From Good to Great Coaching – What Makes a Great Coach?


‘Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.’

-Pete Carroll

I believe that great coaching is one of the most important components of individual and business success. But the fascinating thing is that every management or leadership position should include an element of coaching. Whether at work, at home, in leisure or otherwise, it is about getting others to want to improve, to perform, to develop. Those who have developed and use this ability, rise to the top.

Boss versus leader

So what skills and attributes should be important for a great coach to have? There is no standard template and there probably is no one single set of attributes that all excellent coaches possess. Good coaches have many skills and can come from many places, but they all connect with their clients they know how to make changes, and they know how to get results. Perhaps the questions to ask are:

What differentiates the good from excellent coach?

  • What personal qualities do top coaches possess that separate them from the good coach?
  • Is it more the training or the personal (soft skills) qualities?
  • Is it more coaching technique or the artistry?
  • Is it more coaching knowledge or its application?
  • Are there techniques that consistently work that excellent coaches use?
  • Is it more a natural talent for helping people or cultivated abilities?
  • Is it insightful analysis of individuals or educated guesswork?

Qualities of a great coach

Well in my experience, excellent coaching always has some critical elements:

  • The cultivation of the highest standards in themselves and their clients.
  • The use of a superb process, organisation and monitoring.
  • Excellent critical analysis and being objective.
  • Excellent feedback and communication skills.
  • Great empathy and capacity to go further than is required.

It is much harder to define what are the personal qualities, soft-skills and attitudes that make a great coach. There are a vast range of interpersonal, emotional and intellectual skills. Over my 30 years as an Educator, Headteacher, Master trainer, Executive coach, Mediator and Leader, I have trained many excellent coaches. The key qualities that distinguished the great from the good included:

What makes a great coach

  • A genuine, sincere interest in clients and desire to help.
  • They care deeply about people.
  • They are all life-long learners.
  • They are humble, open, nurturing and grateful.
  • They have incredibly high personal standards and ambitions.
  • They have a high level of self-knowledge.
  • Very high levels of self-awareness with emotional intelligence and resilience. Most clients resist change even if the change is for the good. Changing and modifying behaviour takes time and effort. Some clients adjust quickly – some don’t. A great coach is aware of that, and they’re patient and resourceful. They understand at the highest level the reasons for this resistance.
  • The ability to create a safe environment in which clients can express themselves more clearly. There, they can be creative and innovative. I call it EPC (Explore, Play and Create Novelty) and it unlocks a vast range of problems.

Great coaches are always knowledgeable and skilled

  • Great coaches are always knowledgeable and skilled – they are perceptive, intuitive, curious and inquiring. They know the processes and follow it- the skills and techniques that contribute to success. It is these skills combined with the knowledge that creates success. They can guide the building of a structure, real accountability, and support necessary to ensure sustained commitment from their clients.
  • They work on themselves unceasingly and usually have their own coach. They are open to new ideas and philosophies. They study coaching seriously and take coaching seriously. It is a profession that requires personal commitment to excellence, always.
  • The best of coaches are extremely well organised. This is one of the most important traits of a great coach because it shows their commitment. The actual coaching process with the employee is not arbitrary. It is consistent. The client is not left confused by the methodology of the coach.

Make things possible

  • They can quickly identify gaps between where the client is and where the client needs or wants to be. To do this, they need to ask better questions – they ask for more intentional thought, action and behavior changes than the client would have asked of him or herself – which is crucial.
  • Great coaches have to be flexible and have the capacity for deep and comprehensive learning. A great coach adjusts to the personality and behaviour of the individual client.

Comprehensive learning

  • Great coaches are objective and give great feedback. Yes, this requires high level communication skills but it has to be based on set criteria. When feedback is provided on the standards, it is based on pre-determined components and not on the whim of the coach at that moment. This makes the feedback meaningful, relevant and easier to apply.


These are a fantastic starting point. Now, on top of these attributes, excellent coaches should have:

It is about a cultural shift for the profession – from Good to Great – and will change the view of coaching worldwide. If you can add more to the list, please do (it is by no means exhaustive or exclusive).

Tim Dingle

Tim Dingle BSc (Hons), PGCE, MIBiol, MBA, has been involved in education, management and training for the last 30 years. Tim is a former Headmaster of a top school and gained an MBA with a distinction. His dissertation was on body language and Interview skills. He has a unique insight into teaching, leadership and management and has now written 26 books on a variety of topics including motivation, leadership, education, training, communication, interview success and business.

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