The Coaching Conversation: an Experiential Road Map to Knowledge and Personal Mastery

This article is adapted from Sunny Stout Rostron’s book, Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009) which is available from Knowledge Resources (

The knowledge gained from reflecting on one’s own experience, exploring what is working, what needs work, and what one can think, feel or do differently – is one of the roads leading to personal mastery. How coaching participants take responsibility for change can emerge from this experiential learning process.

In business, the coaching conversation provides a thinking environment where executives are able to develop self-awareness and a depth of understanding of themselves and others – embedding newly-acquired skills, competences and attitudes which subsequently impact the actions they take, visibly demonstrate new behaviours and ultimately lead to mastery of self.

Learning, change and growth are the key principles of a coaching environment which considers the coaching conversation as a learning experience. In this environment, the focus of the coaching conversation is to help the client work towards achieving desired outcomes. The coach primarily explores what it is that is holding back or stopping the client from achieving their goals.

Insight leads to change

One of our first areas of focus is awareness: helping the client to grow in awareness and to accept personal responsibility to create change for themselves. How the client takes up responsibility for change emerges from the coaching conversation.

The coach’s job is to facilitate insight, which leads to observable behavioural change impacting on performance. In business, this is because organizations expect to see clear effective deliverables. The AMA’s 2008 research study into the reasons why organizations use coaching revealed that 79 per cent wished to improve individual performance/productivity; 63 per cent to address leadership development/succession planning; 60 per cent to increase worker skill levels; and 56 per cent to improve organizational performance (AMA, 2008:11).

Measuring Results

1. Visible behavioural change

It is essential that any changes in self-awareness and relationship awareness show up visibly in the workplace through the client’s behaviour; otherwise, it is difficult to measure what has changed as a result of the coaching. Coaching is a complex process with both qualitative and quantitative goals set. Your job as a business coach is to develop the core competences of the managerial leader. The development of those competences needs to show up visibly in work-related and behavioural changes. The client’s work often starts with growing self-awareness, increased emotional maturity and improved interpersonal skills and competence.

2. Improved performance and business results

Performance improvement should have a direct effect on business results. Although it is not always possible to quantify how coaching has directly impacted performance, it is one of the key criteria linked to business coaching. This may require a systemic and developmental approach on the part of coach and client, integrated with an understanding of the complexities of the client’s working context, market environment and level of competence.

3. Personal and professional development

The personal development plan you create with your client relates directly to the areas where it is perceived that they need to work. Their plan will be linked to individual management assessment profiles, 360° feedback surveys, and shadow coaching which help you to identify emotional, behavioural, cognitive and performance-related issues. One of the essentials in creating this personal development plan is to identify the skills and competences that will impact each area, creating medium-term and long-term plans. This includes the client’s learning journey, the importance of identifying their learning style, and how they will be able to develop themselves personally and professionally when they have ceased to work with an external coach or internal organizational coach.

Personal responsibility and awareness

Existentially, choice and change offer a way of taking responsibility and defining one’s own self. “We cannot make life deliver what we want, but we can control what we think and desire; rigorous self-disciplined thought is the key” (Olson, 1962:11, cited in Peltier, 2001:158). Not specifically an intervention, but ten existential guidelines are offered for the executive coach by Peltier (2001:164–167):

  • anticipate anxiety and defensiveness;Choice
  • clients must figure things out in their own way;
  • commit to something;
  • create and sustain authentic relationships;
  • encourage choice;
  • get going;
  • honour individuality;
  • manage conflict and confrontation;
  • value responsibility taking;
  • welcome and appreciate the absurd.

Coaching guidelines for both coach and client could advocate: reflection, developing insight and awareness, setting goals, using language appropriately, making choices and taking action. Coaches, however, need to be willing to consistently pursue their own learning journey. Until that happens for you, it will be difficult for you to help your clients achieve insight, knowledge and personal mastery. Peltier (2001:168) says, “authentic individualism requires extensive self-examination and the willingness to live with the decisions one makes as a result”.


American Management Association (AMA) (2008). Coaching: A Global Strategy of Successful Practices. New York, NY: AMA.

Peltier, B. (2001). The Psychology of Executive Coaching: Theory and Application. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.

Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice, Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources. Available from

By Sunny Stout-Rostron Associates

Sunny coaches at senior executive and board level in corporate organizations and educational institutions. She has a wide range of experience in leadership and management development,  business strategy and executive coaching. With over 20 years’ international  experience as an executive coach, Sunny believes that there is a strong link between emotional intelligence and business results – she works with leaders and their  teams to help them achieve individual, team and organizational goals, gaining  wisdom and knowledge through their own experience.

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