8 Attributes of Exceptional Coaches


A 2009 Australian research by Dr Gavin Dagley investigated attributes of exceptional coaching. 20 HR professionals, each having extensive experience in selecting and managing coaching services, provided feedback from working with exceptional Coaches .

Exceptional coaching as defined in the research is ‘Exceptional coaches distinguish themselves where the work is complex, idiosyncratic, personally demanding, uncertain, and/or poorly communicated.’



The eight coaching practices or attributes demonstrated by exceptional coaches are:


Credibility (based on both accumulated experience and in-the-moment performance);


Empathy and respect (and other factors that build rapport and trust);


“Holding the professional self “


“[Exceptional coaches] can sit with the ambiguity of the situation. They are comfortable in being uncomfortable. They are not overly concerned if the executive is uncomfortable and they are not tied up in their own egos about making the executive feel good. It is about getting the right result.”


These three attributes work together to form a positive and engaging working relationship.


Diagnostic skill and insight


“[It’s the ability to] really get to the nub of the issue – the difficult places that the

individual doesn’t want to go. Other coaches can work with surface issues but haven’t

the skills to get to the nub of the issue.”


The ability to get to the core of work and the contextual issues.


Flexibility and range in approach


“Weaker coaches have an ‘I have this ten-step method and I will apply it’ approach,

rather than tailoring the work to each executive. It is not ‘one-size-fits-all.’ Weaker

coaches work was a monologue, not a dialogue – it is not about engaging, not about

discussing. They come with a preconceived notion and dump it onto the executive,

give them homework, and then expect outcomes.”


Exceptional coaches seem to be able to engage in robust conversations whilst maintaining and building a strong working relationship.


Working to the business context


“[A key success factor was] the flexibility of [the coach’s] approach and an open mindedness and willingness to push the boundaries past what the organisation required.”


A philosophy of “personal responsibility”


“I’ve seen weaker coaches give misguided advice – choosing the path for the

executive rather than the executive choosing – for example, advising a person about

an important decision. You need to be careful with coaching as you can end up with

more issues, particularly if the coach lets his or her ego get in the way.”


Skilful challenging


 “The skill was about delivering the feedback that no-one else in the organisation

could give. The coach supported the person, while delivering the hard stuff. That was

the exceptional bit. There is such a high potential for shame in those situations.”

The final three capabilities were identified as important to maintain a focus on the context of the business in which coaching occurs, with responsibility for change firmly resting with coachee, while the coach offers challenging messages to the dialogue with respect, skill and sensitivity.

This research provides a practical tool for HR professionals seeking to select and evaluate their coaches.


The full paper “Exceptional Executive Coaching: Practices, Measurement, Selection & Accreditation – Summary Paper” by Dr Gavin R Dagley, in association with the Australian Human Resources Institute and is available on www.coachingfederation.org

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