaders are often intelligent, logical people who excel at managing a business by data and theory. But many leaders find that the hardest part of running a business is managing people.

The best executive coaches have seen and experienced a range of interpersonal relationships, witnessing first-hand what makes people tick and how they work together. Coaches help business leaders better manage tricky interpersonal situations, as they’ve earned emotional intelligence that can only be won through experience.

4) Coaches provide a confidential space

The old axiom that “it’s lonely at the top” rings true for business leaders. They often aren’t comfortable sharing their issues with others, believing that their problems are too unique for others to understand or too private to divulge.

Coaches give business leaders a private, confidential space to speak about the challenges they often mull alone. They help business leaders see that others have experienced similar issues, allowing business leaders to get out of their own heads and look at their issues with a fresh perspective.

5) Coaches teach from real-world experience

Experience is a powerful teacher—there are few better ways to learn than seeing if what you’ve tried succeeds or fails. The best executive coaches have a cadre of stories of their own experiences that they use to teach business leaders, helping them avoid some of the business world’s harsher failures.

While nothing can replace first-hand experience, an executive coach’s real-world experience can serve a map, giving business leaders a view of the paths toward success.

6) Coaches help set goals and hold business leaders accountable

A business leader’s goals should always tie back to what’s best for the organization. Sometimes, business leaders know exactly what they want—often, they set goals that are too low, too lofty, or at odds with other goals. Executive coaches can help them calibrate their goals to the business’s needs.

One of the best qualities of executive coaches is that they can help business leaders visualize these goals. They help leaders envision what will help the business thrive, mentally modeling what may happen. Then, coaches will be there for the business leader as they try to meet the goal, supporting them as they deal with obstacles and unexpected issues. Coaches will talk business leaders through tough times and hold them accountable to meet — and often exceed — their goals.

7) Coaches are committed to lifelong learning

What do Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffet all have in common? Aside from their riches and years of success, all are committed to reading and continuously learning.

Much like these hugely successful leaders, the best executive coaches never stop learning. Coaches are always reading, studying, and speaking with other knowledgeable people so they can stay at the top of their game. The best executive coaches are eternally curious about business. This will help business leaders grow, as the desire to learn and thrive is contagious.

8) Coaches live for serving business leaders

The best executive coaches see coaching as more than just a job — it’s a calling.

Executive coaches are fascinated by what makes businesses thrive, by how they can serve the executives whom they coach. They will ask a lot of questions and spend hours mulling ways they can help. For business leaders used to doing all of their thinking, planning, and goal-setting by themselves, this outside perspective can be a huge boon, leading to successes they had never before imagined.

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Vistage Staff

Vistage facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs and other senior leaders, focusing on solving challenges, accelerating growth and improving business performance. Over 45,000 high-caliber execu

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