What is Executive Coaching?

 Sai Blackbyrn/ 2nd October 2022

Executive coaching implies coaching managers, top executives, high potential employees (such as a vice president, director or members of the C-suite) and identified leaders to learn, perform and guide other members of the team to unleash their full potential. An executive coach is a qualified professional who helps in managing time, identifying priorities, driving strategy, maximizing critical thinking and defining a powerful vision for the business. Executive coaching helps leaders successfully reach their individual goals and exceed corporate expectations. Executive coaching also helps the leaders to understand current competencies and how the client is perceived by others in the business organization. Executive coaching is important because it creates the perfect feedback loop in which executives can gain valuable feedback, advice and opinions to seek continual improvements.

Some of the world’s successful leaders and CEOs have improved and benefited from coaching; Bill Gates (Microsoft), Alan Mullaly (Ford), Larry Page (Google), Steve Jobs (Apple), Brian C. cornell (Target), Roger Enrico (Pepsi) among others. In a study by Olivero, Bane and Kopelman, one-on-one executive coaching increased productivity by 88%.

What does Executive Coaching Involve?

Executive coaching involves the following:

  1. Identifying developmental opportunities

During the beginning of executive coaching sessions, the client expresses a definitive business goal that they desire to achieve in a set amount of time. The executive coach evaluates the current situation of the business and will identify developmental opportunities. The coach will provide assistance throughout to achieve the set goal.

  1. Defining a career trajectory

The executive coach will help the client define a powerful vision; and encourages them to come up with strategies and assists in making step-by-step plans to achieve the definite business goal. The executive coach provides constant feedback and motivates the client to always stick to the career trajectory plan (unless a better option comes up).

  1. One-on-one meetings

Executive coaching is specifically designed to accelerate the success of the client (along with the organization). Executive coaching is tailored for the required needs of the clients. Therefore, every client will have a different experience and will require different amount of time to achieve the set goals. The experience will depend on the expertise of the coach, willingness to learn by the client and the rapport between the executive coach and client.

What is not Executive Coaching?

The following are not Executive Coaching:

  1. Mentoring

Mentoring is a relationship where a mentor (an experienced individual who shares knowledge, advice, and experience)  guides a mentee with the goal of personal and professional development.

The main difference between coaching and mentoring is that executive coaching helps leaders to come up with and explore their own ideas, whereas mentoring involves providing direct input, ideas, and direction to the individual. Executive coaching enhances leadership qualities whereas mentoring enhances the client’s ability to follow directions. An executive coach equips the client with tools to deal with critical near-term issues. A mentor assists the client in personal and professional development. Executive coaching is for achieving short-term goals and mentoring is for long-term development. Mentoring is more informal and flexible, whereas executive coaching is more formal, structured, and scheduled in nature.

  1. Training

Training sessions are usually conducted in a classroom setting. A trainer teaches clients about the best practices and imparts knowledge and wisdom. Training sessions focus on a group of clients and lack individual attention. The aim of training sessions is to equip clients with knowledge and skills to improve efficiency and productivity.

The shared purpose of training and executive coaching is to improve productivity and efficiency of the employees. The difference is in a training session, a trainer leads the session and the clients’ have to listen to the trainer, whereas in executive coaching the client gets active participation. Training follows a teaching style whereas executive coaching follows a conversational style of interaction between the coach and the client.

  1. Consulting

Consulting is a process of providing specialist expertise, knowledge, and solutions to problems,( if any) to the clients. Consultants (e.g.: procurement consultants, healthcare consultant, strategy consultants) provide implementation or advisory services based on the client’s needs.

The difference between consulting and executive coaching is the agenda; executive coaching focuses on developing skills and expertise of the client whereas consulting focuses on providing possible solutions and expertise on concerned areas. Consultants work on the principle of clients requiring advice whereas executive coaches work on the principle of the client is the ultimate expert.

  1. Management

Management is defined as a directive and authoritative way to drive and oversee employees to a certain outcome. Employees rely on managers for career development, set the tone for team morale and day-to-day guidance.

