What defines a great executive coach? Is it a deep, broad knowledge base that helps decision makers identify solutions to challenging issues? How about the ability to help leaders more effectively reach subordinates with improved listening and communications skills? Indeed these are great qualities of an effective coach, but what matters more is whether or not he or she is able to ask the right questions. In fact, the best executive coaches are not those with all the right answers, but rather the intuition and business sense to ask the questions that you never thought to ask yourself. How is that possible?An Executive Coach is Not a Consultant With immeasurable knowledge and practical skill, it’s easy to mistake the benefits of a great coach with that of a top tier consultant. The truth is, an executive coach is not an “answer person” positioned to make the tough decisions or call the plays. Rather, an effective coach helps executives and key decision makers think through challenging situations and create understanding for them to solve their own problems through guidance, advice and ultimately, introspection. An Executive Coach Challenges By Asking the Tough Questions While we’d all like to think that we challenge ourselves, the truth is many of us require an extra push from someone we respect to force us to a new level. The right executive coach can force us beyond the limitations we set for ourselves, opening new doors of possibility. By asking the tough questions, a coach can force professionals to think about forming answers or solutions to those issues they may have been neglecting or inadvertently missed. They’re Truth Tellers Who Are Not Afraid to Be Honest An effective coach is a truth teller, or someone who will honestly and candidly provide his or her opinions. The goal is not to make everyone feel good by being buddies or friends, but to hold leaders accountable, ensuring that they will commit to a plan of action. Great coaches use measures on a regular basis to foster accountability and to gauge whether or not improvements have been made. An Effective Coach May Be a Thinking Partner Many times a leader needs a trusted confidant to explore ideas, different approaches, and challenges. Too often, leaders are isolated in the “lonely at the top” syndrome and have few objective, agenda-free, talented, and experienced folks with whom to talk. Having someone that will expand the conversation and creatively open the leader’s view of the issue or opportunity is an invaluable asset for any successful leader. Effective Executive Coaches Hold Their Clients Accountable To optimize growth and enhance performance, the leader must set direction and set out a plan of action steps to move toward both business and personal goals. The Executive Coach does not set the action items…they are set by the leader through “self-determination” in the coaching process. It is the coach’s responsibility to hold the leader accountable for the timely resolution of the action items committed to by the client. Coaching is about developing the capabilities of high performers. While successful executive coaches are knowledgeable, with hands-on experience, they don’t need to have all of the right answers to be effective. Rather, the best executive coaches challenge leaders to think for themselves by asking the tough questions. With the right guidance, advice and a little introspection, leaders make their own choices, and that leads to far better answers every time.