If you’ve signed up for Judo classes on weeknights, you’ll need to change out of your business attire. When learning how to do watercolours, a paintbrush is essential. Taking a literature course? Heading to class without your reading glasses may be problematic.

Each form of personal and professional learning carries its own set of requirements and materials to bring with you. In some cases the materials are physical. In others, they’re mostly psychological.

Executive coaching is gaining traction in the business world. Companies and executives are beginning to see it as a viable path toward higher productivity and success—and it’s not just for senior managers. It can be used by first time appointed supervisors, junior managers and even individual contributors. Professionals at every level who become more aware of their own working or management styles are better able to navigate complex business environments.

Executive coaching is not, however, like getting a haircut or a massage. It demands active participation from the professional being coached, and when companies invest cash in coaching, they expect a return. That’s why it’s important to come prepared. Here are five essential things to bring with you for every coaching session.

1. Your Goals

A highly trained executive coach knows how to guide the coaching process – but this doesn’t mean you should show up with no ideas of your own. You’ll get the most out of your coaching experience when you take time, well before each meeting, to reflect on what you want to accomplish. Where are the weak spots in your performance? What gets you frustrated? Where do your improvement and the company’s improvement align?

If you can’t think of a single area where you might improve, you’re probably not being honest. The importance of setting goals in executive coaching is well-documented. They maximise the impact of your meeting, and show the coach that you’re serious about getting results.

2. Your ‘A’ Game

For those who are new to executive coaching, the temptation to view it as a kind of therapy is understandable – but coaching is a totally different animal. This is no time to put your feet up and talk about whatever’s on your mind. It’s about performance. It’s about stretching the envelope. Although a good coach will push you outside your comfort zone, he or she will always provide the support you need to practise new skills and implement change.

Think of it this way: The company is investing in you the same way a professional sports team invests in a star athlete. If you work hard and strive for results, your career will benefit in the long-run, and your team will applaud the effort.

3. Your Homework

In the course of your executive coaching sessions, you may end up with a homework assignment or two. Don’t worry, these won’t resemble the lengthy papers and exams of school or university days, but they may involve new ways of communicating, solving problems, or managing others. When you put these new strategies into practice, it’s important to observe what happens. How did the situation change? How did others react? What were the effects on your own productivity and work flow?

When possible, ask your coach to observe you in action – chairing a meeting, running a workshop, handling an important call – so that he or she can observe your approach first-hand. Then, ask for feedback and advice on what may be done differently to achieve the required outcome. Staying sharp and making observations moves the coaching process forward with greater speed and impact, allowing you to reach goals rather than spin your wheels.

4. Selfishness

Obviously you lead a busy professional life. If you didn’t, executive coaching wouldn’t have found its way into your vocabulary, much less your schedule! But it’s a mistake to treat this like one meeting out of many. This is your opportunity to be selfish and explore the core dynamics of your professional performance. If you need to re-schedule another appointment or push back a project, so be it. You may end up getting more out of those other engagements if you give your coaching sessions the time and energy they deserve.

5. An Open Mind

As the old Zen saying goes, you can’t pour anything into a full cup. It’s the same with executive coaching. It pays to bring an open mind, and a high level of curiosity about what could be worked on, polished or even changed to achieve a breakthrough.

Your coach is there to provide new ways of framing your personal evolution in the professional space. Results will come from an appreciation of the distilled wisdom your coach has to offer, and a willingness to receive and apply that wisdom to your own advantage. Do come prepared to question and challenge the coach’s feedback, and make sure you understand what is being fed back to you and why. Do not worry about looking good or being right. Focus on the results that can be found through change.

Bring these five things with you to every executive coaching session, and you’ll see how truly powerful the process can be!

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