What is an Executive Coach?

what is an executive coach

If you look closely at the most productive executives, you’ll notice that many of them have one thing in common. They employ the services of executive coaches to refine their skills, identify weaknesses, and improve on every level. Learn about the executive coach, which is the business world’s best kept secret for remaining competitive.

According to Forbes magazine, an executive coach isn’t a cure-all solution for CEOs, but it has excellent benefits for both employees and executives. Below explains why most CEOs seek the advice and support of professional coaches and consultants.

Executive Coaching

Most people associate coaching with middle management or entrepreneurs. This type of coaching is provided by consultants, HR professionals and industrial-organizational psychologists. This style of coaching is popular because many companies face talent shortages, high turnover rates and historically low levels of employee engagement. Companies usually hire executive coaches to work with high performing upper management who have strong potential to become executives.

Sometimes, independent business people want to develop special leadership, quantitative and people-oriented skills. From a historical perspective, executive coaching was associated with poor performing executives who were given last chances to improve their performances. Now, there are no stigmas attached to receiving this individualized education because the business world recognizes that executive coaching increases competency and competitiveness. Today, executives have so much business power that they need special support and training.

What are the Benefits?

benefits of executive coach
Executive coaching helps CEOs increase their productivity, which can lead to bigger profits and faster promotions. CEOs are able to make sound decisions and take faster action, which will drive progress and precision. This in turn builds confidence to make bold executive decisions and strategies. It deepens the CEOs understanding of themselves, how they perceive the business world and how they can continually improve themselves and their companies.

Being more in tune with themselves provides CEO’s space to hear their own voice so they can talk things through and gain insight into their problem solving efforts. This increased self-awareness allows CEOs to identify, challenge and mold their existing beliefs and attitudes that limit them. Having clear values associated with specific business objectives helps CEOs to stand with greater conviction and motivate others.

Working with an executive coach allows CEOs to think about problems from different perspectives. Creative solutions are born as the coach prompts the executive to move outside of his or her mental comfort zone. The results don’t just reflect a one-hit wonder; they represent advanced cognitive gains that the executive can use over and over again as needed.

Today’s business executives lead by influence and not as dictators. In this environment, it helps to portray a relatable image to colleagues and subordinates. Developing empathy is the first step towards fashioning that relatable persona that’s most effective with workers. Executive coaches excel at bringing out empathetic character traits in business executives. This positively impacts decision making throughout an organization while increasing employee morale and lowering turnover rates.

What are the Types of Coaching?

There are four common types of coaching that offer unique advantages. Performance feedback or development planning is for CEOs whose functioning needs to be assessed and redirected. This coaching focuses on short-term improvements through developmental plans with personal goals. Targeted content coaching are intense, accelerated programs designed to impart specific skills and knowledge. These CEOs have usually been recently promoted into new positions that require additional competencies, such as in finance, technology, presentation and time management.

Career coaching provides a general competitive edge for CEOs who want to reach career, personal and project goals. The purpose of career coaching is to support individuals with career changes, transitions and successions. For busy executives who are experiencing burnout, a personal life coach is an excellent way to create a balanced way of living. These coaches will focus more on delegation, boundary setting and time management skills.

The biggest limitation to a company’s growth is the growth of the executives, so professional consultants provide key training services through helping executive coaches increase their skills and broaden their knowledge. An executive coach is an excellent way to improve the overall operational and financial health of a company.

What are the duties of an executive coach?

An executive coach uses his or her knowledge, skills, and abilities to help business executives manifest their full potential. The coach is usually hired by the company or the individual during volatile times. A business reaches a crossroad and can either soar to new heights or experience a devastating pitfall. To leave nothing to chance, executive coaches are employed to make sure high-performing leaders are up for the challenge.

Executive coaches grow their clientele by delivering measurable value. They start by getting to know the executives’ work behaviors and leadership styles. A coach spends a set period of time simply observing the executive and asking questions of his or her staff members. The coach must foster a supportive environment that earns her the trust of the executive and his staff members. The group must believe that the coach has the integrity and skills to make their organization better and make them look like superstars.

After earning trust and assessing the current situation, the coach sits down with the executive to discuss the findings. Coaches ask executives questions that help the business leaders to develop objectives that will benefit staff members, themselves, and the organization. The executive then crafts an action plan with real-time feedback from the coach. The feedback gets the executive thinking about alternative actions that support the plan. The coach doesn’t tell the executive what to do. Instead, she presents ideas and asks questions that allow the executive to discover the best courses of action for himself. As the executive implements the plan, the coach continues to give feedback that keeps the executive moving towards his goals.

What skills and traits do executive coaches need most?

When people think of executive coaches they nearly always picture an older person who mentors a young, hotshot protege. However, executive coaches often belong to the same peer group as their clients. They are able to guide executives down the right path because of a distinctive skill set that they’ve honed over the years.

Here are some traits and skills that highly successful executive coaches have mastered.

Emotional Intelligence

emotional intelligence
Life experiences are varied and extremely personal. The way that one person reacts to a situation can be completely different from the way that someone else does due to cumulative life experiences. If you have the ability to recognize emotions and use that knowledge in constructive ways, you are said to have high emotional intelligence. Executive coaches interact with different types of people who play various roles in organizations. They must be able to regulate their emotions to build rapport with everyone.

