Today there is often a large gap between what we expect from executives and what’s available to help them develop the attributes and skills necessary for meeting all the expectations placed on them. Executive coaching is designed to bridge that gap, yet only around one-third of organizations make use of executive coaching in developing people for executive roles. Around half use executive coaching for VP-level executives and above, but most organizations continue to rely upon custom training and developmental job assignments as the foundation of their leadership development approach. But executive coaching is far more effective. Executive coaching consists of four basic stages in the coach-executive working relationship: awareness, analysis, action, and achievement, all of which we’ll consider in turn.

Executive coaching intervention

Executives may know what’s expected of them, but they may be unsure of the best way to meet those expectations.

Stage 1: Awareness

The “awareness” stage of an executive coaching intervention starts with a meeting between the coach and the executive team, which may include not only the executive and the person he or she reports to, but also often a senior executive and a representative from human resources. At this stage, the coach participates in discussions to understand the client’s background, goals, and expected outcomes and to ensure the client team is committed to the coaching process.

Additionally, the executive coach meets one-on-one with the person being coached. Here, one goal is to recap and reinforce information from the initial group meeting, clarifying expectations where necessary. Another is to ensure the executive is fully committed to the coaching process. Part of this process includes an in-depth interview in which the executive’s life, career, strengths, weaknesses, and motivations are explored in depth.

Stage 2: Analysis

The second stage of an executive coaching intervention is about analysis. The client may take one or more assessments, and other stakeholders are interviewed. Afterward, a meeting takes place between the coach and client to set expectations, discuss target competencies for success, and understand results from stakeholder interviews. Here and in future phone conferences between coach and client, an individual development plan is finalized and shared with the client’s sponsoring executive and HR representative.

One of the first goals articulated should be reviewing assessment data about the client to identify his or her strengths (including strengths he or she wasn’t aware of), and development needs (including development needs he or she wasn’t aware of). From this, an action plan can be created, along with a schedule of coaching calls where progress will be reviewed, and issues or concerns brought up for discussion.

Stage 3: Action

Executive coaching communication

Regular communication between coach and client is crucial for executive coaching success.

This stage is where the client focuses on specific changes necessary for fulfilling the individual development plan. This may require the client to:

  • Try new behaviors and report on them to the coach
  • Attempt new skills
  • Strengthen key relationships within the organization
  • Talk to successful executives who embody strengths the client wants to develop
  • Meet other stakeholders for their input on the client’s development goals and plans
  • Attend training programs as necessary

Throughout this stage, the client and coach are in regular communication in person or by phone to ensure focus remains on the development plan and to discuss successes and problems in specific situations.

Stage 4: Achievement

The final stage of the executive coaching intervention is the achievement stage. It is at this time that surveys are sent to stakeholders to provide feedback on the client’s improvement and progress. The results of these surveys are discussed with the client, and if course corrections are necessary, they’re documented.

When the time arrives that the client and stakeholders agree that the executive coaching process has met expectations, the coach begins a “phase-down” period where the client is required to do more and more of the target behaviors on his or her own, with decreasing need for one-on-one coaching. Finally, a formal follow-up session can be conducted several weeks after the last coaching session to obtain feedback, acknowledge accomplishments, and present a final report on the outcome of the coaching process.


Successful executive coaching is a defined process with a framework in which each coach and client can customize steps and activities for maximum effectiveness. It requires commitment on the part of the client, the coach, and stakeholders in the client’s organization. Executive coaching is the best way to ensure executives learn how to meet and exceed expectations, both day-to-day and over the long term.

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