Coaching An Engineer: What Makes Top Performers Better?

I had been an Engineer, Project Manager, and Program Manager (PM) for nine years. For the last three of them, my performance as a PM had reached a plateau. I would like to think it was a good thing that I had arrived at my professional peak early in

As an Engineer in the Facilities and Construction Industry, I have had a great team around me for most of my professional life. I recognized that I was stuck, especially when colleagues were moving ahead organizationally and professionally, while I appeared to have hit the proverbial brick-wall. My mentor suggested that I engage an Executive Coach; as he felt he was too close to give me objective advice about my professional stagnation. What? Engineers do not hire coaches I thought - we are smart enough to figure this out for ourselves. I must admit that I found it ludicrous to pay someone to come into my worklife and coach me on my work methods, when I had already been successful. Fortunately, I had a strong mentor and reason prevailed, and I made the investment in myself. For me the investment in an Executive Coach was a watershed experience. Through coaching, I developed deep self-awareness, albeit the experience of learning about myself was excruciating. That first journey into self was the most revealing yet most difficult road my logical mind has ever travelled. Through the experience, I discovered that I had created my own professional brick-wall, and I was the only person impeding my professional advancement.

Through coaching, I experienced a tectonic shift in my professional wellbeing, which resulted in my accelerated transition from nine years of technical positions to emerging executive assignments within 12 months. I grew as a leader simply because I had excellent coaches who taught me how to know myself, or they taught me how to think as a leader of people rather than a leader of projects, scopes and schedules. There was no distinct formula for my coaches' positive influence over my career, and I have engaged an Executive Coach several times. I suspect the secret to each successful coaching engagement is that I admired and respected each of them, and I listened to them. I understood that the coaches in my worklife were not infallible, and I had to learn how to apply their wisdom to my specific environment and work culture. Through remaining curious about their unique perspective, listening to and understanding their feedback, being open and transparent about testing their ideas, and using them to test my ideas or explore my fears, I was able to work through some sticky leadership issues. Unequivocally, I achieved personal and professional growth, and transitioned from being an Engineer to an Executive because of Executive Coaching. As I progressed professionally, I also discovered that as a leader, I was expected to be a coach to my team. I studied the art and science of coaching my team and I discovered that I excelled at coaching. I now pursue my second career as an Executive Coach and delight in working with Engineers and other high performing individuals who aspire to achieve greater executive influence. I could never have achieved such deep self-awareness or professional growth without the help of my various Executive Coaches.

Is Executive Coaching For Me and How Do I Use One?
Executive Coaching re-awakens passion, curiosity, engagement, and dreams, while also deepening your self-awareness and leadership capacity. An Executive Coach's job is to observe, to assess, and to guide your professional development. An Executive Coach will tell you what others will not or cannot about your leadership presence and your impact on others.

You are a young or mid-career Engineer who aspires to be an executive, and your mentor suggested that you hire an Executive Coach. Alternatively, your organization sees your leadership potential and engages an Executive Coach to help accelerate your executive growth. Although a less frequent scenario, your organization recruited you into an executive position, and now is "offering" you an Executive Coach to facilitate your transition from being an Engineer to an Executive. Regardless of how you have come to the coaching relationship, the top three coaching objectives are:

• Develop self-awareness. By becoming more aware of your limitations and growth opportunities as a leader, and understanding the root cause of your behavior in the workplace and its impact on others.

• Enhance life development. By balancing personal and professional roles more effectively, you increase your capacity for executive level performance.

• Accelerate leadership capacity. By developing interpersonal and team leadership skills, you become more effective in leveraging influence within human systems at the executive level.

Voila! You have just hired an Executive Coach and now you wonder "…How do I use my coach to my best advantage?" Well, beyond the identified coaching objectives, the benefit you get from coaching is entirely up to you. Regardless of whether you hire a golf coach, a tennis coach, a speaking coach, or an Executive Coach, making the most of the coaching relationship is a skill that you will improve at with knowledge and practice. When you learn how to engage an Executive Coach in your work life, you can begin to transition from being a technical or Engineer team member to being an Executive. Through being open to the coaching relationship, you can also accelerate your path to success, eliminate unwanted habits, develop new skills, and learn to make the most of the resources that are available to you.

Use Your Executive Coach
Coaches come in all shapes and styles. Whether your Executive Coach is a seasoned professional, an internal asset, or an empathic listener and thought provocateur, or a combination of all three they all have one thing in common. An Executive Coach will assist you to lay the foundation for your accelerated learning. They help you to develop greater self-awareness, give you motivation, provide accountability and support, and they keep you focused while you are taking specific actions towards your professional goal.

