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The Dos and Don'ts of Executive Coaching (Part 1: Coaching)

June 2, 2011

by Richard Gauthier, Linkage Master Coach

Experience in organizations has taught me that leadership matters. Leaders set the course, establish values, create productive environments, build capacity and manage operations. Even the slightest improvement in strategic ability, delegation, competence or emotional intelligence has a significant impact on the results an organization achieves. The better the leadership, the better the organization.

One way to better both is through one-on-one coaching. Popularly known as executive coaching, this practice has proven successful enough to attract professional management consultants, organizational development experts and internal organizational practitioners who seek validation through certification. My experience in this evolving profession has consisted of coaching in a variety of industries and certifying hundreds of independent external and internal consultants.

These activities, along with considerable collaboration with my colleagues, have been formative and instructive in helping me figure out what’s most effective, somewhat effective, effective, or hardly effective at all. Given my philosophy of leadership (Great leaders create leaders—not followers) and style (I guide through process—I don’t direct), I think I’ve figured out what generally works and what doesn’t for my clients.

And if asked to guide an aspiring coach through what trial and error has taught me, the do’s and don’ts of coaching, if you will, I’d offer the following coaching do’s and don’ts:


  • Do prepare an agenda for each session to guide the discussion, but never to direct it. Take time, after each session, to take notes on key insights and progress toward the goal. Formally document and file—but only what you’d be willing to submit to court of law.
  • Don’t socialize with clients. You jeopardize objectivity and render yourself more accessible but less effective. Also, avoid actively probing into clients’ personal life unless it has direct bearing to the developmental goal or organizational situation you are addressing. If so, explain the possible relevance and ask permission before you explore those connections.
  • Do build an organizational support structure of coaches and mentors for your clients. Key people within the organization, who experience your clients on a regular basis, should be invested in their transformation, supportive of the effort and willing to give feedback. Spend time with each and teach the fundamentals of constructive feedback.
  • Don’t ever talk to one client about the issues of another without permission.
  • Do monitor your coaching session as the conversation develops by asking yourself if you have been talking more than your client in the past 10 minutes. If so, change the dynamic so that the answer is different 10 minutes further on.
  • Don’t ever answer the question “What should I do?” if it relates to your clients’ development objectives. Or if you find yourself in the middle of a sentence that started with, “If I were you I’d…”—cough, sputter and leave the room for a drink, but don’t finish the sentence. What you, the coach, would do is not relevant. It’s always about the client’s ability to change in some critical area, make decisions from a shifted framework, and get on with doing things more efficiently or effectively. She must answer “What should I do?”—not the coach.

Summing up in the spirit of good coaching, I’d like to close the “do’s and don’ts” on the “do” side with two positive recommendations. One is an admonition and the other a fundamental belief that has sustained me throughout my coaching experiences.

I admonish you to remain flexible and recognize that the general rules that experience teaches us do not apply in all times, with all clients, under all circumstances. The do’s and don’ts that guide us should not direct us. They are guideposts that help keep us on course but we must always be willing to make an exception if something tells us that doing so will better serve our client. I recommend you do the same with my list and your own of what works and what doesn’t.

Finally, coaches are in the change business and change is hard. Coaching seldom has to do with changing the people or situations our clients encounter but rather changing something within our clients relative to how they respond to people and circumstances. I’m convinced that’s the essence of our work and what has sustained me in this profession is this paraphrase of a fundamental belief expressed centuries ago by Marcus Aurelius: “Man’s greatest liberation is the realization that he has the ability to choose his attitude and reaction to any set of circumstances.”

Do good work. Coaching matters.

About the Authors:

Richard Gauthier

Richard Gauthier

Richard is a highly-skilled and respected consultant and executive coach with more than twenty-five years of experience in organizational development, leadership, marketing and communications.  Currently a Principal Consultant at Linkage, Richard addresses a wide spectrum of customer challenges in leadership, customer satisfaction and retention, change management, management development, alignment and total quality. 



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