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To determine when executive coaching should end, the coach, the client, and the other stakeholders must set realistic baseline goals. They have to track progress and objectively assess results at the end to see whether they have achieved their objectives.

Executive coaching is not an open-ended process. Like all educational activities, it aims to accomplish goals, and as such, it consists of a beginning, a handful of intermediary phases, and an end.

How do you know when clients have gotten all they can out of a coaching relationship? When has the coaching process accomplished its goals?

There has to be a finish line in executive coaching. 

An effective coaching relationship encompasses three macro stages:

  • Measuring baseline conditions accurately
  • Monitoring progress
  • Assessing results at the end objectively, with the help of other stakeholders

Setting Goals and Creating a Development Plan

As I have always stressed in my leadership coaching books and blog posts, executive coaching should work its way through a series of well-defined stages. Every leadership professional worth their salt knows that as part of the initial stages, the coach and the coachee have to set some goals.

The initial stages of coaching are:

  • Intake
  • Baseline assessment
  • The exploration and setting of goals based on personal and organizational values, vision, etc.
  • The creation of a development plan that details the stages and milestones the coaching process will cover.

With the development goals in place, it is easy to determine when the coaching process ends: as soon as it accomplishes the objectives. The coach or the coachee may decide to put an end to the coaching relationship before the accomplishment of the goals if they deem such a course of action justified and necessary.

The stakeholders in the coaching relationship have to set clear development goals. Some may start a coaching relationship based on vague objectives such as:

  • Better efficiency
  • Less divisive office politics
  • A more positive and motivating organizational culture
  • Better focus and employee engagement

While these are all worthy goals, they lack the clarity that allows the parties to declare “mission accomplished” at any point in the coaching process.

Monitoring Progress

A solid executive coaching professional uses a reliable system to measure progress throughout the coaching process. Without such a system, it is impossible to determine whether the current approach takes the client closer to the goals set at the beginning of the coaching program.

One way to measure progress is to look for leadership milestones. These milestones can differ from one client to another and depend on the organizational values, goals, and vision.

They do, however, tend to share some characteristics. Here are few typical executive coaching milestones:

  • Clients grow comfortable with their identity and gain the ability to define their values clearly and confidently.
  • Coachees gain courage. They take calculated risks, jump on opportunities, and don’t shy away from difficult decisions. In the context of leadership, courage also translates to patience and the ability to exercise restraint.
  • Clients learn to shift their focus to others. They understand that leadership is about serving a higher cause. They realize the importance of coaching others, helping others fulfill their potential, and inspiring action.
  • Leaders grow to empower and motivate their reports in unique ways. They assume a legacy-focused mindset that facilitates the development of talent within their organization.

Recognizing the Results of Executive Coaching

Having set the goals and worked through the coaching process, how does an executive coach know that the client has achieved the development objectives?

The coach and the client may believe they have accomplished their goals, but it’s up to other stakeholders to decide whether that is, indeed, the case. Such stakeholders could be the direct reports of the client.

If, at baseline, these direct reports say that their leader does not articulate goals and objectives clearly, what do they say when the coaching process ends? Do they report a significant improvement?

Stakeholders can confirm results. 

Assessing when executive coaching has accomplished its objectives may seem simple on the surface, but it can be tricky. Coaches, clients, and other stakeholders must be able to look beneath the surface, set achievable goals, and measure coaching benefits objectively.

When everything clicks, all parties will know that the coaching effort has borne fruit.

Check out my books for more leadership coaching and development insights.

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