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The 6th Commandment: Co-Create the Coaching Session

The 6th Commandment: Co-Create the Coaching Session

by February 9, 2015

Countdown to the summit

This is week six of the ten-week countdown to the Conference Board’s 2015 Coaching Summit.  The Summit will begin with a pre-conference event on March 9 with the keynotes and breakout sessions on March 10 & 11.  On March 10, Dr. John Hoover from Partners in Human Resources International, co-author of The Coaching Connection: Developing Individual Potential in the Context of the Organization, will join Dr. David DeFilippo of BNY University, Dr. Harris Ginsberg of Pfizer, and Dr. Eric Hieger of ADP in discussing The Next Big Conversation – The Leader and Organization as Co-Clients.  This panel is designed to introduce and discuss the significance of keeping the voice and interests of the organization alive and involved in executive coaching engagements.

For each of the ten weeks leading up to the Conference Board’s 2015 Coaching Summit, Human Talent Network is featuring one of the Ten Commandments of Contextual Coaching.  Last week, Human Talent Network featured the fifth commandment of Contextual Coaching: Co-Create the Coaching Engagement.

Contextual Coaching commandment number six:

Co-Create the Coaching Session

In week five, the discussion continued from week three about keeping the voice of the organization alive, present, and participating in executive coaching engagements through the formation of a coaching (or stakeholder) coalition.  The coaching coalition’s primary function is to ensure that the interests of the organization are represented, protected, and even promoted throughout coaching engagements.  In the sixth commandment of Contextual Coaching, the emphasis shifts from the overall coaching engagement to the individual coaching sessions.

The coaching engagement represents the overall coaching program or event for a leader being coached and needs to be aligned contextually with the sponsoring organization’s leadership development strategy as well as its overarching organizational strategic agenda.  One mantra to put on your wall is: “A successful business strategy begins with a solid talent strategy.”  The coaching coalition works together to monitor and guide coaching engagements to ensure the engagements are consistently aligned with organizational leadership and business strategies.

The coaching sessions are much more personal and involve only the coach and the coaching client.  As discussed in week five, the language around coaching is shifting and some might say, maturing.  Some would refer to the coach and coaching client as, “the practitioner and the participant.”  Or, “the coach and the leader.”  Others would still say, “coach and the coachee.”  Regardless of how you label those involved in coaching engagements and coaching sessions, what transpires between them must still be aligned with the organization’s strategic agenda.  However, it is the more intimate work between the coach and the leader receiving coaching that accomplishes that alignment while still enabling growth and development of the coaching client against his or her individual coaching objectives.

In the macro work of the coaching coalition, as it co-creates the coaching engagement, the primary focus or at least equally-shared focus is on the alignment of the engagement to the organization’s leadership and business strategies.  When the coach and coaching client co-create each coaching session, the more micro focus is primarily on the individual leader’s growth and development agenda.  Even during their more intimate work, however, the coach and coaching client remain mindful of contextual alignment.  The privilege of confidentiality is honored, but the organization’s needs are not forgotten.

Guiding the Sessions

The International Coach Federation ( has done a comprehensive job of bringing together guiding principles and best practices for non-directive coaching techniques.  The ICF list of 11 core competencies, if practiced properly, will help guide and enhance any coaching session.  When seeking consistent quality of executive coaching across an organization, the ICF core competencies are an excellent standard to apply.  The context of what leaders should look like and ideally how they should show up, present, and conduct themselves is a matter of establishing leadership competencies, values, and/or principles that align with the organization’s cultural and strategic agenda.  The individual coaching sessions as well as the coaching engagements should be conducted in that context.

The ICF Eleven core competencies are:

Setting the Foundation

Meeting Ethical Guidelines and Professional Standards

These are well-defined by the ICF and can be studied on their website.

Establishing the Coaching Agreement

Every session needs to be co-created between the executive coach and the leader receiving the coaching. Every executive coaching session has an agreement between coach and leader on what the session outcomes should be, even if the agreement is oral. The written Action Plan and the mid-term and final updates to the Action Plan reflect the expectations and the work being done inside the overall coaching engagement.  Contextual alignment to the organizational strategic agenda is always the framework or backdrop when the coaching is contextual.