The difference between management and coaching is that coaching has an indirect approach. Coaching is more focused on helping individuals develop their own critical thinking. Performance management system provides feedback looking at the company’s past performance records whereas in the executive coaching system the coach provides a plan for learning and development.

  1. Therapy

Therapy focuses on mental health and healing whereas executive coaching helps one achieve their professional goals. Executive coaching is of shorter duration than therapy. Executive coaching tackles a specific, narrowly defined issue of business whereas therapy is broadly based, covering all aspects of a person’s life. The purpose of executive coaching is to enhance leadership skills whereas therapy is geared to deal with feelings and emotions (especially coping with anger, stress, trauma and grief)

What are the Benefits of Executive Coaching?

The benefits of executive coaching are:

  • Heightened self-awareness

Self-awareness is the catalyst that leads to growth. Acute self-awareness in leaders is correlated with higher levels of profitability and organizational effectiveness. Employees tend to follow leaders who see themselves clearly. 

A good executive coach will engage in gathering all the input you provide and will share how others perceive you. The executive coach will highlight growth areas and key strengths. The coach will help the client build skills to increase self-awareness and gain a sense of clarity. Through coaching the client acquires the skill of questioning and assessing oneself (on key strengths and areas that need improvement). When a person can look at themselves from an “ aerial view” it becomes easier for them to look at others for what they are; that’s the sign of an able leader.

  • Increased self-regulation

Self-regulation is the quality of understanding and managing one’s own reaction and behavior. Once a person learns self-awareness, it is easily followed by self-regulation. 

An executive coach’s job is to regulate the behavior of the client to bring out the best possible outcome. During this process of regulation the coach can rub off the trait of self-regulation to the client. The client who learns to manage themselves and conduct themselves in the best behavior will find it easier to manage a team or an organization.

  • Greater empathy

Empathy is defined as the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation. Empathy helps an individual to think from the perspective of others; this brings about the practice of broad thinking. Empathy is an essential part of being an effective leader. When a leader can understand all the perspectives of the team, he/she can also come up with innovative solutions.

An executive coach empathizes with the client, and observes the strengths and weaknesses of the client. An effective executive coach will guide the client, clarify questions and provide valuable feedback; this is possible because of the coach’s empathy towards the client. Through the coaching process the client’s empathy towards others increases.

  • Flexible thinking 

Education system has established that there is only one solution to a given problem. To get rid of this rigid thinking mindset from a client(who aspires to be a leader) an executive coach will try to present them with different perspectives to various scenarios. The coach will try to make the client understand that there can be multiple solutions and the best solution can depend on various factors(such as affordability, durability, expertise and knowledge)

An effective leader must be well aware of the limiting factors, and should take precise decisions which make maximum use of resources and skills of the business organization. An executive coach provides tools and techniques to inculcate the trait of flexible thinking.

  • Higher levels of motivation

Keeping the business subordinates constantly motivated is a requirement from the leader. When the team members are motivated they strive to work better and quality performance is delivered. This means that the leader must be self-motivated at all times; here’s where an executive coach can be of help. An executive coach recognizes the tasks that need to be done and motivates the client to do so. The executive coach understands problems that make the client feel unmotivated and will help to find ways to resolve such problems. The executive coach ensures the client is motivated throughout the coaching journey.

  • Improved leadership abilities

“Those who lead by example and demonstrate passion for what they do make it much easier for their followers to do the same.”Marshall Goldsmith, a popular executive coach in the U.S. (author of “what got you here, won’t get you there”)

To achieve business goals, it is essential for the organization to have an effective leader. A leader who understands the needs and perspectives of subordinates, finds creative solutions, interacts and responds well (good communication skills), manages time and resources effectively and can balance professional and personal life. An executive coach helps the client to better all these skills. The executive coach also finds new skills that the client must learn to gain expertise over the business. Throughout the executive coaching process, the client will pick up skills that make them an effective leader.

