What Is An Executive Coach Anyway

We at The Center for Executive Coaching like to define Executive Coaching broadly as follows:

Executive Coaching is an efficient, high-impact process that helps high-performing people in leadership roles improve results in ways that are sustained over time.

It is efficient because, unlike traditional consulting ssignments, it does not require invasive processes, large outside teams, and lengthy reports and analyses to get results.

It is a high-impact process because Executive Coaches typically work with clients in short meetings (i.e., 30 minutes per session). During this time, the coach and client can generate important insights, gain clarity, focus, and make decisions to improve performance.

Executive Coaching works with high-performing people in leadership roles. It is not therapy, meant to “fix” a person. As an Executive Coach, your clients are already highly functioning, successful people. Like any of us, they need support from time to time in order to perform better.

Finally, your goal as an Executive Coach is to improve results in ways that are sustainable over time. Your clients want some sort of outcome, usually related to improved profits, career success, organizational effectiveness, or career and personal satisfaction. If you aren’t helping your clients get results, you aren’t doing your job. At the same time, coaching is about helping people improve their own capabilities and effectiveness, so that the results and performance improvements last. To use the
time-worn and famous quote, you are teaching people to fish, not feeding them for a day.

The formal definition of a coach is very interesting, as it refers to the coach of a sports team. Many coaching programs don’t like the idea of Executive Coaches being like sports coaches. They prefer to have coaches asking lots of great questions so that the client suddenly has an “ah-ha” moment and figures things out on his or her own. While this is one perfectly acceptable form of coaching, it is not enough.

Sometimes you need to intervene, the way that a sports coach does. You need to make observations, provide tools, move the conversation forward, motivate, and sometimes give a firm kick in the pants.

You can incorporate the practices of Executive Coaching into almost any profession that works with entrepreneurs, executives, managers, and up-and-coming leaders in an organization.

For instance, if you are a management consultant, you likely already provide coaching as part of what you do. Executive Coaching is the part of the engagement where you work one-on-one with executives to encourage them to make difficult decisions, step out of their comfort zone, stop destructive behavior, embrace change, and shift performance.

For me, a long-time consultant, Executive Coaching is the fun part. It’s when you stop doing the analyses (and most of the time the client already knows the answer anyway), stop revising the PowerPoint presentation, and sit down face to face with the client to help them improve results. It’s the part of the engagement where the client turns to you as their objective, trusted advisor, as a colleague and confidant.

If you are already a “life coach,” Executive Coaching can help you put some more “meat on the bones” of your coaching content. Too many life coaches lack concrete, results-driven content that resonates with executives.

Executive Coaching combines three components that can help you take your life coaching practice to the next level: process, content, and context.

Process is the way you coach Executives, and how you structure engagements.

Content refers to your knowledge and ability to contribute insights with relevance and impact: how to communicate effectively, strategic thinking, marketing insights, operational improvement, organizational development, leadership skills, and financial management.

Context is about who you are, and who you help your client to be – namely how to help them be more effective as a leader in their organization and as a person.

Executive Coaches get involved in all three domains.

For people who offer training programs, Executive Coaching provides a new platform for you to adapt your materials. Instead of leading group programs, you can use your training materials to coach executives one-on-one. (And the reverse applies: Executive Coaches often offer training programs).

It is also important to be clear about what Executive Coaching is NOT.

Executive Coaching is not therapy. You are not fixing anybody. However, you can ask powerful questions that inquire about why a client behaves the way they do. What are their beliefs and values that might be causing them to behave the way they do? How can they embrace more empowering beliefs and values to get the results they want to get?

Likewise, Executive Coaching is not the same thing as interim management. You are not stepping in to do the job for your client. Instead, you are a “shadow leader” working behind the scenes to help your client succeed and improve in lasting ways.

Third, your job as an Executive Coach is not a “crystal ball” who magically provides an answer. As a coach, you will intervene and provide advice when appropriate. But successful coaches engage in dialogue with their clients, and then customize a tool or solution that works for their unique situation. Sometimes there is no easy answer, and your value will be to support your clients in making decisions with incomplete information.

With these definitions in mind, Executive Coaching can be an enormously rewarding and lucrative profession for the seasoned practitioner.