The Critical Coaching Response


Your role: support your protégés.

What to say to a senior executive you are coaching?

Recently the writers of CHALLENGING COACHING asked participants of their World Business and Executive Coaching Summit, “What would you say to a senior executive you were coaching who had not undertaken any of the actions agreed at the previous meeting?” This got me thinking of my own coaching experiences.

Your answer to this key question reveals your development as a coach. If you were this person’s boss, your response may be clearly, “You’re fired or replaced immediately!” Now, that’s leverage. It’s efficient and effective. But it’s not coaching. What leverage do you have as coach?

To answer this, let’s examine your assignment. You are the coach, charged with helping someone turn a challenging track into a winning one. You champion the champion.

Before answering, you must review the stated objectives from the last coaching session, consider the ensuing conditions and the ultimate coaching goal. Were the objectives appropriate and fair? Did the working environment change during the past week? Was it different from the expected environment when the objectives were made? Basically, before berating your protégé over what was missed, consider the prevailing conditions. This is EMPATHY, compassionate understanding, a critical quality for the effective coach. Coaches offer support that motivates. They are hired to catalyze change. Not just to teach. Not just to discipline. Not just to sympathize, as a friend. Saying something like, “There, there. I understand. It’s okay.” is irresponsible. Saying, “How do you feel?” is simply unprofessional. Saying nothing is APATHY, an indifferent lack of concern. But you must say something. So, what can you say?

Coaches are professionals who champion change. They are hired for their related experience, for their sensitivity, for their know-how. They work with protégés who have knowledge, feelings, habits and talents in a diverse variety of environments and working conditions. Many of these assets and conditions may need to be altered by the professional coach without the luxury of control beyond their ability to influence changes.

Take STOCK of your coaching constraints: Sensitivity, Time, Opportunities, Challenges, and Know-how.


How well do you know your protégé Taylor? What motivates Taylor? What are Taylor’s human needs? What are Taylor’s habits? What’s it like to walk in Taylor’s shoes? What’s different? What are the pressures, the joys, the challenges, and the opportunities? How can you tell? Asking doesn’t always provide the answers. You must observe, listen, and assess the answers from your experience and knowledge. Don’t ask how they feel. Interpret their behaviors and test your interpretation through motivational questioning. Offer performance options to fill their needs. Allow them to choose. They are more likely to act if it’s their choice. You can develop the options, they make the choice. Self-motivation is the strongest form of motivation.


How much time do you have for the coaching transformation? Urgency brings stress. Lack of urgency inspires lethargy. Fine tune your process according to your protégé’s speed of change.


What previous changes occurred in Taylor’s career? How can those experiences motivate this change? Are there colleagues on Taylor’s team who can help and support the changes? What can Taylor’s boss do with respect to the environment and workloads to assist the process?


Many executives have both supporters and saboteurs. What are the challenges and challengers to the desired changes? Does the climate inspire or prevent change? Changes supported by CONSENSUS happen almost automatically. But consensus must be built. Can Taylor convert saboteurs and enlist supporters to the cause? Can you show Taylor how to sell change?


Building consensus is not an easy skill, but it’s very effective. Can you help Taylor to build a consensus for change? The key to a good plan are the acts that follow it. Planning without action is just dreaming. Waking up is the time to change a dream into an action. Once the plan is made, then it becomes a process of taking one step after another to make it happen. If the steps decided upon last time are not happening, recreate an action plan that will work.

Take STOCK, generate a new commitment and begin again until it works. Good coaches never give up on their protégés. My answer to the critical coaching question posed in the opening paragraph is, “We failed. Let’s start over and make it work. I’ll help you.”

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