Co-creating the Relationship

Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client

This is essential for the micro coaching session work that the executive coach and leader being coached do together. In addition to trust and intimacy between the executive coach and leader, trust and respect need to be established for all members of the coaching coalition and, hopefully, become a mainstay of the entire enterprise.

Coaching Presence

(In session work between the executive coach and leader receiving coaching, it is imperative that the coach be totally present and available emotionally and intellectually for the coaching client, no matter the issue and regardless of the overriding contextual framework.)

Communicating Effectively

Active Listening

This is a skill that helps everyone in the workplace and beyond. It is not reserved only for the micro one-on-one coaching sessions or the work of the coaching coalition. Active listening is essential at both the micro- and macro-levels if the coaching engagement is going to succeed.

Powerful Questioning

Challenging conventional thinking that might be binding up a leader is one responsibility of an executive coach. But, it is also a skill that can unleash new, more reflective, better, and broader thinking virtually anywhere—including when co-creating coaching engagements.

Direct Communication

This is another skill that has broad value and application, especially in formal organizations as well as interpersonal relations.  Coaching sessions are good opportunities to learn and begin practicing direct communication skills and techniques.

Facilitating Learning and Results

Creating Awareness

(The heightened individual and organizational awareness that will, hopefully, sweep the organization and broaden peoples’ thinking often begins in intimate coaching session conversations. The way that powerful questions break through mental and emotional blockages to promote reflection is one way that coaches help their coaching clients create awareness.)

Designing Actions

Operationalizing the ideas and new thinking that emerge from coaching sessions and making them real, palpable, and authentic is a primary goal of coaching. Turning reflective thinking and new awareness into new behavior conclusively demonstrates how the work that takes place in coaching sessions and across the entire coaching engagement aligns with the broader organizational outcomes desired.

Planning and Goal Setting

(Once again, the executive coach and leader begin the work of mapping out specific objectives to be achieved to turn new awareness into real outcomes.  From the micro level to the macro level, the alignment between individual growth and organizational growth should ideally be in the context of the organization’s desired culture and strategic agenda.)

Managing Progress and Accountability

Osmosis is not a commonly accepted coaching process.  If it were, powerful questioning would not be necessary.  Coaching, as defined by the ICF, is more inherently heuristic in that the answers emerge largely from the coaching client’s experience and common sense.  This is to say that the new learnings must represent incremental or large-scale progress and be memorialized in order to keep the coching client accountable for his or her growth and development.  This 11th core competency from the ICF is particularly valuable when considering that there is a contextual framework against which organizational coaching will be conducted.


When co-creating the individual executive coaching sessions, expectations need to be established and agreed upon between the coach and the leader receiving the coaching.  When co-creating the entire coaching engagement, the coach, the leader, the leader’s manager, the organizational sponsor, and any other members of the coaching coalition must negotiate and come to agreement on what the outcomes should be and how they will align with leadership competencies, values, and/or disciplines established for the organization, all based on the organization’s overarching strategic agenda.

Countdown to the Conference Board Coaching Summit – March 9, 10, 11, 2015 to be held at the Westin New York at Times Square.  For conference information and registration instructions, contact or [email protected].

About The Author
John Hoover
John Hoover, PhD, is a Senior Vice President at Partners International in New York City where he reports directly to Founder and CEO, Amy Friedman. John is a New York Times best-selling author, a former writer/producer of marketing projects at The Disney Company, and a Divisional General Manager for electronic publishing at McGraw-Hill. He has commercially published more than a dozen books on leadership and organizational behavior (some decidedly satirical) from Amacom, Barnes & Noble Press, Career Press, HarperCollins, John Wiley and Sons, McGraw-Hill, and Saint Martin’s Press, which have been collectively published in two dozen languages. John is a veteran executive coach, certified by the International Coach Federation and is a coaching supervisor, certified by the Coaching Supervision Academy. Along the way to his PhD in Human and Organizational Systems, he became a Marriage & Family Therapy intern, licensed by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Hoover is a thought leader and serves as a thinking partner to Human Resources and Organization Development executives to develop global organizational leadership and talent development strategies that align what individuals do best with what their organizations need most. Dr. Hoover co-created the Contextual Coaching™ framework at Partners International and teaches a new graduate certificate program he developed called “Managing the Coaching Function in Organizations” through Fielding Graduate University.

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