Three Ways to Use a Leadership Coach

CaptureThink for a moment about the best boss you’ve ever had.  Get a specific person in mind.  What did they do that made them your best boss?  Jot your answers down on the left side of a piece of paper in a column labeled “Best Boss.”  Go ahead, we’ve got time

All done?  Now, think of the worst boss you’ve ever had.  What did they do that made them the worst boss?  Write those answers down in the right hand column labeled “Worst Boss.”  It shouldn’t take too long.  The Worst Boss answers come a lot more quickly for most people than the Best Boss answers.

Now, here’s another question for you – do you want to be someone’s best boss or their worst boss?  Unless you have some serious issues, I’m guessing it’s the best boss.  Your own answers to the best boss question can give you a target to shoot for but how can you be sure you’re hitting the mark?

One way to go is to hire an experienced leadership coach that can help you take an objective look at your performance and guide you in the process of making adjustments that will make a positive difference to you, your team and your organization.  Don’t have the budget for a leadership coach?  Lots of organizations have a cadre of trained internal coaches you can call on.  Check out what your organization has to offer.  Yet another option is to pair up with a peer from another part of your organization and agree to coach each other.  (Here are some simple and straightforward ideas on how to do that.)

Whatever route you choose to go, here are three suggestions to get the most out of working with a leadership coach:

  • Make It Designated Balcony Time:  Harvard leadership professor Ron Heifetz likes to point out that leaders can either be on the dance floor or the balcony and that it’s important to alternate your perspective between the two on a regular basis.  When you’re dancing as fast as you can, it’s hard to see much beyond what’s right in front of you.  Use your time with your coach as designated balcony time to pull the lens back and look for the patterns in what’s going on down on the dance floor.
  • Answer Different Questions:  By spending some time on the balcony with your coach, you might notice that the actions you’re taking on a regular basis aren’t getting you and your organization to where you need to go next.  A good coach is going to ask you questions that you probably don’t usually ask yourself.  Answering different questions can help you get out of an action rut.  Expect your coach to help you with that.
  • Build Better Habits:  My guiding philosophy as a coach comes from Aristotle who said, “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”  Your coach should be able to help you identify a few new habits to take on that will make you a more effective leader and then support you in grooving those behaviors.  You want to look for leadership habits that are in the sweet spot between relatively easy to do and likely to make a difference.


What’s your take?  What do you want to get out of working with a leadership coach?  If you’ve worked with a coach before, what advice do you have for first timers who want to make it a valuable experience?


Scott Eblin is the co-founder and president of The Eblin Group, Inc., a leadership development and strategy firm that supports organizations in ensuring the success of their executive leaders.

3 comments on “Three Ways to Use a Leadership Coach
  1. Jim Moore says:

    Interesting blog Scott. Thanks.
    It triggered several thoughts for me.
    I’m sure all of us who did your exercise will agree that we want to do those things we wrote on our best boss list & avoid those things on our worst boss list. In spite of those good intentions, many of us are failing to do some of those things on the good boss list and may be guilty of something on our worst boss list. I’ll also predict that every item we wrote on the list is easy to understand & easy to observe in others. If it’s so easy, one might wonder why we aren’t all the best leaders on the planet and why anybody would need a coach to get better. Your blog demonstrates why and how a coach can be helpful.

  2. Great post Scott. As a client of Leadership Coaching, my biggest learning/advice is to USE IT! It’s a little like buying a treadmill to get in shape… if you don’t use it, it will not get you in shape. What I mean by “use it” with a Leadership Coach is that you need to come to it motivated to grow. If you think a coach is going to improve you, and you wait for the coach to wave the magic wand of transformation, you’ll be pretty disappointed. But if you come wanting to learn, grow, and change, the coach will help you do it.

    As a Leadership Coach myself, I continue to be gratified by how much my clients grow and learn simply by getting up on the balcony with me. Thanks for that metaphor Scott!

  3. Simon Vetter says:

    I love the “best boss / worst boss” exercise. I just did this exercise and wondered myself:
    Why is it that I have had many more “bad boss” experiences and so little “good boss” in my own 25 year career?
    Obviously it takes a lot of efforts and commitment to be a good boss (=effective leader).
    For us executive coaches, we still have a lot of work ahead of us.