Executive coaching

Written by Ellen Lees
Ellen Lees
Life Coach Directory Content Team

Last updated 19th April 2022 | Next update due 18th April 2025

By providing a uniquely challenging but supportive working partnership, executive coaching benefits both individuals and organisations by improving performance through skill development, improved confidence and focus.

What is executive coaching?

An executive coach is a qualified professional who works with professionals (executives, but often high potential employees). Executive coaches can help you to:

  • better understand your goals
  • gain self-awareness
  • achieve development objectives
  • unlock your potential

Executive coaching is typically work-related, with a particular focus on improving performance and behaviour in the workplace. Designed to help individuals develop quickly, executive coaching is a goal-orientated form of tailored learning for a busy professional.

While some forms of coaching require a more long-term, personal format, executive coaching is a short-term, time-limited process, which is goal specific and action orientated. Executive coaching utilises feedback and offers some objectivity. An executive coach is not a consultant or counsellor, so will typically refrain from giving advice or solving your problems. Instead, they listen and ask relevant questions to help you better understand your goals and solve problems.

What is corporate coaching?

Corporate coaching can be seen as similar to executive coaching. Combining the hands-on elements of executive coaching with organisational consulting, corporate coaching focuses on helping achieve organisational goals while still allowing for individual ambitions.

While both styles of coaching include elements of self-discovery, person-first problem-solving, and interpersonal dynamics, executive coaching focuses on furthering a leaders' capacity, while corporate coaching emphasises growth for teams. Through corporate coaching, a teams' sense of cohesion, productivity, inclusion, and performance can be improved. 

What are the benefits of executive coaching?

There are many benefits to executive coaching, for both you and the organisation you work for. While executive coaching can be expensive, it is said that for the improved performance and skills of employees, the investment is worth it. Below, we will look at the benefits of executive coaching, both as an individual and as an organisation.

Benefits to you

If you’re seeking executive coaching, it’s likely you are working as an executive, or are a high-performing employee looking to progress your career. Executive coaching is designed to help you succeed as a director or senior executive, so there will be certain skills you will need to develop in order to succeed and flourish.

Executive coaching can help you:

  • Manage your time efficiently to deliver successfully.
  • Understand stressors and learn how to cope with potential triggers.
  • Find boundaries and create and maintain a good work/life balance.
  • Make time to progress and set achievable goals.
  • Practise your creativity and intellectual freedom.

Executive coaching can also provide you with a safe environment to reflect and refocus on confidential issues, or issues that are important to you. They can also act as a sounding board; something that tends to be less regular the more senior you become. Executive coaching can help you consider the decisions you are making and to challenge your own view in a non-controversial way.

As well as the above, executive coaching can give you the space you need to talk about what it is you want from your role, and where you want to be in the future. They can be your support as you learn these new skills and enter a potentially new, intimidating territory, all the while acting as your mentor until you feel confident enough to continue the path alone.

Benefits to your employer

There are so many benefits to organisations investing in executive coaching for their staff. A happy workforce is a high-performing workforce after all. But there are more specific benefits to investing in executive coaching.

The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) reveal the five main motives for organisations introducing executive coaching into their workforce, which are:

  • To support the induction or appointment of a senior person into a more senior, or different role.
  • To accelerate the personal development of individuals defined as ‘high potential’, or individuals from a minority group identified for affirmative action.
  • To underpin the effective implementation of organisation change, through supporting teams and individuals.
  • As a critical friend or independent sounding board to a senior individual.
  • To support senior individuals engaged in wider personal effectiveness programmes, such as 360-degree appraisal or development centres.
Coaches who offer executive coaching

What to expect from executive coaching

Entering a new role, whether it be a promotion within your company or an external position, can be daunting. Even if you are experienced in many of the aspects of the job, the new responsibility can be overwhelming, particularly when you reach director or senior executive level. With so much to do, you can lose some of the time you previously had to train and progress your own skills.

An executive coach can provide you with a confidential thinking space; a time for you to talk about your concerns, worries, dreams and goals, and be listened to. They will help you to mobilise your current resources to solve any problems you face, and know the steps to take to achieve your goals.

Executive coaches are highly supportive of clients, but also want to challenge you. This isn’t a therapy or counselling session, they are there to push you. Of course, too much support can be detrimental, leaving you in a comfortable place, while too much challenging can be stressful. Executive coaches will give you the right balance of support and challenge, to help you achieve optimal performance.

What does a typical executive coaching process look like?

There are many variations of executive coaching, though it will typically involve a series of phases. The process commonly starts with intake, assessment, goal setting and development planning, to then progressing through the development plan, with regular meetings and check-ins with the employee’s manager.

Executive coaching is ideally held face-to-face, as so much of it requires non-verbal communication and it helps to build a relationship with each other. However, as time goes on and the world of social media grows ever larger, online or ‘virtual coaching’ is becoming more common.

Generally, executive coaching will last between seven and 12 months, though this will depend on those involved. The process is typically over once the development goals are achieved, or when the coach or the client has decided that they are ready to end the engagement.

The next steps

So, how do you find an executive coach to help you or your organisation?

There are many ways to find an executive coach. Your company may work with a number of coaches already, or you may find a contact through word of mouth. Independent coaches can be found listed in directories, like ours, or are members of a professional body.

When selecting an executive coach, like any, it is important you trust them to do the job well. Chemistry is important, so interview-style conversations and consultations are a great way to learn more about them as a professional and their way of working.

Ask questions and discuss what it is you want to gain from hiring them; executive coaching is often considered an investment, but to make it worthwhile, it’s important you find the right coach for you.

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