There is no parameter that can measure – and do justice to – the impact of coaches in the lives of people they touch. Hence, there really can’t be a simple list that mentions the best executive coaches to follow in 2021. So, what am I attempting to do with this article?
I am going to identify a few names of those who made an impact globally. This will help us to understand and learn from best practices. Learning is a continuous process and each person will take whatever they need at the moment. I have put together this list to encourage you to study the career of these coaches. You need to analyze and see what they are doing right.
If you have any questions or would like to your own story, as a top executive coach, to this list, feel free to reach out to me. You may also want to look up my earlier blog post on the strategies that top executive coaches use.
And if you feel inspired to liberate your inner coach, I may have something to offer you. Read on in the following sections.
Who is an Executive Coach?
What exactly does a top executive coach do? Is there a difference between an executive coach and a business coach?
Yes, there is.
Both business and executive coaches empower clients in the corporate sector. An executive coach is usually hired for the top brass of an organization. The top leaders are chief executive officers, directors, vice presidents and managing directors.
Effective coaching results in improved business performance. But the method of coaching and measure of impact is different from business coaching. A business coach usually focuses on strategy, financial results and operational excellence. The performance of an organization spells success for a business coach. Clients usually expect a business coach to have expertise in their particular industry.
Same industry experience may help but it is not a mandatory quality for an executive coach. The focus is on the personal development of a leader. An executive coach focuses on personal effectiveness and interpersonal relationships in a company. This leads to the improvement of work culture. It also results in better team alignment and company performance.
Graduate School of Stanford Business gives the best definition of executive coaching:
“Executive coaching is an inquiry-based approach to personal and professional development.
Executive coaching helps create awareness, generates action, and facilitates learning and growth. It focuses on improving performance. It helps individuals to develop and sustain new perspectives, attitudes, skills, and behavior.”
The website further provides a break-up of what executive coaching involves. The top tasks of executive coaches are:
- Gathering and giving feedback
- Identifying development opportunities
- Building awareness
- Facilitating solutions by asking powerful questions
- Setting goals and creating action plans
- Facilitating learning
- Supporting and encouraging over the long term
- Monitoring progress and holding others accountable
The write-up also lists all the things that a top executive coach should not do. These include:
- Telling, teaching, or giving advice
- Counseling, therapy, or consulting
- Correcting mistakes
- Managing performance
- Focused on fixing problem behaviors
The website also lists some of the benefits of executive coaching. These include:
- Enhancing performance and increasing productivity
- Improving morale
- Reducing turnover
- Attracting talent
- Increasing self-esteem and confidence
- Leveraging talents
- Building new skill sets
- The increasing likelihood of reaching goals
The duration of a typical executive coaching engagement is about 6 months. But it can be anywhere from 3-12 months, depending on the situation.
- Executive coaches are often brought into organizations to work with:
- High potentials who need support to reach the next level
- Managers who are valuable to the company but have key performance issues to address
- Executives who have been recently hired or promoted. They are ones who need to show immediate value
Executive coaching engagements usually follow these steps:
- Intake and assessment (including 360-degree feedback)
- Goal setting
- Ongoing coaching and skill development
- Measurement of results
Seeing the benefits, companies are also extending coaching to mid-level management nowadays.
This trend has boosted the financial prospects of the business and executive coaches. But it comes with its own set of challenges.
How do you distinguish yourself in a market that is growing by leaps and bounds but is still unregulated? This is where coaching certifications, client lists, and references go a long way.
What Spells Success for A Top Executive Coach?
Coaching today has become the accepted norm. Clients pay megabucks for a result-driven coach with a successful track record. Apart from major corporations, even mid-level businesses are realizing the power of coaching. And the stakes are rising even higher when it comes to compensation.
What does success for an executive coach mean within an organization? Here are some measurable results that top executive coaches benefit from:
- Helping a leader become self–aware. Intuitive self-awareness among leaders has a direct impact on organizational effectiveness and profitability. If your client does not begin from a place of awareness about himself, this can be key learning. This is part of the self-development process.
- Hone judgment skills. We have often seen work cultures crumble and organizations fail. The leader took some bad decisions about his team. Or he made bad political moves or took risks that backfired. This is where a good coach and timely help can completely turn around the situation. A good executive coach offers an unbiased and correct perception. They can help the leader take informed decisions. A good coach trains the leader to learn and apply the same skills in the future for other challenges.
