Many think that executive coaching is for the exclusive realm of the C-Suite. And at one point, it was. But professional coaching is now more accessible than ever — and no matter your position on the organization chart, you have the capacity for growth and development.
If you feel stuck or behind in your professional journey, there’s a way out. Working with an executive coach can generate the self-awareness you need to unlock your potential and advance your career.
What’s executive coaching?
Coaching relationships have a similar dynamic, no matter the niche. A coach’s role is to inspire and support their client as they work toward their full potential — and beyond. With their help, you learn to see yourself more clearly — and with compassion — and discover the extent of your capabilities.
So, what’s an executive coach, and how can they help you flourish at work?
An executive coach specializes in supporting clients as they develop the leadership and high-level skills necessary to succeed as business leaders. Their clients are often highly motivated and achievement-orientated professionals looking for an edge to take their careers to the next level.
The practice is action-based, meaning the coach focuses both on altering a client’s thinking and encouraging tangible work and progress. Working with individuals or groups, the coach aims to nurture intelligent, capable, and ambitious employees ready to take their place as leaders in the business world.
But you don’t have to be destined for the boardroom to benefit from executive coaching. A good coach meets you where you are and tailors their practice to fit your needs and goals. As you two work together to generate a development plan, your coach can offer a fresh perspective on your abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
What coaching isn’t
Some people use the terms coaching, mentoring, and counseling interchangeably. While they all concern themselves with personal development, each practice is very different in terms of scope and methodology.
- Mentoring nurtures personal progress through exposure to new people and experiences. Your mentor helps you recognize your abilities while working together to improve your professional performance and establish a growth mindset. The result is enhanced self-confidence and mental fitness, a broader perspective, and an expanded professional network.
- Counseling involves emotion-based, problem-specific guidance. You spend time with your counselor examining your past, evaluating how it affects your behavior, and developing strategies to help you grow. Counselors are the only people on this list who must be trained and certified professionals.
- Coaching, like counseling, requires introspection. But coaching concerns with your future, not your past. In each session, you focus on personal development and use goal-setting to propel growth. And instead of providing professional intervention, coaches support you from the sidelines while you spearhead your own growth.
Types of coaching
There are many different approaches to coaching. Each addresses a different priority, whether it’s individual, collaborative, or business-related. Some coaches have a single area of focus, while others take a cross-disciplinary approach.
When choosing a type of coach, base your choice on the type of change you want to effect. Some of the common niches include:
A career coach offers insight into your professional growth and supports development by helping to set and reach career goals. Additionally, they can provide job search guidance or help clients transition into a new role.
Life coaches address issues related to career, health, fitness, finances, or interpersonal relationships. They’re an excellent resource for those who feel stalled or disconnected from their goals, as they motivate clients to find purpose and passion for life.
Organizational or business coaching
Using coaching skills, business, and organizational coaches support companies by assisting them in identifying organizational goals and building a plan to achieve these targets. They usually work holistically, improving productivity and performance across the entire operation.
Newcomers to management often need to build a new skill set. That’s where a management coach comes in: they train leaders-to-be in planning, organization, and implementation skills while enhancing their resource and people management competencies.
A performance coach provides strategies and tactics to help employees execute their tasks more effectively. They focus on elevating clients’ skills and techniques so they’re more effective at what they do.
Executive team coaching
Teamwork is often challenging. Executive team coaching takes a bilateral approach to support working groups by improving communication and collaboration to boost overall performance. Leaders learn to manage their teams effectively while team members become more productive. The process involves coaching, teaching, facilitation, mediation, and positive psychology.
Executive leadership coaching
A leadership coach works with promising employees to develop the necessary skills to make better decisions and become the company’s next generation of executives.
Executive leadership coaching is characterized by seven benefit-generating attributes:
- Acquiring and offering feedback
- Recognizing development opportunities
- Developing awareness
- Generating solutions by asking the right questions
- Encouraging lifelong learning
- Offering long-term support
- Establishing a system of accountability and monitoring progress
Why executive coaching works
A recent study found that 77% of executives who worked with a coach found improvements to at least 1 of 9 business measures, with overall productivity and employee satisfaction receiving the largest increase. Researchers concluded that executive coaching produced a 788% return on investment.
As impressive as these results are from a business standpoint, executive coaching is even more impactful for the individual. Here’s how executive coaching benefits you on a personal level:
Achieve your goals faster
Your coach helps you identify your dreams and ambitions. You work together to set SMART goals with achievable milestones and concrete deadlines — all transferable skills. Then they keep tabs on your progress so you meet targets according to your timeline.
Work doesn’t end at the close of a session. You should receive assignments to finish independently and within a specific timeframe. You can’t put them off — you’ll discuss the results during your next meeting. These time management skills developed with your coach lend themselves well to your professional life.
Gain an open-mind perspective
Coaches shed light on new possibilities. They show you how to look at challenges from different perspectives, apply your skills in new ways, and shed limiting beliefs. This knowledge infuses your work with empathy and encourages you to be a better listener.
Make better decisions
Difficult choices are often stressful. Working with a coach pushes you to ask better questions and evaluate options from different viewpoints to identify the best solution. And when you’re stuck, your coach can be a valuable sounding board to help you sort through the possibilities and find your way.
Stay motivated and focused on your goal
When you’re busy with day-to-day challenges at work, it’s hard to focus on yourself. A coach can step in and redirect your attention back to your goals and provide the encouragement necessary to stay on target.
