The Perfect Profile for a Leadership Coach

Degrees and personalities, don’t matter, says emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman. This does.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body," is available now. 

The best leaders are coaches too. But what does coaching well entail?

Effective coaching combines setting clear goals, using a clear method, and, most important, a foundation of trust. Despite its vital role in coaching, trust all too often gets overlooked. Yet developing mutual trust early in a coach-coachee relationship can have a significant impact on the outcome of the coaching engagement.

You might assume that having similar personalities would foster a close coaching relationship. But in a bit of a surprise, personality match (based on Myers-Briggs results) was not a significant factor in coaching outcomes in a large-scale study of executive and workplace coaching.

More important than personality matches for coaching success, researchers found, was a “strong working alliance” as rated by both the coach and coachee. This mutual investment in and understanding of the coaching relationship is most likely to yield positive outcomes. When it comes to selecting a coach, this shared understanding, as well as the coach’s qualifications and accreditations, are far more important than matching personalities. And trust weaves into the ingredients of a strong coaching alliance.

Most executive coaches offer a complementary consultation for perspective coachees. This gives both coach and coachee the opportunity to test the waters and see if their expectations for the relationship align. Effective coaches can recognize if what they offer fits the needs of a prospective coachee and, if not, can make referrals to others in their network. If the coachee is a good fit, this first consultation can be the beginning of a solid working relationship, with both coach and coachee understanding what their work together will look like.

The coach needs to clarify expectations, set outcomes, and establish that the coaching sessions are confidential. This helps cultivate a foundation of trust and can ensures that the coach and coachee remain on the same page throughout the relationship.

All of that is lays the groundwork for a success, but it is not sufficient. The best coaches bring their full attention and presence to each meeting. They are nonjudgmental and foster a safe and supportive environment. They provide thoughtful, authentic feedback that speaks to the coachee, as a whole person, at work and in life. And each of these further contribute to the development of trust.

For their part, coachees should bring a willingness to be transparent and honest with their coach. Being open to feedback (not being defensive), as well as a desire for self-improvement, are also critical components fostered by a trusting relationship.

Coaching is not the only means to develop leadership skills like emotional intelligence, or any other capacity, but it can help. It’s a personalized way of helping us get the full picture of how we operate and conduct ourselves—including our blind spots—and how to develop further strengths.

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence Coaching Certification.