- Create a unique recipe for success. Each leader is different. A good executive coach helps each leader develop their own “secret” for success. Executive coaches work with the client as partners. They help identify unique problems and analyze personalities. Coaches help leaders arrive at “solutions” through a shift in mindset. An experienced coach helps business leaders identify unique traits that they may have. Often these traits would benefit the leaders and their organizations. But they themselves are not aware of the potential.
- Help build more productive relationships. As leaders move up the corporate ladder, the work becomes less about activities. It becomes more about people management. Often, we tend to limit ourselves by choosing to work with people “like us”. The similarity in background, race, gender, beliefs, or work style helps us empathize better. A leader prone to working within his comfort zone can limit the success of an organization. A good coach helps break this cycle. He/she helps leaders question limiting assumptions they make about people unlike themselves. Good coaches also help leaders to understand and create strong working relationships. An interesting contributing piece in Forbes is here.
There can be no one trait or habit that can make a successful executive coach. It is a combination of aspiration and passion that drives success. This is true of all professions.
According to Payscale.com, the average salary of an executive coach in the United States is $98,264. But this website states that the average salary ranges from $15.96 (Career Coach) to $81.58 (Agile Coach) per hour.
This vast difference is more evident in https://erickson.edu/blog/how-much-does-coaching-pay. The website states that the range of executive coach salary is quite large. This is because these coaches work with leaders such as CEOs, CMOs. Salaries start at $150 and can go up to $350 for most coaches. Executive coaches can also charge $1,000 per session. Such coaches offer life coaching, strategic sound-boarding, and other support.
This vast difference in salaries is partly due to the unregulated industry. The blog also offers some tips for earning better salaries as a professional coach.
The blog notes that experience is a very big factor, but not the only factor. “Building a business takes branding, niche development and attention to results-based processes”. Over time, the author says, you will have clients referring more prospects. And you will be earning the rate that feels right for you.
Challenges of a Top Executive Coach
Now that you are an established coach, here are a few things to remember when you are approaching a new business.
You may expect the following questions, so prepare yourself.
- How will you handle confidentiality? This is a tricky one. The management may try to influence you to part with confidential data. They have vested interest in the executive leaders you will coach. My advice is – do not work with unethical organizations as the end is always unpleasant. Trust between the coach and the client is the foundation of a good coaching relationship. Confidentiality is central to the code of ethics in this case. You may work on a plan that your coachee will be privy to. The coachee should give you written permission to share this. Only then can you share anything with the management.
- What credentials do you have? Like in any other job interview, you may need to compete against others to prove your worth. A degree from a reputed body such as the International Coaches Federation (ICF) may be helpful. A company hiring you may ask for details of your specific sector experience. These could include industry or function, hierarchy level, and any cross-industry experience). You may be new to the sector but may have related industry experience and expertise. Bring that to the notice of your employer. Focus on all your USPs and show them how you will help meet their priorities.
- What’s your success rate with coaching leaders at the top level? Be very honest about how long you have been coaching and what kind of track record you have had with leaders. Make a list of leaders that you have worked with (after asking them). And share this with your prospective employer for any reference check! Prepare a list of coaching goals. Highlight experience in coaching someone with similar goals. This will help your employer assess whether you are the right fit for their organization.
You may also look at this as an opportunity to understand how clients look for coaches. Here is a Forbes article on how leaders choose the coach they want to work with.
Does the age of the executive matter when it comes to choosing a coach? This article published in Harvard Business Review seems to think so. The authors claim that younger and older executives need different things from coaching.
List of Top Executive Coaches to Follow in 2021
You will find several lists of successful executive coaches if you run a search on Google.
Some of these lists actually work as paid advertisements. This means that a particular coach has paid to be part of a list compiled by a media outlet or corporate identity. This makes it harder to judge a coach on the basis of merit.
There is no harm in looking up such lists. You too may consider getting a similar mention. This will help as a marketing and brand-building exercise.
This blog post online provides a list of some other names. What I liked about this blog is that the author took some pains to talk to the coaches. The coaches shared their stories and some tips for success. This makes for a great read for all coaches starting out in the business!
I ran a simple search on Google. And found several lists of executive coaches, including this list from Protoly. Some of the coaches mentioned are:
- Jack Canfield: An author, motivational speaker, corporate trainer, and entrepreneur. Canfield was the co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. Wikipedia highlights an interesting opinion of Canfield.
