I want to preface that this article will not be touching on the industry itself, only coaching principles.

I won’t cover what makes an excellent coach. Nor, will we debate who can actually call themselves coaches.
I decided with this piece to keep it directly around the application of critical principles. There are the principles leaders should understand. A leader must be able to demonstrate these coaching principles when looking to develop someone on their team.

It’s essential to first understand what coaching is and what coaching is not.

“Coaching is the universal language of change and learning.” – CNN


Coaching differs from other types of counseling methods. Coaching is a unique proposition. It can combine management, counseling, mentoring, psychology, and leadership training programs. It takes inspiration from these areas. Then, implies them to help people reach for their excellence.

Recommended reads about coaching principles to dive deeper:

Coaching is not training.

Both promote learning. However, in different ways.

Training is about teaching specific skills or knowledge. Coaching is about facilitating someone else’s thinking. Coaches help them learn on the job.

Training usually takes place off-site or in dedicated classes. Coaching takes place in the office. It can be integrated into day-to-day workplace conversations or over the phone.

Training is more typically carried out in groups. Coaching is usually a one-to-one process. It’s tailored to the individual’s needs.

Training is usually delivered by an external consultant or a dedicated internal trainer. Coaching can be provided by an external consultant or by a manager.

Coaching is not mentoring.

A mentor is typically a master or SME within the field of their knowledge.

Mentor advises. They base their advice on a gained personal experience. A coach does not have to reach for their expertise in the specific field to adequately support the client in achieving their goals.

Mentoring allows the learner to own the goals and the process. Mentoring allows the learner model their behaviors on given examples. In coaching, the learner has primary ownership of the goal. The coach has a central role in the process.

Coaching is not therapy.

A lot of people associate (life) coaching with therapy. Coaching is not targeted to help people with their psychological problems. Trained coaches who have gone through an accredited certified coaching program will have been taught how to spot this. For most people who haven’t had this type of training, some of the signs could be (fill in).

Therapy focuses primarily on the past. It can be rooted in managing and coping. Coaching is focused on improving the development path of the person taking the current situation as an initial point. It is rooted in empowerment, exploration and specific solutions.
Therapy raises the question of why? While coaching focuses on the present and builds the future, asking more what? And how? Questions. It focuses on solutions and actions by which a client seeks to achieve results, rather than looking for causes of his failures.

So what is Coaching?

Coaching a useful way of boosting performance. It can help deal with challenges before they become significant problems. A coaching session will typically take place as a conversation. It focuses on helping that individual discover answers for themselves regarding a current or future challenge or goal.

The fact is, people are much more likely to engage with solutions that they have come up with themselves, rather than those that are forced upon them by their manager or leader.

In some organizations, coaching is still seen as a corrective tool. In many companies, coaching is considered to be a positive proven approach for helping others explore their ambitions. Leaders in today’s organizations are being asked to do more coaching, but the data points to the fact that most leaders are just not equipped with the skills necessary to effectively coach. Managers meet their coaching obligations by giving performance reviews, holding occasional meetings.

A manager can be just as effective as externally hired coaches. Managers don’t have to be trained formally as coaches as long as they stay within the scope of their skill set. They must maintain a structured approach. They can add value and help develop their people’s abilities as long as they understand what they are creating.

Follow these 14 core principles to ensure you are effectively laying the groundwork to coach your people successfully.

Future State Thinking

Be clear in your own mind about what you want the other person to accomplish. If you are their manager, this will be a more natural process. Focus on what the end result should look like. Don’t focus on how you think they “might” get there. Think about the big picture. How will their success impact the broader companies objectives? How will their success impact their personal development goals? When you are clear, you’re more likely to get buy-in.

Build Trust

The foundation of every relationship regardless of its nature is trust. It’s critical that you are able to establish an atmosphere of open communication. A coach’s ability is predicated on how much and how quickly they can build this foundation. The foundation of any coaching relationship is rooted in the manager’s day-to-day contact with the employee. Without some degree of trust, conducting a useful coaching meeting is impossible. Your employees need to believe you are here to help them succeed.

