Five characteristics of great coaching

Workplace coaching is… the process of developing an individual to contribute to their best by promoting a shift in thinking and behaviour.


Any manager who hasn’t heard the word ‘coaching’ these days would have to have been living under a rock. Every manager now needs to be able to share their business experience, expertise and insights through coaching. The better you are at it, the better able you are to build a learning culture and environment within your organisation, and the better you are able to attract and keep quality people.

Coaching also develops initiative; strengthens creativity and promotes innovation – all of which are crucial in this age of rapidly accelerating change. Here are the five characteristics which distinguish great coaching from other conversations you have as a manager.

1. Balance

Great coaching isn’t one-sided. There’s an equity in exchange needed, a questioning and sharing of information and ideas with the full involvement of both you and whoever you’re coaching. A great coach is able to create balance in the coaching interaction. One thing to focus on is the watch for the speaking/listening balance. In some conversations, it will be the coach who does most of the initiating and questioning, but in others it will be the person being coached.

2. Being concrete

Also known as ‘keeping it real’, being concrete is another characteristic of great coaching. This is about focusing on what the coachee can improve, and using language that is very specific to describe it. This is essentially ‘knowing what good looks like’ and being able to articulate the specific behaviours and actions needed to achieve it.

For example, if you want to coach someone to be a better team player, you need first to be able to describe exactly what the coachee would need to do and say in order to be a good team player.

Don’t use:

  • good communicator
  • show more initiative
  • be more considerate of other’s needs
  • be hard-working
  • responsible
  • reliable
  • helpful
  • positive.

These terms won’t work because they are too general and mean different things to different people. Drawing attention to the exact actions needed; under what circumstances; with whom; when, where, how, how often and how much – are all ways of being concrete. The good news is that you don’t have to be all bossy about it. The best coaches know how to develop someone’s awareness of the actions required by using questions, not statements.

3. Shared responsibility

Another important part of great coaching is the practice of shared responsibility. Both the coach and coachee share the responsibility for making a coaching conversation as useful as possible, and for the continuous performance that follows that conversation. The improvement is not only the coach’s responsibility, not is it solely the coachee’s.

4. Respect

Another characteristic of a great coach is that they respect the people they are coaching. They demonstrate that respect through their attitude. Showing that you accept people’s abilities and good intentions and not inferring that they are stupid or lacking in any way is a good place to start, as is involving the coachee in ways that make them a fully accepted player.

5. Shape

The fifth aspect of great coaching is shape. Skilled coaching involves a distinctive form that can be followed in very short coaching exchanges, or in more lengthy sessions. Coaching is shaped so you can:

  • identify the goal or desired outcome of the conversation
  • explore where they are currently at, in relation to that outcome
  • explore options and make a decision about which one to take
  • decide what steps they will take and by when
  • anticipate and overcome any obstacles they may encounter
  • follow-up later, to build accountability.


Ramp up your coaching effectiveness by maintaining balance, keeping things real, sharing responsibility and demonstrating respect for your coachee – all while continuing to shape each coaching conversation. You’ll reap the rewards in no time!


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Enhance your leadership development skills with courses at Odyssey Training.

Having the ability to coach others effectively is an essential skill of any supervisor or manager. A great coaching session is an open form of communication that requires equal responsibility from both parties. Coaching in the Workplace is a 1 day course that will provide you with the practical tools to create and implement a successful coaching relationship,