  • Achieve development objectives

The purpose of executive coaching is to achieve set business goals over a period of time( ICF certified executive coaches recommend 3-6 months). To achieve the business goals, an executive coach breaks down the goals into smaller attainable objectives and pushes the client to achieve them. The client is made to explore ways to achieve the development goals; this brings a result-oriented approach and flexible thinking mindset to the client.

Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to be aware, express and control one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships empathetically. An executive needs to improve emotional intelligence when the executive:

  • Gets defensive instead of accepting criticism
  • Cannot say no and get struck between harsh deadlines
  • Avoids difficult conversations
  • Has people-pleasing mentality
  • Get overwhelmed easily
  • Cannot resolve conflict among subordinates
  • Lose temper and lash out easily

Positive emotions bring high energy to an individual but for a very short amount of time, whereas negative emotions drain energy and the effect can last for a long time. So it is essential for an executive to understand the impact of emotions, and direct any negative emotions into positive ones. An executive coach reframes negative emotions into positive emotions. An executive coach will police the impact of emotions and bring about increased awareness and increased emotional intelligence in the client.

  • Better use of time and resources

An executive must make optimum use of time, energy, skills and resources to achieve required goals. This quality of management can be enhanced by an executive coach. An executive coach observes your day-to-day schedule and will suggest changes required to achieve business goals. 

  • Enhanced overall performance 

Throughout the client’s executive coaching journey, the coach aids you on building skills and tracking your progress towards your goals. Through executive coaching, the client will improve areas like emotional intelligence, time management, leadership qualities, self-regulation, flexible thinking etc (depending on the executive’s needs) by the end of the executive coaching process, the client would transform into a better executive. 

What are the Types of Executive Coaching?

The types of executive coaching (based on the target purpose) are as follows:

1. Career Coaching

Executive career coaching is chosen by a client who requires clarity, identify career possibilities, develop strengths, skills, and values (through assessments such as personality type instruments,  interest inventories etc.) and overcome obstacles along the way. With an executive career coach the client receives support and direction to find what’s next and to stay accountable.  Executive career coaches are experts in skills such as resume building, career planning, interviewing and negotiation. A career coach charges $75-$150 per hour. One can opt for an executive career coaching if they feel unfulfilled and unsatisfied in their current career position, or have applied for multiple positions without finding success. The aim of career coaching is to find the right career path for the client.

2. Performance Coaching

Executive coaching targeted on the performance of either the client or client’s business is executive performance coaching. An executive performance coach helps the client improve performance by providing perspective, clarity, and resilience. Executive coaching for performance helps leaders prepare physically, psychologically, emotionally and professionally to face challenging situations in the business world. A performance coach hired for the business organization aims to better adapt it to the dynamic marketplaces, implement new strategies and bring positive returns.

3. Leadership Coaching

Executive leadership coaching’s sole purpose is to develop and enhance leadership skills (the executive coach do not focus on the growth of business) which will in turn lead to the growth of business. The executive coach tries to push the executive into being a mindful leader; mindful leadership is the ability to be kind,selfless, authentic, empathetic,confident and fully aware and present of the situation. An executive coach for leaderships helps to improve communication skills, decision-making, creativity and teamwork.

4. Organizational or Business Coaching

Executive business coaching aims to improve the overall performance of the business organization. An executive business coach is a qualified professional who asks questions and serves as a confidential sounding board. The executives get to openly discuss, gain insight and clarify questions to enable themselves to solve problems .

Who Should Hire an Executive Coach?

An executive coach is hired when a person:

  • Is being promoted to a position of management/leadership that requires new skills.
  • Is driven to increase probability of promotion.
  • Lacks fulfillment in current job description.
  • Is looking for transition.
  • Wants to improve the ability to influence, inspire and manage others.
  • Feels is on the road to burnout.
  • Feels stressed and overwhelmed because of their job.
  • Feels the strengths and talent that the person possess is not enough for future career opportunity.
  • Feels the business organization can do better and the executives and staff are not working at their maximum potential.