Powerful Listening

One of the most significant skills a coach/manager must practice is active listening. Fully deploy listening skills to ask more useful questions of the employee/individual. Get to the heart of an issue to assist them in finding a solution.

Getting Agreement

As a manager, getting your employees to agree that there is a performance issue can sometimes be an uphill battle. Overlooking or avoiding the performance issue because you assume the employee understands its significance is a typical mistake of managers. To get an employee to acknowledge a performance issue exists, you must be able to define the nature of the problem and get the employee to recognize the consequences of not changing their behavior. To do this, you must specify the action and clarify the results. Be careful not to assume that your understanding of the situation is the right one. A coaching session is a two-way communication process. You should encourage your employees to explain how they interpret the behaviors and agree on the nature of the issue.

Be Curious

Rather than just jumping into problem-solving mode and rescuing every person in site, first get curious about what may be causing the problem. This helps define the problem more clearly. Some questions to ask the person you are coaching:
– What do you think is really creating this situation?
– What’s holding you back from the goal?
– What is it about this situation that is keeping you up at night?
– In what ways are you not being the person you’d like to be now?

To have successful coaching relationships with anyone (especially your employees), you really need to get to know them on at least some personal level. Let me stress, this is not about being friends or socializing outside of the office. Understanding a little bit about the person you are supporting can offer you valuable insight into the “why” they do what they do. Thinking about thinking is an integral part of the coaching process so remember to ask open-ended questions.

Be Flexible

Remember that each person has different motivators and communication styles. Recognize and understand that each person may have a different form of learning and respond differently to how you communicate. If someone is slower to speak and answer, for example, allow them time to think and process rather than interrupting with ‘helpful’ suggestions. This is typically a learning gap for the coach who wants to jump in, create results for their employee and get back some valuable time in their day – especially when they see the issue with no bias or judgment.

Flexible doesn’t mean being a pushover or getting someone to like you.

It means you are doing what’s needed with this individual to ensure they are moving closer to their goals. You are also maintaining the proper level of trust, commitment, action, and integrity required to run the coaching partnership forward.

Have and Set Goals

Discuss what you want to accomplish and be clear about your expectations. Consider giving your employees a model of what their end goal looks like or set specific criteria for what the output should include. Coaching is focused and grounded in a future state of possibility. This is only achievable with a clear timeline. Setting milestones that build toward the end goal with prescheduled “check-in meetings” will allow you to get together along the way to evaluate how things are going. Talk about a deadline and indicate how important the timing may (or may not) be to the success of the project or performance gap. Personally using the S.M.A.R.T Goal framework is a high starting point for both the conversation as well as to ensure it’s achievable.

Provide Feedback

As your employees work toward accomplishing the goal you set together, be sure to attend your check-in meetings at the agreed upon times. This applies to both the process but equally important is when they reach their milestones and ultimately their end goal. Allow them to ask questions. Acknowledge them for what’s going right with the project and make suggestions if you feel they need more direction. Remember to Be Curious, Be Present and Listen and Revisit the agreed upon End Goals.

Alignment With Your Company’s Core Values

When possible, your coaching should be based on your organization’s core values (or the employee/individual you are coaching). This becomes the “why” behind your support and coaching actions. As a result, your coaching becomes less about what you think and reinforces the culture that you want in your organization. And when you and your employees are looking at the bigger picture together, it should help them be more receptive to you, understand how this impacts both the broader organization and ultimately their individual goals and aspirations. Managers who know the business case for coaching and developing others typically value the process and use it more effectively.

Collaboration Is Key

No matter the situation, coaching conversations should flow both ways with ample opportunity for mutual feedback and discussion. This way, you’re not removing your employees’ responsibility in the matter of doing the work for them. When you establish great coaching relationships with your employees, it can improve every interaction you have with them and makes management far more accessible. Remember, a coach is not the expert but rather a sounding board who can and should reflect back to their people what they see and hear (but not “feel”) regarding their performance as it relates to that vital end goal.

