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Preparation Strategies for Successful Sessions & Covey’s Habits for the Effective Executive Coach

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership states that “the coaching process begins before coach and coachee meet.” With this perspective in mind, preparation is key for effective executive coaching. How do successful coaches prepare for their coaching sessions? What do they do before coaching sessions that makes their coaching so effective? What are habits executive coaches can develop to best serve their clients and coaching business? Continue reading for several preparation strategies that executive coaches can apply to increase coaching effectiveness and impact.

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” - Alexander Graham Bell

#1: Identify your goals

How do you want to feel during and after a coaching session?

The Association for Coaching recommends that executive coaches establish how they want to feel during and at the end of their coaching sessions (n.d.). By doing so, executive coaches can further identify where they need to prepare for their coaching session. For example, executive coaches who want to feel knowledgeable or prepared in their executive coaching sessions can identify that they need to spend more time preparing for their executive coaching sessions. This identification of how you want to feel during your coaching session will guide you through the preparation process before your coaching session.

What is the specific goal of the session?

Carly Anderson, a member of the International Coaching Federation, states that identifying session goals helps executive coaches “know what the bigger picture goals are” (2017). This goal identification helps executive coaches target their sessions toward visible goals and not just generalized actions. Furthermore, this practice helps prioritize goals—an important element of successful executive coaching recommended by Dr. Kammy Haynes. She states that prioritizing goals will prevent executive coaches from overwhelming coachees with too many large goals at once. By giving executives bite-sized learning opportunities throughout their coaching sessions, executives feel more empowered to tackle their goals. Most importantly, having clear and identifiable goals helps stakeholders and executives better measure the success of your coaching (Anderson, 2017).

“No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.” - Alan Watts

#2: Be present

Develop your anchor

As an executive coach, having an anchor established before your coaching sessions can help you remain present. The Association for Coaching states that an anchor can “remind you of your goal” or goals (n.d.). This anchor can be as simple as a tactile reminder like a “way of squeezing your thumb and middle finger together.” It can also be an auditory cue such as a phrase you say or think to yourself. Lastly, an anchor can be a visual cue either in your imagination or from your physical environment (Association for Coaching, n.d.).

An example of a coach using an anchor would be an executive coach having a particular sign on his office wall as an anchor that reminds him of his goal to ask more questions than giving advice. The Association for Coaching also recommends practicing using this anchor before your coaching session (n.d.). Developing an anchor as a small and subtle reminder of your goals can help you stay focused on your own goals as an executive coach, further helping you be present in your executive coaching sessions.

Establish your intention to be present

When discussing how she prepares for her executive coaching sessions, Carly Anderson states that she personally takes three deep breaths before her coaching sessions “in order to be fully present” (2017). Being fully present in your coaching sessions is essential for the success of your coaching practice. Siminovitch and Van Eron state that “Presence is a far more potent variable than tools and techniques, allowing the coach to respond to the moments of uncertainty with distinctive impact and transparency that inspires others” (2008). In their research, they also state that “the more skilled you are in checking in with yourself, the greater your ability to be at choice for determining how you want to respond to the identifiable options available to you” (2008). Their research supports the concept that being present “stimulates the shift of change” for the executive in the coach and client relationship (Siminovitch & Van Eron, 2008).

“When we can identify a problem and face the problem with confidence and enthusiasm, the solution is on the way.” - Zig Ziglar

#3: Identify what you know

What do I know about my client?

The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership states that in order to prepare for an executive coaching session, coaches must assess what they know about their clients. Doing so, challenges executive coaches’ assumptions about their client’s ability which could be false and negatively “impact the coaching relationship.” By having a clear and informed understanding of your client, you can be “aware of times during the conversation when the coach is demonstrating accurate self-awareness and times when they may be demonstrating that they have some blind spots about their practice” (AITSL, n.d.). This ability to accurately identify a client’s false self-awareness can greatly increase the effectiveness of executive coaching.

What goals were established formally?

Reviewing notes from previous sessions is vital to the success of proceeding coaching sessions. Without doing so, executive coaches can lose sight of the goals and strategies laid out in previous sessions. By reviewing notes from the former sessions you can identify where to offer additional assistance or support in upcoming sessions (Haynes, n.d.). This offers additional support to the goal attainment and goal planning of the executive coaching process.

How are we measuring success?

By re-identifying how success was measured in former executive coaching sessions, executives can ensure their clients are continually progressing towards their identified goals. Having a consistent way to measure goal attainment enables stakeholders, and the organizations that are paying for the executive coaching sessions, to see the measurable benefits of executive coaching (Anderson, 2017). Coaches who verify how they plan to measure coachee success are better able to communicate progress to stakeholders, verify the value, and support the longevity of their client-coach relationship.

Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Steven Covey has published a highly popular book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Below we examine these 7 habits and how they support the executive coach in preparing for coaching sessions on a daily and habitual basis.

#1: Be proactive

“What distinguishes us as humans from all other animals is our inherent ability to examine our own character, to decide how to view ourselves and our situations, and to control our own effectiveness” (Hussai, 2021). Steven Covey calls this ability to “examine our own character” and make our own decisions, being “proactive.” Covey suggests that highly effective people are proactive, and that others can increase their effectiveness by intentionally focusing on the things one can control.

