Leadership coaching has existed in the corporate world for at least two decades. Here in Asia, the traction has increased with organisations becoming more aware of what coaching entails, and the likely benefits associated with effective coaching.

I use the word “effective” deliberately as the industry is largely unregulated and one can set up a coaching practice and solicit for business almost overnight. Not delivered properly, coaching could do more harm than good.

There are largely two schools of thought when it comes to training and certification. One subscribes to the belief that professional training and certification are important, and the other, that they are not essential.

The fact that there are numerous definitions of what exactly is coaching, and what is not, further complicates the issue. My view is that there are several key differentiating factors that separate coaching from consulting and counselling. Two key ones are:

• There is a lot more “asking” than “telling” in a professional coaching session. The greatest value of a coach is to ask powerful questions that challenge the coachee to think harder and deeper, and to bring to the surface perspectives and solutions to the issues that he is being coached on.

• The coachee — not the coach — determines the coaching agendas (areas of focus).


Selecting a coach

Here are some suggestions on how to choose a coach if you are planning on working one:

Research: Shortlist a couple of coaches you wish to explore working with. Key areas to focus on in your shortlist could include training, certification, years of coaching experience, typical coachee-client profile and areas of focus, such as life, leadership and career.

• Level of comfort: The coachee and the coach should choose each other mutually during an initial session — typically not lasting more than an hour. This non-invoiceable, non-obligatory session is primarily to ascertain whether you and the coach feel comfortable with each other, and whether you are likely to build up a substantial level of trust over a relatively short period of time. This is critical in insuring a higher degree of coaching success.

• Coachability: The coach should also use this session to determine if you are ready for coaching, and are “coach-able”. A classic case of a coaching journey doomed to fail is one where the coachee is not convinced he needs coaching, and is going through it because “my boss wants me to”.

Another situation where the coach would be wise to probe deeper into the potential level of commitment by the coachee is where there is an enticement attached to the coaching programme — most times, a promotion and a pay rise.

• Mandates: Coaching relationships have to be entered into with clear mandates, performance indicators (as practically as possible) and a genuine intention of the coachee to want to do it (as best as one can judge).

One of the initial questions I like to ask during a “chemistry-fit” session is: “Why do you want a coach?” A lot of information, both spoken and un-spoken, can be culled from the response, and this allows me to establish the potential level of commitment by the coachee.

Having said this, I hasten to add that it is, at most, an educated guess, and gut feel. A coach can never know what is really going on in your mind.


The more common, but by no means exhaustive, areas of focus include enhancing leadership skills, life and career decisions, strategic business skills, people and relationship issues. Areas I have encountered include anger management and emotional control, work-personal life balance and managing workaholism.

Having a personal coach who is sponsored by your employer is a good thing — it is a clear statement that you are a valued talent worth investing in. Coaching is definitely not about you being sick, and needing a doctor.

Delivered professionally, coaching can and will impact important life and career decisions.


Article by Paul Heng, founder, managing director and executive coach of NeXT Career Consulting Group, Asia. For more information, visit http://www.nextcareer.net