Explore All Possible Solutions

With the help of your employee, brainstorm alternative solutions and possibilities to the issue. Your role is to ensure that your employees come up with specific alternatives to the existing challenges and not create broad or vague solutions. The reason is that you need to hold them accountable to the answers and clearly define what your expectations of the performance are. Your focus is to help them set goals (i.e., SMART) and support them in coming up with specific alternatives to create the highest possibility of success for reaching them. You can provide your own ideas, but be aware that they will carry more weight just because it’s coming from you.

Commitment To Act

Different then getting agreement, the promise here is around taking action and ensuring that they see what’s possible in it for them by taking action. It does not matter how great of a solution or roadmap to get you there is. If your employee doesn’t see it, get it or possibly feel it – then you should pause and recalibrate. You don’t want a false start. This works for you the coach too. Outlining what they (your employee or individual) can expect from you regarding showing up, supporting them, keeping and scheduling meeting times and most importantly ask them if there is anything specific they need from you – will demonstrate the level of integrity you are seeking them to model as well.

Handle excuses

Employees may use excuses to lower your expectations of their performance or just shy away from what they don’t know or feel is outside their comfort zone. You should acknowledge them without giving them an agreement while focusing on the solutions and the SMART Goal. There may be situational factors that may affect the outcome of their performance, and as a coach, you need to take them into consideration so, by all means, keep an open mind. Remember to get curious and do some detective work around both the content and context to what they are sharing. The material is the story. The story is where excuses come from. The background (i.e., emotional state) is where a coach picks up the subtle cues and clues as to why they are hesitant to move forward.


Your job is to ensure that your employee understands what you should do if they do not follow through on their commitments. You could ask, “How would you like me to follow up if I don’t hear back from you?” or “If you don’t follow through, how should I help you get back on track?” And then, be sure that you follow through.

If you don’t model accountability, it sends the wrong message and jeopardizes future coaching solutions as well as taints your employee’s listening of you which will prevent further engagement on their end.

I am putting Time Management under this section as it pertains to being, staying and holding others to being accountable.

Remember that coaching can happen in different ways with different needs and circumstances.

Plan your coaching times. Know when they are and ensure that your employee/individual knows. Send calendar invites as well as follow-ups if needed. In the event you cannot make a session, immediately reach out to that employee, communicate the need to reschedule and find a new time as quickly as possible. This will again model both being accountable as well as being in integrity with your words, actions and ultimately the support you have for that person.

The best way to use this information is to apply it during any coaching engagement as a personal checklist both preflight and during.

The reason is quite simple: many trained coaches and/or managers will complete some type of training program and learn to apply that methodology with their people and within their practice, function, and company. There are hundreds of other coaching models that currently exist. Some are more radical and effective while others are redundant.

Your goal is to discover what works best for you AND your people and apply it so that THEY improve.

No one single coaching model will work with everyone-, but you should explore what’s out there. I invite you to use these principles in conjunction with your own personality and style. Any models you feel work for you and your company’s culture are all important factors

Final Thoughts

A manager who sees people’s potential is far better at coaching them towards it. A manager that judges people based on past performance will not get optimal performance. An engaged, well-coached employee will out-perform one mismanaged by a weak boss. If you manage people, you should understand the importance of effective coaching. Management determines effectiveness and productivity.

With Leadership,

Joshua Miller

Joshua Miller is a creative leader and impactful executive coach.

His career spans both the advertising world and the world of leadership. In advertising, he was the creative lead, responsible for the campaign strategy for Fortune 100 brands. Today, he is an innovator. He’s supporting the executive development and change management for many of the same companies.

Joshua studied at Syracuse University, NYU and Stanford. He combines that background with his deep knowledge of organizational behavior, performance and change management. He focuses on the analysis, design, development, delivery, and evaluation of scalable and global talent development solutions programs.

Joshua is a Master Certified Coach. He trained with the International Coaching Federation and CTI (The Coaches Training Institute).