What is Executive Coaching: A Simple Guide

What is Executive Coaching

Executive Coaching as defined by the International Coach Federation (ICF) is a partnership with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. 

Executive coaching helps people develop themselves to create sustainable performance improvement, meaningful change and positive transformation. Executive coaching is fundamentally different to mentoring consulting or training.

How Does Executive Coaching Differ from Business Coaching?

Business coaching and executive coaching are often confused. The main difference between the two forms of coaching is the level of intimacy the coach develops with the client and what the coaching addresses.

Business coaching is all about how to deliver business improvement. Because of this, the coach is often a business leader themselves and understands the mechanics of improving a business from strategy, organisational design, team performance, sales, marketing and financials. 

It is worth noting that often coaches are engaged in a blended approach of business and executive coaching. In fact, many of my engagements focus on the business and executive at the same time. However, I would argue that this is a Trusted Advisor role rather than an executive coaching engagement.

Comparatively, executive coaching is very personal. It is an equal partnership between a coach and an executive business figure (CEO, executive, etc) and takes place as one-on-one or sometimes group meetings. The whole purpose of executive coaching is to maximise not just the professional potential of an induvial but also the personal.

To achieve this, the executive coach doesn’t need to understand the entire business but instead how to help an individual on a personal level to positively impact their business and professional life. Executive coaching achieves this by focusing predominantly on the client’s future accomplishments rather than focusing on their past failures.

Does Executive Coaching Work?

Coaching is probably one of the most, if not the most, individually tailored personal development practices in talent development as it involves a close, trusting and confidential relationship between the coach and the executive being coached. 

There is strong evidence that executive coaching works. In fact, many of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, and Bill Gates have all used coaches. Eric Schmidt says the best advice he ever got was to hire an executive coach and Gill Gates said: “everyone needs a coach” in his TedX talk.

Fundamentally executive coaching works as an intervention to help leaders improve results. As a CEO for example you often have no one to really talk to and no one who really is helping you be accountable. Working with an executive coach who has a deep understanding of your role helps to focus and prioritise on what’s most important for yourself, the business and all stakeholders.

The coaching industry was worth $15 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to $20 billion by 2022 and CEOs at start-ups and established businesses of all sizes engage in coaching in an effort to achieve better personal and bottom-line business results. (For more on the ROI of Executive Coaching please read “Executive Coaching – what is the real return on investment (ROI).

What To Gain from Executive Coaching?

It is important to understand that executive coaching is a client-driven process and so the client will get out what they put into it. If the client goes into the coaching mentally closed off, then it will not get them very far. However, if they have a willingness to collaborate with a coach on a personal level, then the client will experience many benefits.

Throughout a client’s time with an executive coach, they will develop the resources needed to thrive personally and professionally. These resources will have their uses beyond the executive coaching as they will be habitual practices that can be used in any situation.

Executive coaching is about helping leaders improve their confidence and understanding of the direction they want to head in. This is then to have an impact on their performance as a leader. The more confidence and direction a leader develops, the more likely they are to motivate a team and reach their goals.

Once an executive understands what they want to achieve then there may be an increase in personal enjoyment for their job. They will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and feel like they are working towards something meaningful. This will boost their creativity and engagement with their team, resulting in an overall improvement.

How to Choose an Executive Coach

First, we should remember that an executive coach isn’t a consultant; they don’t work on specific or prescriptive problems. Instead, they work with you in a thought-provoking and creative process to challenge and guide you to help you learn and grow and more importantly to develop knowledge and expertise yourself.

When you trust your executive coach you can talk freely and openly about what is challenging you and whilst someone can have all the qualifications in the world if you don’t have chemistry you won’t have a trusting relationship. Fundamentally it’s crucial that the chemistry is right between the coach and the person being coached and you feel that you’re able to connect with your coach.  

Tony Robbins is one of the worlds most recognised coaches and captures something important when he says, “Is a doctor who’s unhealthy where we want to get our health information?”. What he is alluding to is that we want to work with the person who walks their talk. 

This is true in executive coaching. If you are an executive, founder, or CEO surely you want to be coached by someone who has been an executive, founder, or CEO? Someone who is deeply aligned with your journey as they themselves have the knowledge and expertise to really understand the opportunities and challenges faced.

Yes, whilst a qualified coach will be able to help with a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, a coach who walks their talk will be infinitely more valuable.

Experience of a shared sector allows you to share a language and is a way to quickly build credibility and trust and many executives are keen to have an executive coach who has or is working in the same industry as themselves. However, others prefer to be coached by someone who has minimal experience in the sector as it brings fresh thinking.

Ultimately a great coach is always going to add value by asking you great questions and using their intuition to identify key blockers in enablers.

Once you have identified an executive coach you would like to work with you should conduct your own due diligence. Coaching can be one of the most powerful professional experiences available to leaders but getting an executive coach is an investment of your time and money.

Ask for testimonials and case studies and ask about the successes and the impact and typical results they have delivered working with their clients.

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