Investigative Skills

Executive coaches gain a lot of knowledge about their clients and the organization in which they work by simply observing. For instance, a client tells her coach that she’s fine with the way that her team executes a routine task, but she gets visibly irritated when the team takes action. An executive coach observes the situation multiple times to determine if the executive consistently gets annoyed with her team’s handling of the routine task or if the response was a one-time reaction. If the executive consistently shows dislike for the action, the coach knows to probe deeper into the matter to find out why the action is annoying to the executive and why she feels the need to hide her feelings concerning the matter.

Communication Skills

After observing workplace behaviors, executive coaches must communicate their findings in constructive ways. Effective feedback must be tempered with tactful diplomacy to keep professional relationships intact. Executive coaches must also be able to receive feedback from clients after asking them questions. They must employ active listening to help the executive get closer to achieving his goals.

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become an executive coach

How do I become an executive coach?

One may think that people stumble into executive coaching careers via trial-and-error stints in other fields. They cobble together a group of soft skills and attach the title of “executive coach” to their business cards and resumes. While many people attempt to start executive coaching careers in this haphazard manner, the career field is becoming more structured. Long-time executive coaches are coming together to form professional associations that will set standards for the group going forward.

Here are some of the steps that you can expect to take to become an executive coach in today’s business environment.

Having at least 10 years of relevant work experience in a variety of fields gives you context as you work with business executives. However, your work experience isn’t as important as having the right training. There are several organizations that specialize in training professional coaches to work with Fortune 500 clients. The best schools are accredited by national and international bodies such as Board Certified Coach-Center for Credentialing and Education, European Mentoring and Coaching Council, and International Coach Federation.

Getting trained through an accredited school brings multiple benefits. Besides providing coursework, the schools graduate students who earn professional certifications in coaching. This matters to companies that want professional coaches and not just ambitious career switchers.

These schools also have distinctive certification levels that allow you to grow within your field. For instance, there are graduates who are professional coaches and those who have more advanced training and hold the title of “master coach.”

Attending an accredited executive coaching program becomes invaluable as you attempt to attract clients as a new coach. These schools often have special relationships with companies that operate in a variety of industries. They offer students and new graduates opportunities to work with more seasoned coaches on high-profile assignments. Working on those assignments allows you to build your network and your brand reputation in this lucrative field.

How do executive coaches measure their value to clients?

Executive coaches who have built up excellent reputations in the marketplace write their own tickets. They float from one Fortune 500 CEO to the next cultivating superstars. How do they get their personal brand reputations established? They accomplish this by adding tangible value that can be monitored and measured over time.

After using their training and skills to make an initial assessment of their clients’ needs, they pick coaching models and techniques that are tailored to specific situations. No matter which coaching model is chosen, the coach will always get clients to establish a set of challenging yet achievable goals. The goals are usually set on the SMART goal model, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Once the goals are set, executive coaches use specific techniques to get those goals accomplished with as few hurdles as possible for the executive. Since they use SMART goals, everyone will be able to see when goals are properly achieved and the time frame in which they were accomplished.

If you’re good at your coaching job, the executive will believe that the goals weren’t challenging enough. You will then have the opportunity to help him to set higher goals within the SMART goal framework. When he reaches those goals with the same ease, he’ll understand the value that you bring to the table and so will his company’s competitors.

Who are some famous people who’ve used executive coaches?

Executive coaching is really the secret sauce that sets certain organizations apart from the rest. It’s great for the executive, who gets the majority of the credit for any productivity improvements, but it’s also a game-changer for companies.

Here are three examples of famous executives who took their professional careers and companies to the next level with the help of executive coaches.

Steve Bennett is a businessman who understood the value of coaches early in life. He was a student athlete at the University of Wisconsin and set a number of baseball records there as he earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration. After holding several leadership roles at General Electric, he was tapped to become the CEO of Intuit. During this time, he used an executive coach to help him to grow the company’s revenue from $1 billion to $27 billion within seven years. He found that coaching worked for him as a baseball player, so he had no problem employing one as a CEO.

Alan Mulally had a long and distinguished career as an aerospace engineer turned chief executive officer. The retired businessman specialized in pulling giant companies out of huge financial messes. Boeing hired him straight out of college, and he proved himself to be a worthy investment much later as the company’s CEO. He led the Boeing Commercial Airplanes division in head-to-head competition with Airbus in the mid-2000s. Mr. Mulally was inducted into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame for his contributions to his industry. Besides getting accolades in his field, he attracted the attention of another struggling corporate behemoth. Ford hired him as its CEO, and he steered the company towards profitability while other companies were forced to seek government bailouts. Mr. Mulally credits his success in part to working with his executive coach Marshall Goldsmith.

Jeff Weiner has held a number of leadership roles at companies such as Yahoo, Warner Bros. and Greylock Partners. He’s most famous for his contributions at LinkedIn. He and business partner Reid Hoffman were joint winners of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2011. The pair started LinkedIn from scratch and turned it into a $10 billion company. Jeff Weiner credited the executive coaching of Fred Kofman for much of his success.


While many of today’s famous business leaders use executive coaches, these trainers can be beneficial to nearly anyone who wants a long, prosperous career. As an executive coach, you’ll have the opportunity to shape tomorrow’s marketplace today, which is its own reward.

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