Coaching for Behavioral Change

Excerpt from Chapter One, “Coaching for Behavioral Change,” from “Coaching for Leadership: Writings on Leadership from the World’s Greatest Coaches,” 3rd Edition by Marshall Goldsmith and Laurence Lyons (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2012)

By Marshall Goldsmith and Laurence Lyons

My mission is to help successful leaders achieve positive, long-term, measurable change in behavior: for themselves, their people, and their teams. When the steps in the coaching process described below are followed, leaders almost always see positive behavioral change—not as judged by themselves, but as judged by preselected, key stakeholders. This process has been used around the world with great success—by both external coaches and internal coaches.

Steps in the Leadership Coaching Process

The following steps describe the basics of our behavioral coaching process. Every coach in our network has to agree to implement the following steps. If the coach will follow these basic steps, our clients almost always achieve positive change!

  1. Involve the leaders being coached in determining the desired behavior in their leadership roles. Leaders cannot be expected to change behavior if they don’t have a clear understanding of what desired behavior looks like. The people we coach (in agreement with their managers, if they are not the CEO) work with us to determine desired leadership behavior.
  2. Involve the leaders being coached in determining key stakeholders. Not only do clients need to be clear on desired behaviors, they need to be clear (again in agreement with their managers, if they are not the CEO) on key stakeholders. There are two major reasons why people deny the validity of feedback—wrong items or wrong raters. By having our clients and their managers agree on the desired behaviors and key stakeholders in advance, we help ensure their “buy-in” to the process.
  3. Collect feedback.In my coaching practice, we personally interview all key stake- holders. The people I am coaching are all CEOs or potential CEOs, and the company is making a real investment in their development. However, at lower levels in the organization (that are more price sensitive), traditional 360-degree feedback can work very well. In either case, feedback is critical. It is impossible to get evaluated on changed behavior if there is no agreement on what behavior to change!
  4. Reach agreement on key behaviors for change. As I have become more experienced, my approach has become simpler and more focused. I generally recommend picking only one to three key areas for behavioral change with each client. This helps ensure maximum attention to the most important behavior. My clients and their managers (unless my client is the CEO) agree upon the desired behavior for change. This ensures that I won’t spend a year working with my clients and have their managers determine that we have worked on changing the wrong behavior!
  5. Have the coaching clients respond to key stakeholders. The person being reviewed should talk with each key stakeholder and collect additional “feedforward” suggestions on how to improve on the key areas targeted for improvement. In responding, the person being coached should keep the conversation positive, simple, and focused. When mistakes have been made in the past, it is generally a good idea to apologize and ask for help in changing in the future. I suggest that my clients listen to stakeholder suggestions and not judge the suggestions.
  6. Review what has been learned with clients and help them develop an action plan. As was stated earlier, my clients have to agree to the basic steps in our process. On the other hand, outside of the basic steps, all of the other ideas I share with my clients are suggestions. I just ask them to listen to my ideas in the same way they are listening to the ideas from their key stakeholders. I then ask them to come back with a plan of what they want to do. These plans need to come from them, not me. After reviewing their plans, I almost always encourage them to live up to their own commitments. I am much more of a facilitator than a judge. My job is to help great, highly motivated executives get better at what they believe is most important—not to tell them what to change.
  7. Develop an ongoing follow-up process. Ongoing follow-up should be efficient and focused. Questions such as, “Based upon my behavior last month, what ideas do you have for me next month?” can keep a focus on the future. Within six months, conduct a two- to six-item mini-survey with key stakeholders. They should be asked whether the person has become more or less effective in the areas targeted for improvement.
  8. Review results and start again. If the person being coached has taken the process seriously, stakeholders almost invariably report improvement. We then build on that success by repeating the process for the next 12 to 18 months. This type of follow-up will ensure continued progress on initial goals and uncover additional areas for improvement. Stakeholders almost always appreciate follow-up. No one minds filling out a focused, two- to six-item questionnaire if they see positive results. The person being coached will benefit from ongoing, targeted steps to improve performance.
  9. End the formal coaching process when results have been achieved. Our goal is not to create a dependency relationship between coach and client. Although I almost always keep in touch with my coaching “graduates” for the rest of their lives, we do not have an ongoing business relationship.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., “Coaching for Leadership: Writings on Leadership from the World’s Greatest Coaches,” 3rd Edition, by Marshall Goldsmith and Laurence Lyons. Copyright (c) 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved.

Dr. Marshall Goldsmithrecently was recognized as the most influential leadership thinker in the world in the Thinkers50/HBR global biannual study. He also has been described in American Management Association as one of the top 50 thinkers and leaders who have influenced the field of management over the last 80 years; in the Wall Street Journal as one of the top 10 executive educators; in Forbesas one of the five most-respected executive coaches; in the Economic Times (India)among the top CEO coaches of America; in Fast Company,called America’s preeminent executive coach; and he has received a lifetime achievement award (one of two ever awarded) from the Institute for Management Studies. Dr. Goldsmith is one of a select few executive advisors who have been asked to work with more than 120 major CEOs and their management teams. He is the million-selling author of numerous books, including New York Timesbest-sellers “MOJO” and “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” (also a Wall Street JournalNo. 1 business book and winner of the Harold Longman Award for business book of the year). Contact him at and

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.