What can Executive Coaching Help You Achieve?

Executive coaching can help you achieve your business goals by equipping you with strategies, plans and expertise. An executive coach will help the executive build skills, mold behavior and monitor progress to attain business goals.  An executive coach charges 0 an hour (usually ranging between 0-00 depending upon the experience and expertise of the executive coach)

What Is the ROI of Executive Coaching?

The ROI of executive coaching is 788% ROI (excluding the benefits from employee retention, a 529% ROI). Almost one-fifth indicated an ROI of at least 5000% while a further 28% saw an ROI of 1000-5000%. According to ICF 86% of organizations saw an ROI on their coaching engagements, and 96% of those who had an Executive Coach said they would repeat the process again.

Other studies indicate positive ROIs too:

  •  53% of executives reported Improved executive productivity 
  • 63% of executives reported improved peer-to-peer working relationships
  • 48% of executives reported improvements in organizational strengths
  • >70% reported enhanced direct report/supervisor relationships
  • 39% of executives reported that gains in customer service
  • 32% of executives reported Increased retention
  • 67% of executives reported enhanced teamwork
  • 52% of executives reported increased job satisfaction.

Is Executive Coaching a Good Career?

Yes, executive coaching is a good career option for people who desire to help others develop and achieve business goals.  The demand for executive coaching is rising, according to Conference Board’s C-Suite Challenge 2021, CEOs reported seeing  coaching as a main focus of their human capital management strategies.

“Previously coaching was considered a luxury available only to senior leaders. Now, it has transformed into being perceived as a significant contribution to the success of an organization, in which all stakeholders can participate.”

-ICF Info 2019, Executive Coaching Survey

What are the Executive Coaching Certifications?

The executive coaching certifications are credentials that experienced coaches could apply and receive. Coaching certifications ensures that the coach is credible; a client can be sure of consulting a professional and qualified coach. Coaching certification is useful for coaches transitioning to the field of executive coaching without prior education in psychology and extensive business management. Executive coaching certifications are not necessary, they just increase the coach’s credibility.

The most prominent credentialing organization for the coaches is the ICF (International Coaching Federation). An ICF-certified course means it has been extensively studied and reviewed by industry experts and surpass ICF standards. There are three types of ICF coaching certifications:

  1. ACTP ( Accredited Coach Training Program)

What it is: comprehensive program covering mentor coaching, detailed instruction on ICF Core Competencies and Code of Ethics, specific training,and a comprehensive final exam.  

Best suited for: Novice executive coaches 

Time period: 125 hours

  1. ACSTH (Approved Coach Specific Training Hours)

What it is: coach-specific training which entails scrutinized coaching sessions and studying the ICF Core Competencies.

Best suited for: coaches who want flexible hours and tailor-made training programs.

Time period: 30 hours

  1. CCE (Continuing Coach Certification)

What it is: supplemental training for coaches who already have other ICF coaching certifications.

Best suited for: experienced coaches who want to expand their coaching skills.

Time period: varies depending on the coaches.

What is the Difference between Executive Coaching and Business Coaching?

The difference between Executive coaching and Business Coaching is that, executive coaching focuses on individual development (especially development of leadership skills) that’ll lead to development of the business. Business coaching is a more hands-on approach; it directly focuses on the business issues and goals. A business coach will address everyone involved in the business, while an executive coach will only train C-suites, VPs and other executives.

What is the Difference between Executive Coaching and Life Coaching?

The difference between Executive coaching and life coaching is that a life coach works on a personal level. A life coach helps the client understand their goals, values and objectives. The purpose of life coaching is to ultimately create a life in alignment to the client’s values. A life coach helps the client to strike a work-life balance, improve the client’s outlook and build positive relations. Coaching agenda is not jumbled with business agenda; it’s all about personal development.

Executive coaching, by comparison, addresses professional aspirations of the client. Although both a life coach and executive coach work to facilitate the client to meet specific goals, the executive coach considers the business climate and organizational culture.

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