When someone invests in developing your potential, you can’t help but feel valued. A coach not only lends a supporting hand, but enables self-improvement and career growth that encourages you to appreciate your worth.
Who should hire an executive coach?
At one time, executive coaches worked with a company’s upper echelon, helping struggling leaders or assisting with challenges. Their job was to nix unhealthy behaviors, boost employee engagement, or take level-up an already high performance.
Now, anyone setting their sights on becoming a leader and improving their capabilities should consider coaching. If you’re ambitious but unsure where to direct your energy, you need a professional who can help you find your focus. An executive coach helps you understand yourself, your motivations, and your career desires. And that’s the first step toward making your ambitions a reality.
Understanding the executive coaching process
Depending on your goals, an executive coaching program could last six months or more. The longer you invest working with your coach, the more support you have to build your skills and inspire significant change.
Your coach will begin your relationship by getting to know and understand you. They’ll learn about your background, motivations, history, and work environment. With your permission, they may also seek feedback from your coworkers about your strengths and capabilities.
This information helps them develop a well-rounded picture of who you are — knowledge they use to establish the bonds of trust and familiarity that will power your relationship.
As you work together, your coach will gauge your progress. Some professionals use a scoring system to evaluate how far you’ve come and rate your performance based on behavioral changes and outcomes. Evaluations of this nature help the coach understand your strengths and determine which strategies to use as you proceed.
Moving through the process, your coach will occasionally pause to debrief and review your growth. They’ll offer feedback based on their observations and encourage you to reflect on your journey. These insights will empower you and your coach to determine next steps and reroute as necessary.
When the coaching process draws to a close, your coach will interview you to see how far you’ve come and acknowledge your accomplishments. Did you achieve your goals? What have you learned, and what do you still need to learn? And what’s next for you?
To summarize, the steps of an executive coaching program are:
1. Establish a relationship
Your first session is about getting to know one another and beginning to forge a trust-based connection. Your coach will:
- Determine your compatibility: Can you two get along and build a rapport based on trust?
- Set goals: What do you hope to accomplish through coaching?
- Discuss confidentiality and working agreements: Consent is essential in a coaching relationship. Do you understand the details of their practice’s policies?
- Perform a 360 assessment: What is your personal and professional history, and how does it relate to your goals?
2. Coaching sessions
You’ll spend most of your time in this phase of the relationship. Typical coaching programs involve 6–12 sessions spaced a few weeks apart. During your meetings, you can expect to:
- Check-in and discuss your progress
- Review assignments
- Set goals
- Receive advice
- Learn new skills
3. Between sessions
When you’re not sitting in a session, you’re putting coaching advice into action. Your coach will hold you accountable at your next meeting, so be sure to:
- Try new things
- Take note of positive and negative outcomes
- Remain focused on your goals
- Record your actions and insights
4. After sessions
As your time together draws to a close, your coach will celebrate your accomplishments. At your last session, you can expect to:
What to look for in an executive coach
Coaching is an unregulated industry. Not every coach completes a certification course or development program. If you’ve decided to pursue coaching, research potential candidates and evaluate their experience, credentials, and outcomes before you commit.
Remember: choosing a coach is a big decision. You owe it to yourself to take the time necessary to ensure you’re comfortable and that your choice can help you achieve your desired success. Here are a few things to look for:
Leadership and corporate experience
While you don’t have to be a CEO of a multi-national company to train other executives, familiarity with the necessary leadership skills is a must.
Your coach is there to guide you through your professional growth journey with advice and insights. Experience as a leader in your field empowers them to offer relevant perspectives and solutions.
While professional coaching certification isn’t required to become an executive coach, it offers clients security and peace of mind to know they’re in qualified hands.
According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), there are three levels of certificate programs. Each level requires the candidate to demonstrate a thorough understanding of coaching principles, complete hands-on training, and exhibit dedication to upholding the profession’s ethical guidelines:
- Associate certified coach (ACC) candidates must complete 60 hours of in-class training and 100 hours of client coaching experience.
- Professional certified coach (PCC) consists of 125 hours of coach-specific training and 500 hours of client coaching experience.
- Master certified coach (MCC) requires PCC certification, 200 hours of in-class training, and 2,500 hours of client coaching experience.
Without professional oversight, anyone can still call themselves a coach. Always double-check that your top choice is accredited to ensure you receive the safe, effective guidance you need.
Style and values
What kind of coach do you want to work with? Are you more comfortable with a straightforward, practical style of guidance? Or do you prefer a gentle-natured, diplomatic delivery?
These are important considerations, but keep in mind that no coaching style is inherently better than another. You need to choose the coach that works for you and your unique needs.
The only hard-and-fast rule is you don’t want to compromise on listening skills. Your coach needs to listen — really listen — to what you’re saying in order to be an effective guide.
Experience and background
Has your coach worked in your industry? Depending on your field, this may be an essential factor. On the other hand, it may be refreshing to work with someone outside of your niche who can provide new perspectives an insider can’t.
Also consider a coach’s reputation. Do they have glowing testimonials from their prior clients? Can they present case studies showing how they’ve helped others transition into a leadership role? Are they the right person to help you achieve the same success?
Take the next step
If you’re ready to take the next step to become a great leader but aren’t sure what it should be, executive coaching is for you.
Working with a coach who can help fuel your career transformation isn’t just an investment in your future. It’s a commitment to grow, develop, and strive to be your best self. And you deserve that.