External and Internal Coaches – both have a role to play

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Last week we shared our view of executive leadership coaching. Our blog drew a number of different responses and prompted one question from a number of people regarding the relative merits of having an internal leadership coach verses an external leadership coach as it is possible that as the background, credentials, and approach of both coaches can be identical.

External coaches are sourced from outside the coachee’s company, coaching is a core skill and they have typically received a more extensive education in relation to coaching, have professional certification, and receive regular independent supervision.

According to Standards Australia[1] an internal coach is “a person authorised by their organisation to establish formal coaching relationships with other members of the same organisation. Internal coaching is usually conducted with coachees for whom the coach does have managerial responsibility.”

For both internal and external coaches the level of education, support, and experience varies widely.

Let’s take a look at the positives for both coaches.

External CoachesInternal Coaches
• Trust
• Offer greater objectivity
• Confidentiality
• Diversity of skills and experience
• Specialisation/Subject Matter Experts
• Credibility
• Bring fresh perspectives
• Offer a safe environment
• Costs/investment is generally lower
• Consistency
• Support and access
• Convenience
• Knowledge levels of the organisation structure, systems and culture
• Direct and regular observation of coachee
• More real time feedback

On the flipside what are the negatives for both?

External CoachesInternal Coaches
• Generally higher investment is required
• Time needed to develop familiarity with organisation structure, systems and culture
• Availability, particularly at short notice
• Inconsistent methodology where coaches come from different providers
• Risks to confidentiality
• Maintaining information boundaries
• One aspect of a wider organisational role
• Diversity of skill and experience
• May share the same blind spots and assumptions about the company as the coachee

The generally accepted principle is that external coaches add significant value when political neutrality, maximum objectivity, and the highest levels of confidentiality, are critical to the success of the coaching engagement.

Internal coaches can play a role within any organisation except with the leaders within the top two or three levels of an organisation as research [2] from multiple sources shows that only about 15% of senior leaders are comfortable using an internal coach.

If your organisation is considering using internal coaches here are a few tips to enable you to obtain return on your investment:

  • Clarify the meaning of what coaching means for your organisation
  • Set a clear purpose and outcomes for each coaching assignment
  • Define clear roles and responsibilities for the coach and coachee
  • Create internal coaching as a separate function
  • Maintain distance by not assigning a coach from the same business area as the coachee
  • Provide a clear guidelines and consistent methodology
  • Have measures in place to capture ‘value add’

There are many talented external and internal coaches, as to which is the better option we believe the answer is “it depends”. It depends on coachee needs, the circumstances, skills required, available budget, and timing.

Viventé Australia enables leaders and managers to create the conditions that allow their people to do their best work every day thus creating a powerful advantage: the synergy between people, leadership, management, and culture, produces performance that allows your business to achieve its outcomes.


[1] Standards 2011, Page 11

[2] Right Management: Weighing the external/internal decision