10 Ways to Use Your Executive Coach

To optimize the relationship it is therefore important to understand how to use your Executive Coach by developing an effective coaching strategy

1. Choose to make the most of your Executive Coach. This is your decision alone and your attitude rather than your aptitude will make the difference to a successful coaching relationship. Accept that there is a teaching moment in every coaching conversation if your mind is open to learning. Making the most of your Executive Coaching relationship begins with choosing to do so. Every successful career journey you make begins with the end in mind, and so it is with your Executive Coaching journey. By reflecting upon why you need an Executive Coach and what issue or issues you want to explore with an Executive Coach you will have already begun your journey towards self-improvement.

2. "Ain't nobody's business but your business" because only you can change you. Your Executive Coach does not change you. Coaching is a one-on-one process in which your Executive Coach helps you to resolve your work related issues. An Executive Coach provides just-in-time training to help you to develop greater self-awareness. You should expect to receive motivation, accountability and support, towards keeping you focused while taking specific actions towards your goal. However, you define the goal, because the coaching outcome is unique and specific to you.

3. Seek pain. Change sucks, it can hurt and it's good for you! If your Executive Coaching relationship is not causing you some discomfort then you are missing the point. We like where we are because we are comfortable, or at least we have learned to tolerate it. Changing our situation causes so many other secondary impact spirals that we often forget the benefit of the original change. Thus, change becomes uncomfortable and even painful. Newton's laws of motion remind us that a body at rest stays at rest and a body in motion stays in motion. Start moving, embrace the pain and work through it with your Executive Coach.

4. Demand accountability. The Executive Coach serves as your accountability partner. The Executive Coach gets you moving, but you are the one that endures the pain of flexing mental, emotional, spiritual and physical muscles you did not even realize you had. When the Executive Coach is working harder than you are, he/she will know they are in the wrong relationship and usually offer to resign.

5. Demand feedback. We know what we know about ourselves quiet well, but what we do not know is what causes us the most problems. Out blind spots are the reason we need an Executive Coach - to provide us feedback on how others perceive us. Feedback can be uncomfortable - but if you do not demand it from the safest relationship you will ever have you are missing the greatest growth opportunity of your life.

6. Test your learning. Your Executive Coach is not infallible, and sometimes may inadvertently substitute his/her coaching hat with a consultant hat. If you are uncomfortable with a new "direction", test it before you deploy it. In coaching, one size does not fit all and you have to know how to interpret and adapt your learning within the culture and environment where you live and work. When I worked in Belgium it was normal to greet and kiss colleagues (both men and women) on the cheek, however as a coachee I would be very confused and even misled if my Executive Coach asked that I exhibit similar interpersonal behavior in New York or Atlanta.

7. Coaching styles are different. Do not be put off by them. My coaching style is one of gentle irreverence, as I will call you on your BS. This is my style and you may be uncomfortable with it, but this is the authentic version of me. You want to work with an authentic coach, not one who will change to meet every whim as they become too distracted to serve your real needs. Before you fire me ask yourself are you firing me because I am unable to coach you, or because my style irritates you. This is a life-test, as you face the same dilemma in your workplace and among your customers and clients. Learn from the experience and work through it by focusing on the goals and the outcomes.

8. Be transparent with your Executive Coach. While trust takes time to build, you can accelerate the process by being open and honest, as this will lead to a better relationship and a better coaching outcome. Be clear about what your personal value system is and share it with your Executive Coach. An authentic coach will know if there is disconnect and offer to remove himself or herself from the relationship. Likewise, an authentic coach should not take you outside the boundaries of your personal value system. Be open to exploring new ideas; however know where you stand and why you stand there.

9. Do not harbor resentment nor suffer in silence. If an Executive Coach does not meet your expectation, be direct. Unless you articulate to the Executive Coach when or how the relationship is not working he/she will not know how or when to fix the issue. This is a simple life-hack with application beyond the coaching relationship; do not assume that people know what you are thinking. A client once told me after the coaching engagement that I did not hold her accountable for assigned activities during our time apart, and she felt cheated. I had no idea that she felt this way in what was otherwise a very successful relationship.

10. Keep your eye on the prize. An Executive Coach's job is to help you to become unstuck, but does not give you the answers; rather an Executive Coach helps you to unlock the answers from within yourself. Through the process of coaching, you will discover there are many other questions that need to be asked and answered. Before you deploy on another coaching adventure be sure that are satisfied with the progress you have made on your first quest. Stay focused on the prize and on your contracted engagement.


As with all projects, start with the end in mind. Expect specific outcomes from your Executive Coaching relationship and hold your coach accountable. Executive Coaching is an investment in yourself, leading to greater self-awareness, worklife balance and leadership capacity. These professional traits will accelerate your professional growth and lead to broader areas of influence, increased marketability to employers and higher salary. Coaching you as an Engineer towards becoming an Executive will assist to make an already top performer better.