The 4 critical ingredients needed to make coaching work

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Kiddy & Partners

Many of us have had to take on extra responsibilities during C-19 and the next phase of hybrid working is adding new challenges to managers and leaders. Many are seeking the help of an Executive or Leadership coach to help them navigate a way forward for themselves and the teams they lead.  

The growth in coaching and related professions over the last 25 years has been spectacular. Those paying for these services have been trying to rationalise the expense by showing that the support is really effective. So, key question is: What are the key ingredients needed to make coaching work? 

4 Critical Ingredients for Effective Coaching

Academics have looked into this question and identify four key active ingredients, which appear to apply (roughly) equally to coaching, counselling, therapy, and other similar forms of individualised support. (1) 

Readiness for coaching

First, is the readiness for coaching. It is a mixture of being willing and able to learn, to change and to embrace challenges. The coach needs to honestly assess readiness and then activate it, remove barriers and resistance to progress. I recently started working with an Executive who had been given some negative feedback about how he was not aligned culturally with the values of the business. Despite this feedback his appetite for the coaching was not there and it felt like he was going through the motions because he had been told he needed coaching. When I challenged him on not being bought into the coaching or even the culture of the organisation, we got into a deeper discussion about how to engage people beyond the task and the technical requirements of their role. Through this challenge we found the ‘readiness’ and the real coaching could then begin.

At the same time the coach needs to (be able) to respond to the coachee’s preferences. This readiness can account for 40% of the success of coaching and a good coach will know that, at best, they can only add their ‘magic’ to the remaining 60%. 

Coach-Coachee relationship

The second factor is the relationship (2). It’s about collaboration, consensus and support - sometimes called the ‘therapeutic’ alliance. This again has to be tailored to the coachee. It is about building and maintaining a positive open, productive alliance that accelerates development. This is not about a cosy comfortable relationship but about a relationship that can work with both support and challenge. One of the worst things that can happen is for the coach to become a conspirator with their coachee and lose sight of the organisational requirement for the work. Critically, it is the coachee’s and not the coach’s view of the alliance that is key. The distracted, unprepared, fatigued coach is a poor coach. 

Expectation of improvement

The third factor is about expectation of improvement, finding new paths to goals, the belief that one can succeed if one tries. Coachees can detect loss of faith in the project by the coach, so a good coach is both honest and demonstrates an authentic belief that successful progress is possible. A good coach also raises the question when ‘faith’ might be challenged on both sides. This might require checking back in on appetite and commitment to the work as well as helping the coachee see anyone can change if they really want to as well as recognising that resistance comes from those around them who want to ‘drag’ them back to old ways of behaving.

Theoretical foundation

The final factor is the application of the theory. The coach’s background, training and supervision support will influence all of this. Clearly, a good coach needs to know what works for whom, know where their ‘theory’ has its limits and where they need to adapt to what is in front of them. Huge strides have been made in certifying coaches and so one can be more assured of the competence and capability in this respect, but coaches also need to know about the business world and the conflict of interests between the coachee and the organisation. Coaches really must be both psychologically skilled and business savvy. 

Is some coaching ineffective, are some leaders ‘un-coachable’ and are there many poor coaches out there? Clearly, yes. Is coaching worth the money (3)? If all of these four factors are in play, undoubtedly. A recent coachee told me “Coaching has helped me untangle my emotions at work and in particular emotions related to where work fits in to my priorities in life. Everybody inside and outside of work has commented on how much happier and more productive I am. The space the coaching has given means I also feel so much more capable of dealing with future challenges”


  1. The Psychology of Executive Coaching, B Peltier, (2017) Taylor and Frances Publishing
  2. Coaching relationships: The relational coaching field book, edited by Erik de Haan & Charlotte Sills, (2012) Libri Publishing
  3. The very real dangers of executive coaching – Steven Berglas (2002), HBR Article

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