Why Empathy is the Most Important Executive Coaching Skill

In the past 12 months since COVID-19 has forced many businesses and industries to completely revolutionise their practices, and as a result of such change, there has been a significant increase in the demand for executive coaching. Such a crisis has highlighted for many, the need for leaders to have access to someone who will act as an objective sounding board for ideas and concerns, as well as someone who can offer unbiased perspectives. It’s become a case of supporting the leaders who are supporting others. It may seem as though a crisis of this magnitude would offer little time for leaders to focus on their personal development, there is reason to suggest that by taking the opportunity to freely discuss their thoughts and concerns with an executive coach, leaders can gain energy, productivity, and are able to lead their teams more effectively.

So much of how society has had to adapt to this ‘new normal’ has been completely unknown. The same is true of business and leadership. This has left many executives with little idea of how they could possibly manage their own overwhelm while giving reassurance to their teams, developing new business practices, and attempting to plan for unforeseen challenges. Leaders who find themselves burdened in such ways may benefit greatly from engaging in an executive coaching program that allows them to express their concerns and come up with a plan for how to cope with them. Executive coaches offer much needed relief to these (and many other) concerns that leaders are still facing by relying on the most important coaching skill – empathy. 

empathy Why Empathy is the Most Important Executive Coaching Skill Simply by allowing the client to guide conversation through listening and empathising, coaches can assist leaders in gaining clarity on where to prioritise their attention. Interestingly, the best coaches also help leaders to understand what ‘not to do’ as well as actions that can be taken to improve situations. This reduces stress for the client so that they are then able to generate their own new ideas and perspectives. With personalised one-on-one coaching, the specific needs of the client can be met. Successful executive coaching programs are made so by engaging with the client in ways that make them feel as though their concerns are being heard. When we find ourselves in a state of overwhelm, all we really need is for someone to listen to what we have to say without judgment. The best executive coaches know this. They also know that once the client has had the chance to express their concerns, they are often then able to find their own solutions with minimal guidance. At The Leadership Sphere, we have also come to realise that embedding coaching into our core programs, for senior leaders, also helps those senior leaders to deliver more effective coaching and mentoring to their teams, and this has a significant impact on the overall return on investment of leadership development and high performance team programs.

conversation Why Empathy is the Most Important Executive Coaching SkillExecutive coaching allows leaders to deepen their learning and improve the performance of both themselves, and their team. The personal relationship formed between coach and client is one based on empathy and trust. This means that there is not a one size fits all program. Effective coaching programs are ongoing and encourage the client to drive their own success. This will look different to every leader in a variety of situations. During times of crisis, it is important that the coach can support this growth by knowing the right questions to ask. The ‘right questions’ should be open-ended enough to allow the client to come to their own answer yet remain focused on the issue being addressed. Interestingly, the best coaches ask questions, even when they may feel they have come to the conclusion already, having seen such behaviours before. But it is never about the answer, but about the thinking process to get to the answer, and by role modelling patience and good questioning and listening skills the coach is doing the client a massive service, to their own mindset, but also the way it can change the way they approach other staff in their teams.


– ‘What is within your control that will make a difference?’

– ‘What is especially concerning to you in this moment?’

– ‘Which of your strengths can help in this situation?’

– ‘Tell me more’ (sometimes it’s not a question!)


Executive coaching programs are designed to help individuals focus on reaching their personal goals and become effective leaders. Empathy is in integral skill needed for coaches and leaders to develop the trusting relationship that makes such a program successful. When faced with new and unforeseen challenges, it is especially important that leaders have the emotional support they need to overcome them. By undertaking executive coaching, individuals can better manage their personal concerns and return to their teams much calmer and more focused. We all  know that a calmer and more focused version of ourselves is the best version of ourselves!


For more information about The Leadership Sphere and how we can help you unlock performance through leadership, by supporting your leaders at every level of the organisation with leadership development, executive coaching and high performance team programs please visit our website or call us on 1300 100 857.

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