Top 10 Qualities of the Best Executive Coaches

Ken Larson

Ken Larson

Many C-Suite executives looking to streamline their path to success know they can’t do it alone. The best executive coaches help to improve the decision-making process and address obstacles that arise both in and out of the office.

Executive coaches aren’t therapists, and they aren’t advisors. They work with entrepreneurs, top managers, senior leaders, and white-collar professionals to identify issues and create new methods for achieving balance and seeing results. Most can help with challenges that are occurring in your personal life as well as situations that are taking place in your professional environment. 

These coaches provide a different perspective — often one built on years of experience as an executive themselves — that allows decision makers to grow in a way that works for their specific situation. There’s no one-size-fits-all for professional executive coaching, and your sessions should always feel unique to your personal and professional goals. 

On average, coaches will meet with executives once a week or once every two weeks, depending on the situation. You may meet in person or over a video conference. You’ll discuss your issues and challenges, determine the appropriate actions. You’ll then be held accountable for those actions being taken to tackle those challenges and issues. You’ll likely be given some reading or exercises to work on in between meetings. Top executive coaches will encourage you to always keep learning.

A session will normally focus on a present challenge needed to be overcome to reach the goals you’ve set at the beginning of working together. Coaches help you to set goals that are realistic yet allow you to grow as an individual and a professional.

However, that makes finding a trustworthy and valuable executive coach that much more difficult. Many offer a complimentary session to see if the relationship is a good fit. Executives should feel that they’ve gained clarity even in the first session, which can happen when an executive coach has these 10 qualities that lead to effectiveness.                         

1. They’re Fully Present

You should feel that your executive coach has nowhere they would rather be than right in front of you, providing the resources and empathy you need to handle whatever issue is a challenge. 

Make sure they don’t:

  • Disrespect your time by being late 
  • Have their phone out or, worse, check it during your meeting
  • Seem to be distracted when you speak
  • Talk about themselves beyond that which can help you achieve your goals

To achieve a healthy return on investment (ROI) on your executive coach, they need to be fully present. If they’re not, keep researching top executive coaching firms for a better fit.

2. They’re Completely Objective

A top executive coach may have experience within your specific industry or not, but they should never present a subjective position that makes you wonder whose side they’re on. It’s not their place to be judgmental or react strongly to something you say. They should be calm and collected, almost detached as they offer the space you need to determine your best path.

3. They’re Always Confidential

C-suite executives and entrepreneurs can struggle with both personal and professional problems, and you need to work with someone you can trust with anything you share. Often your coach is the one person in your life you can share anything and everything with.

Your time with executive coaches should be considered a safe space, where you can be fully vulnerable. This can be a difficult position for decision makers, but it’s often impossible to move forward without the ability to be open and honest. 

4. They’re Non-prescriptive

Executives didn’t get to their position by wanting to be told what to do. You’re likely an independent, creative thinker who forges ahead with what you determine to be best — and that shouldn’t change when you work with an executive coach. These coaches aren’t consultants, and they shouldn’t tell you what to do.

Instead, the best executive coaches tend to work in collaboration with their clients to brainstorm solutions and work toward mutually agreed-upon goals. You should feel in control of the process, even when it’s challenging.

5. They’re Naturally Curious

Instead of simply providing some stock advice, a top executive coach will instead ask a lot of questions. They don’t presume to know your unique situation because they never could. Even if you are struggling with a somewhat typical situation, such as determining the best way to fire an underperforming employee, the answer is in the details of your work environment.

By asking questions, executive coaches can help you gain the clarity you need. They can help you see your issues from a brand new perspective. This will position you to make the best decisions and decide on the best action steps. They are trained to provide the structure you need to create a path that works for you.

6. They’ll Be Your Accountability Partner

It’s all-to-easy to be ambitious with your goals only to be overwhelmed by the day-to-day operations and deadlines that are associated with your company or industry. But the best executive coaches won’t let you make excuses. You won’t be able to hide from your commitments with the right coach.

You won’t be able to enhance your leadership role and reach if you can bypass the tough work that it takes to get ahead. You won’t be able to improve your team’s performance if you are too busy to grow yourself. Working with an executive coach should give you an extra incentive to see your goals through to completion, no matter how much work is on your plate.

7. They’ll Be a Clarity Miner

If you have a blind spot, by definition you’re not going to see it. Instead of shining a light directly on it, the best executive coaches will help you clear a path so you can see with clarity. Maybe there is a troubling dynamic in your life impacting your productivity. You’ll benefit from someone who can reveal and extract clarity in any situation so that it’s easier for you to know exactly what needs to be done.

As a clarity miner, your executive coach will be able to set you up to make the best decisions that result in the optimum actions. Their perspective should serve as a catalyst for change that feels right and can demonstrate a measurable, positive impact.

8. They’re a Resource Provider

Whether you’re working to scale up your company or optimize current performance, you’ll likely need more than a trustworthy ear. You need resources. Without accurate data, new technology, developing best practices, and potential partnerships, you may still lack what you need to move ahead.

Professional executive coaching should be like having a mentor with a wide breadth of knowledge, wisdom, and experiences. They should provide methods for managing time and overseeing teams that you had yet to consider.

9. They’re an Engaged Listener

A coach needs to be fully present, and it’s even more valuable for them to have active listening skills. You should feel seen, heard, and understood during every session.

Look for these signs to determine if your executive coach is an engaged listener:

  • They offer new perspectives on what is discussed
  • They provide feedback that helps you, perhaps in ways you’ve yet to consider
  • They paraphrase your ideas back to you in a way that’s accurate and illuminating
  • They take notes during your meeting

You should never wonder if your executive coach is paying attention. They’re actively involved in the conversation and model ideal communication skills. You can often learn how to be a better listener simply by watching them in action during your sessions.

10. They’re Willing To Share Their Vast Toolbox

Although an executive coach shouldn’t tell you what to do, they can suggest ways to encourage better decision-making. They should have a large arsenal of exercises, examples, and tools to help you move past confusion and stagnation in an active, effective manner. 

Managing others and making decisions that impact your entire company doesn’t always come naturally. These are skills that you can develop with the right guidance. You may be surprised at some of the suggestions an executive coach will recommend. 

For example, they may recommend physical exercise programs, meditation practices, or yoga classes. They may pull from ways of work from younger or older generations. They could even connect you with peers within your industry who facilitate your success faster than doing the work alone. 

Bonus Quality: They Are Arsonists

No, being an arsonist doesn’t mean they’ll burn down everything you’ve worked so hard to build. Professionals at top executive coaching firms in Canada and throughout the world have an innate ability to ignite the fires within. They’ll be a catalyst to get you to change your behaviors and let go of what isn’t working.

By setting aflame any outdated concepts of working and lighting a new path, executive coaches provide inspiration to help you grow and develop both at work and at home. They’ll motivate you to take control of your current situation and set you up for an optimum impact.

Sometimes, change happens overnight. In fact, you should expect to find value in every session with an effective executive coach. But bigger shifts can be challenging and demand a little longer. 

When first working with an executive coach, it’s best to discuss realistic expectations for the process. This relationship will likely last for a long time if there’s a good match. You may be surprised what they want to burn down and what they can help you build from the ashes.