Q: How do I maximize the use of a professional coach?

Ellen Fee, founder at Feathered Paddle Wealth Partners

A: The mind-set you bring to coaching, the amount of effort you put in and your willingness to engage others in the process can all significantly increase the return on your investment. Here are four simple strategies that can take you from a “fine” coaching experience to one that gets big results.

Do it for you, not someone else. Engage a coach when you truly want to make a shift in your leadership style, understand situations from different perspectives and try out new approaches. Clients who take ownership of their learning have the most powerful experiences. Clients who are not ready tend to get mediocre results.

Focus on aspirations rather than weaknesses. Don’t treat coaching like an old-school performance review. Choose goals that inspire and motivate. For example, a manager who received feedback that his team feels micromanaged can focus instead on the freedom that he will feel when he finds a way to fully trust and empower his team. Expect your coach to help you reframe your current challenge into an aspirational coaching goal.

Prioritize and prepare. When people think about coaching, they imagine a series of one-to-one conversations with their coach. However, any coach will tell you that the real work occurs between sessions. Mark time on your calendar to experiment with new behaviors and techniques. Work five minutes of reflection into your daily routine. Ask yourself, “What did I notice today?” and “What will I try tomorrow?” Come prepared to share the successes, challenges and new learnings that arose from your fieldwork.

Leverage key stakeholders. Change is not typically sustainable if you try to go it alone. Let key people around you know you have decided to work with a coach, invite constructive feedback and engage them in being part of your success. Consider having your coach conduct stakeholder interviews. These can help you get at what others need most from you, as well as position others to support rather than question any changes you make. Don’t make this a one-time event. Develop ongoing feedback loops you can leverage for the long haul.


Stacey Larsen, Ed.D., is an executive coach on faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business