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What Makes a Good Internal Coach?

The courage to understand

Many businesses are keen to establish internal coaching capability, but what makes a good internal coach? Keith Nelson, Director of Coaching Programmes at the Møller Institute, suggests five important factors that leaders and HR directors who are responsible for developing internal coaching can take into consideration when identifying suitable individuals who have the potential to become internal coaches.

1. Performance and people

Coaching is a highly effective way of raising performance. So it makes sense to look for potential coaches who instinctively show up for work with a performance-focused mindset. But what are they like with people as well?

Culturally, coaching goes beyond simply raising performance. Distributing leadership and encouraging accountability are people-focused approaches, so look out for people who are able to combine performance outcomes with a broad range of effective inter-personal relationship skills. Never under-estimate your coaches as role-models!

2. Trustworthiness

Effective coaching effectiveness is built on trusting relationships. This cuts both ways. Is the coach trustworthy – and perceived as trustworthy? Equally, it’s important that coaches trust their coachees.

This can be a challenge for HR professionals, simply because of the job they do. One day they might be coaching an internal co-worker, the next day they might be putting a team at notice of redundancy, or conducting a disciplinary. Having trained many HR professionals as coaches, a key success factor for them as coaches is the ability to detach themselves from their HR roles when they are coaching. They need to be able to wear different hats. And their internal coachees need to believe that too.

3. Credibility

This follows on from trustworthiness, above. How much credibility do the individuals bring with them? You can look at this from both the individual and systemic perspectives. Individually, look for people who continually display high levels of authenticity and integrity; who have good people skills and who don’t have a poor reputation for conflict. Can you imagine them coaching across the business?

Systemically, how do different departments work with each other? Are there high levels of trust and inter-dependence, or are there antagonistic patterns to overcome? Coaching cuts across different departments and sectors, but is the business ready for a member of the support team to coach a marketeer, or someone from sales to coach the head of production

4. Follow the values

If your business has a clear vision, purpose and set of values (that are accepted and widely bought into), then look for coaches who follow these. So if one of your corporate values is ‘creativity’, for example, then select internal coaches who have not only internalised the meaning that comes from that value, but can then bring this out of others.

5. Self-awareness

A strong sense of self – often embodied through resilience – and good degree of self-awareness are great coaching qualities. Look for these types of characteristics. And patience can be a virtue here. A learning journey for impatient people is to develop greater comfort around being comfortable with patience. Greater self-awareness is also very helpful when coaches begin to coach regularly and start to become aware of the undercurrents that are at play within the organisation.


These are just a few of the factors that businesses might consider when looking to identify and train internal coaches. There are many more! Choose well and look beyond the ‘obvious’ candidates. You might be surprised at the potential many people have to become strong coaches.

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