Essential Coach Quality Professional

Essential Coach Quality: Professional
Now that the foundation of coaching has been established in the first six chapters, it’s time to revisit the Essential Coach Qualities. 

These qualities are: Professional, Empathetic, Empowering, Curious, Courageous, Confident, and Inspiring. On this page, we’ll be visiting the first quality, Professionalism. 


1. A coach establishes clear expectations about the coaching process, and adheres to high ethical standards. 

A professional coach establishes clear expectations about coaching and the coaching process with the client and sponsor (such as a parent, university, or organization) if present. 

Establishing expectations also requires a coach to manage the various roles that a coach may play in a client’s life. For example, in a university setting, an advisor might also be tasked with coaching students, or an executive coach with extensive experience in a select area might be called on as an advisor. 

Professionalism is demonstrated by the coach’s ability to define coaching succinctly, successfully set outcomes, and delineate the different roles a professional might take when working with clients, students, or athletes.

2. A coach maintains confidentiality, respects a client’s experience and identity, and knows when to refer clients to other professionals.

Maintain confidentiality, avoid conflicts of interest, and uphold the other ethical and professional standards, such as being aware of the boundaries of coaching, and when to refer clients to additional resources. This also includes creating clear expectations and agreements with the sponsor if present.

3. A coach sets clear outcomes for the overall coaching relationship, as well as effective agendas for each coaching session.

Establish an effective agenda at the beginning of a coaching session to set a strong foundation for the rest of the session. Eliciting the agenda from the client empowers the client to look proactively at their life, and choose what they want to focus on. Asking the client to set the agenda underlines the principle that the client is the expert in their own life, and the role of the coach is to clarify and explore that agenda. An effective agenda includes exploring a topic (“T”), the importance of the topic (“I”), a way to measure the effectiveness (“M”), and the coach echoing back to ensure understanding and clarity (“E”)—the T.I.M.E. model.

4. A coach designs an alliance with a client to empower the coaching relationship.

Proactively design the way you as a coach work with your client. The technical term in the coaching world is “Design the Alliance”, and it refers to directly addressing various points regarding how your client wants you to be as their coach, from the degree to how hard you push your client, to how often your client wants to check in with you between sessions. A Designed Alliance is your opportunity as a coach to empower your client with the opportunity to make suggestions and give you feedback to make your coaching even more useful to your client. It’s also a time for you as a coach to ask your client their preferences regarding your coaching style, categories of questions, or ways to help them follow through on action steps.

5. A coach addresses and co-creates systems to help clients maintain accountability and follow through on action steps.

Accountability is where the rubber meets the road. Managing progress and accountability is a skill that coaches display by combining curious questions with direct communication in order to help clients develop a plan – in addition to action steps – to ensure follow-through. Oftentimes, helping clients think about accountability and why it is important for them to follow through helps boost the chances that your client will complete the designed action plan.

A large part of the value a client receives from coaching is in having a coach hold them accountable.

Additional skill-check questions:

Did the coach address the client’s previous accountability early in the session?
To what degree does the coach trust a client to follow through on accountabilities?
How well does the coach ask for feedback from the client regarding how the coaching session is addressing the client’s needs?

Suggested questions to ask:

How did you do with your previous accountability?
How can I help hold you accountable to complete these actions next week?
What version of yourself do you have to be to accomplish this action?
What is your relationship to accountability?
How easy or hard will it be to follow-through on this accountability?
What would make it easier to hold yourself accountable?

How this shows up on a coaching assessment:

Does the coach ask questions about the value of the coach-client relationship in the larger context of the client’s objectives?
Does the coach ask questions that apply the same insight to different areas of the client’s life to provide even more value to the client?
Does the coach help the client develop larger strategic goals and design actions from a long-term perspective?

Suggested questions to use in coaching sessions:

What is your long-term strategy?
What value do you want to get from this coach-client relationship? How does that relate to your larger objectives?
What adjustments do I need to make as a coach to ensure that you’re getting what you need from coaching?