For example, proactive people would say “I can control my feelings” and reactive people would say “they made me mad.” Executive coaches must coach from a place of non-judgment. Because of this, they must control their emotions and proactively choose to communicate non-judgmental behavior towards their clients. Furthermore, proactive coaches can evaluate their coaching strategies and proactively work to make their coaching practice better, instead of reactively disregarding subpar reviews or feedback.

#2: Begin with the end in mind

By beginning with the end goal in mind, you can create clearer goals and plans for your preferred success. These goals and plans can serve as roadmaps to your desired destination (Hussai, 2021). What would happen if an executive with no goals is helped by an executive coach? Without first identifying what goals are most important to the executive, coaching can become misdirected. Do you have an end goal in mind for your executive coaching sessions? What are your client’s end goals? What are your end goals for your coaching skills? Beginning with the end in mind can help coaches continually develop their coaching skills while also guiding their clients closer towards their own goals.

#3: Putting first things first

According to Steven Covey, “the challenge is not to manage time, but ourselves.” By prioritizing daily tasks into categories such as urgent/not urgent and important/not important, Covey states that we can focus on the most important tasks first: those that are important but not yet urgent. When focusing on things that are important but not yet urgent, you are “thinking ahead, working on the roots, and preventing” future crises (Hussai, 2021). If an executive coach spends all day before a coaching session putting out fires and working on urgent tasks, they are likely to feel drained mentally, emotionally, and physically. By identifying priorities and scheduling your day around the important but not urgent tasks, executive coaches can increase their mental energy for their clients. So ask yourself, “what are my priorities and how am I scheduling my day around them?”

#4: Think win-win

When working with others, highly effective people work towards win-win solutions that are beneficial to both themselves and the other party. Steven Covey states that this requires individuals to not only “be nice” but also be “courageous.” By looking at challenges through an “abundance mentality” or a perspective that believes there is a solution or benefit for everyone available, executive coaches can work towards win-win solutions that support themselves and others (Hussai, 2021). Habitually working towards win-win solutions helps prepare executive coaches for coaching sessions where their clients need guidance on conflict management within their company.

#5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood

The fifth ICF core competency is “active listening” or being able to “focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires” (ICF, n.d.). Steve Covey’s fifth habit for highly effective people is similar: seek first to understand, then to be understood (Hussai, 2021).

As executive coaches, it is vital that we actively listen to clients so that we can build our understanding of our client’s goals and challenges. Seeking to understand and listen first can also help coaches avoid the dangers of giving advice. The executive coach’s role is to ask powerful questions and lead executives towards greater understanding. This cannot be done without active listening. In order to ask powerful questions, a coach must fully understand their client’s perspective on their challenges or goals. By practicing this habit daily, executive coaches can more readily bring their listening and understanding skills to their coaching sessions. This ultimately helps them create more powerful questions and more insightful conversations.

#6: Synergize

To have a habit of synergizing means to have a habit of “understanding and valuing the differences in another person's perspective” and work collectively with that person to “create new alternatives and open new possibilities” (Hussai, 2021). When executive coaches practice a habit of synergizing or valuing others’ perspectives and differences, they are more able to listen to the perspective of their clients in coaching sessions. By further understanding and valuing their clients' perspective and positions about a challenge or goal, executive coaches can more easily embrace a stance of “non-judgment"—a part of the ICF’s core competencies—in their coaching sessions (ICF, n.d.).

#7: Sharpen the saw

Executive coaches take the stance of a lifelong learner, continually learning how to best help their clients as new research, data, challenges, and insights arise. This is similar to Steven Covey’s 7th habit of highly effective people: sharpen the saw. To have a habit of sharpening the saw is to have a habit of continually improving yourself, renewing your ‘edge,’ and developing your skill. There are four dimensions of sharpening the saw: physical, mental, emotional/social, and spiritual (Hussai, 2021). Executive coaches who continually examine these areas of their life, looking for dimensions that need to be ‘sharpened’, can better serve their clients because they are continuously learning new coaching strategies, growing their interpersonal skills, reducing their reactivity, and increasing their physical health as well. By being the best you can be, and continually working towards your next “best self,” executive coaches can better serve their clients.

The main takeaway

Successful executive coaches are prepared executive coaches. They ensure that goals are identified and continually pursued, are present for their clients, have an established wealth of knowledge about the client and previous coaching sessions, and track performance against measurement plans to gauge effectiveness. When executive coaches take time to prepare for each coaching session that comes their way, they are able to increase their effectiveness and impact on the lives of those they coach.

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” - Alan Lakein


AITSL Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (n.d.). How do I prepare as a coach? [PPT].

Anderson, C. (2017, December 08). Three Ways to Prepare for your Coaching Client Conversation. Retrieved from

Association for Coaching. (n.d.). The Top 5 Tips for Being Well Prepared – using the Circle of Excellence [PDF].

Haynes, K. (n.d.). Ten Tips for Improving Your Coaching Session.

Hussain, A. (2021, June 10). 7 Habits of Highly Effective People [Summary & Takeaways].

ICF. (n.d.). The Gold Standard in Coaching | ICF - Core Competencies. International Coaching Federation.

Siminovitch, D. E., & Van Eron, A. M. (2008). The Power of Presence and International Use of Self Coaching for Awareness Choice and Change. International Journal of Coaching in Organizations, 6(3), 90-111.

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