The Triangular Relationship in Executive Coaching – the Coach, Coachee and Client

There is a certain relationship in the process of executive coaching which involves three specific agents. The characteristics and roles of each are important to understand as it determines the success of the entire executive coaching engagement.

1. The coach
2. The coachee
3. The client/sponsor (this can be the organization, a higher level executive, and/or the HR)

The coach – unlike other types of coaching, the coaches’ academic background and coaching experiences are of utmost importance. I discussed in detail in my blog post here what characteristics make an effective executive coach. However, these factors include not only the experiences and formal trainings in coaching, but confidence, integrity, trust and developmental level. The ability to resolve and simplify complex issues, and presenting these viewpoints in a manner with accurate judgment and perception is key.

It’s vital for the executive coach to be of high credibility – no one’s going to work with an executive coach who doesn’t have the right temperament and a rich, solid level of experience in dealing with similar executive level problems previously. Executive coaching is supposed to bring a transformative change within the executive – that transformation can’t arise if the executive coach can’t co-generate the change adequately.

Executive coaches come from a wide background in academia. There are coaches with HR, psychology, business, neuroscience, and even drama degrees. Not all the formal training backgrounds will help however. For example, if an executive coach is sought after to deal with problems regarding mergers and acquisitions – then a coach with a drama background is not best equipped to deal with. On the other hand, if the business executive is dealing with issues regarding his or her interpersonal style – then an executive coach with a background in counseling psychology may be very beneficial. Therefore, there are different approaches to dealing with different types of issues the executive can face – and the academic background helps identify that approach to problem solving.

The coachee – just like coaches’, there also exists a wide variety of executives. According to Strumpf (2002) there are 5 different types of executives:

1. High potential executives
2. Valuable but at risk of derailing executives
3. Newly hired or newly promoted executives
4. Expatriate executives
5. Diamond in the rough executives

Before any of the above coachees can benefit from coaching, they need to be willing to enter into the coaching engagement. Their motivations, drives and willingness to be accountable will highly impact the results and on the job performance they are after within their executive positions. Therefore determining the coachees’ readiness and eagerness for change is extremely crucial. There isn’t going to be any change if the coachee’ wasn’t willing to work for the results from the beginning of the coaching relationship. It’s a waste of valuable time and resources. Another characteristic that determines the success is the coachees’ openness to feedback and willingness to change.

According to Bateman and Crant (1993) personality and motivation factors determine the success of the coaching process from the coachees’ side. So what personality and motivation factor determines this?

1. Personality factor: proactivity – the belief that you can overcome obstacles by situational forces.
2. Motivation factor: goal orientation, these are inclusive of two types of orientations:
a. [Learning orientation] Task or mastery learning – this is a desire to increase one’s competence by developing new skills and mastering new situations. Fortunately, this trait is not fixed and can be developed.
b. [Performance orientation] Ego/social learning – this is a desire to demonstrate one’s competence to others and to receive positive evaluations from others. This is a fixed trait and can’t really be changed much at all.

The client – this is the sponsor which is usually the organization the executive belongs to. I usually read articles that focus on either the coach or the coachee but not enough on the client – as the client (organization) also has a crucial role to play in the success of the executive coaching engagement.

Support from the organization is extremely important. Before coaching can begin, it is always advised to gain strong support from upper management (such as the CEO or a member in top management) to establish a smooth coaching journey. Coaching is after all, a development opportunity and if there is lack of support – then the resources are being wasted.

So, which department is usually responsible for providing an effective level of support for the coaching process? It is usually the HR department. Human resources are generally responsible for the accountability, an d overseeing of the coaching process, and all the consulting that goes into requiring the optimal level of success desired by engaging and communicating with all parties involved. Furthermore, according to Knudson (2002) it is also important for the HR department/organization to:

1. Clarify the expectations and goals
2. Communicating logistic requirements
3. Ensuring alignments with business needs
4. Managing the executive coaches
5. Keeping track of goal and expenses occurred

When all these three agents work effectively on their part – then the executive coaching will bring in the highly rewarding results and a positive outcome in the coaching process.


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3 thoughts on “The Triangular Relationship in Executive Coaching – the Coach, Coachee and Client

  1. Iftikhar, I appreciate drawing the connection between the stakeholders and participants involved in a healthy and productive executive coaching relationship. Too often the client and the coachee are disconnected. I might add one more direct link to this, which is the HR leader linked to the coachee. I like to make sure there is alignment between the coachee, the sponsor (usually the boss) and the HR leader who would be contributing to the professional development path for the executive. Thanks for sharing this article.

  2. I like how you describe the importance of having a coach and this triangular relationship and how it’s vital for the executive coach to be of high credibility. Finding a good coach definitely seems to be one of the most important parts of having a successful company. A friend of mine is running a business and I think finding a coach would be a good step in the right direction for him and his company.

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