Canfield emphasizes the importance of focusing on a vision and using visualization. That is the act of creating compelling and vivid pictures in one’s mind, to achieve one’s goals. Scientists earlier believed humans responded to information flowing into the brain from outside. But today, we all know that we respond to what the brain, based on previous experience, expects to happen next. In fact, the mind is such a powerful instrument; it can deliver everything you want. But you have to believe that what you want is possible. Through a lifetime’s worth of events, our brain learns what to expect next. This is irrespective of whether it happens that way or not. And we often achieve exactly what we expect as our brain expects something will happen a certain way.
- Judy Feld: Feld works with future-oriented executives, professionals, entrepreneurs, progressive organizations and teams. She describes her coaching as positive, solution-oriented, collaborative, strategic, and practical.
This website hosts a talk show by Feld and provides a brief introduction about her. Feld has been coaching since 1995. She specializes in career, leadership, change, and communications coaching for professionals. She pioneered the development of group coaching models for corporations and organizations. Feld is a sought-after speaker at professional conferences and workshops. She co-founded the Executive and Professional Coaching Program, the University of Texas at Dallas. The university accepted its first cohort class in September 2005. She now serves on the faculty. She also helped create the award-winning coaching initiative in UTD’s Executive MBA program. She continues to serve as an executive coach in that program.
In 2003 Feld was the President of the International Coach Federation. The 13,000-member non-profit organization serves professional coaches. She served on the Board of Directors for eight years. Feld is an ICF Master Certified Coach. She is one of the first 20 coaches to receive that designation at its beginning in 1998.
- Marshall Goldsmith: He is one of the best-known executive coaches in the United States. He is also the author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There in Sales among other management books. This Forbes article cites some helpful tips from his book. He calls himself a philosophical Buddhist. Goldsmith believes leaders have to be “facilitators”. That is a very challenging change for people, he says. Technology is changing fast. Very seldom is the leader more knowledgeable than his team, he said. During an interview, the journalist asked him how leaders can get better at what they do. “I call this the daily question process, and it helps people get better at almost anything. We have done this research where people test themselves on six questions every day. It is amazing how much better things can get.
- Did I do my best to set clear goals?
- Did I do my best to achieve those goals?
- Did I do my best to be happy?
- Did I do my best to find meaning?
- Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
- Did I do my best to engage?
The results are amazing. Research showed 34% of people said they got better at everything. Be who you are and do your best. This is what (Bhagavad) Gita teaches.”
- Tony Robbins: He has to his credit infomercials, seminars, and self-help books. Two of his books Awaken the Giant Within and Unlimited Power was very successful. Most recently he released a documentary on Netflix, I am not your Guru. Tony Robbins has an impressive client list of leaders. These include TV star Oprah Winfrey, tennis star Serena Williams, and singer Usher. He told Business Insider that he likes to work with people from inside out. When people’s inner belief system grows strong, they reflect that in their lives. This mind shift leads to success. A memorable quote from him: “People are not lazy. They have impotent goals – that is, goals that do not inspire them.”
What is the key take away from the immense popularity and success of Robbins? It is his ability to stay relevant and to understand how to best market his skills. That is no mean feat. These are two things that keep changing as technology advancements happen. Hence keeping up with the times is tough.
- Christy Whitman: She is a politician and author and New Jersey’s first female governor. She coaches clients to create a positive work-life balance. This increases their personal happiness and sense of fulfillment. Whitman is a strong believer in the power of manifestation. She offers coaching on a wide range of topics. These include career, personal relationship and personality development related coaching. The Today Show, People Magazine, Seventeen, Woman’s Day have featured her in interview s. Two of her three books have become best sellers. In her biography, she says her “job” is to transform the quality of people’s lives. She will be teaching them tools to manifest their hearts’ desires. “It’s a purpose that lights me up and nourishes me. I’m also making more money than I ever dreamed possible. I would love to share with you exactly how I got here, especially considering that this was not always the case.”
Do you want to find out the best practices from other executive coaches? Use technology and ready tools at hand. This link provides a list of 100 executive coaches near you. Look it up to see how you can differentiate yourself!
My Journey To Success
And now let me tell you about my journey as a way to show that achieving success is an ongoing process. We may not build a successful business right at the start. That is the time to introspect and resurrect our business if need be.
In a previous post, I have highlighted why it is important to find a niche. Working to please everyone and target a large crowd as my clientele, I lost $100,000, and this was years ago! Then, I realized that I had something to offer that no one else at that time could think of. I could target a very niche crowd and sell them my services.
Make sure you learn from my mistakes and proceed!