What is executive coaching?

What is executive coaching?

Executive coaching (also known as 1:1 coaching or performance coaching) is perhaps the most powerful approach to leadership development for senior leaders. Leaders can transform their performance through working one-on-one with a professional coach on their goals and challenges, in a way that offers both support and challenge.

The executive coaching industry was founded by our Founder, Sir John Whitmore, in the late 1970s when he first used the words “performance coaching” to describe a new approach based on The Inner Game. Since then, the coaching industry has grown exponentially and is currently estimated to be a $7 billion business globally. Read more about performance coaching and the birth of the industry here.

Executive coaching helps people find the resources within themselves to create sustainable transformation. This makes it different to mentoring, consulting or training. (For more on this difference please see here.)

“Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”

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How can professional coaching help?

Executive coaching helps people find the resources within themselves to create sustainable transformation. It can improve a leader’s performance dramatically and put individuals on the fast track. Because coaching is focused entirely on the individual’s goals, strengths and interferences, it is the fastest and most effective form of leadership development.

Developing a leader’s potential may include improving personal leadership skills, setting better goals, reaching goals faster, making better decisions, and improving communications and relationships.

For the leader, the clear and measurable benefits of individual coaching can include:

  • better decision-making and strategic planning ability
  • leading change and in times of crisis
  • ability to fully motivate teams and communicate effectively
  • managing stress and conflict
  • improved work/life balance
  • successful role transition
  • increased confidence, self-belief and enjoyment

For an organization, providing executive coaching to a population of leaders should lead to higher performance through:

  • increased motivation and commitment from recipients of the coaching and their teams
  • more creativity, empowerment and ownership unleashed in the business
  • high employee engagement and retention of key people
  • underpinning effective implementation of organizational change through supporting teams and individuals
  • greater efficiency from teams acting with more agility and collaboration

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Who needs an executive coach?

Regardless of their industry or geography, any leader from a board member to a team leader can benefit from the fast-track development provided by a professional coach. Coaching is tailored to the individual’s needs and goals. It is widely used to maximize personal impact and performance. One-to-one coaching is particularly helpful where a leader may face a new or challenging situation for them or their team or organization.

Reasons for coaching include:

  • preparation for role/career changes
  • managing stress, change, conflict or crisis
  • supporting the appointment of a person into a different role
  • accelerating the personal development of individuals defined as high potential
  • acting as an objective and independent sounding board for senior leaders
  • offering tailored development as a means of rewarding and retaining key individuals critical to the business

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.”

Sir John Whitmore, pioneer of coaching in business

When to use executive coaching

Executive coaching can be used at any stage of a leader or manager’s career to help maximize their impact and performance. It is often used to help accelerate the development of high potential leaders and can be particularly helpful in times of change and transition. Coaching can both help make change happen, such as a promotion, job move or the introduction of a new strategy, and it can help the leader navigate the transition and lead the change successfully.

Lonely at the top

It is said that senior leadership can be lonely. An executive coach can partner with senior and executive leaders to act as an objective and independent sounding board who can provide the challenge and support that they may not be able to receive from within their organization.

Develop key talent

In the past, coaching was used to “fix” underperforming leaders. It is now used much more widely and positively: investment in coaching is seen as a way to reward, retain and develop key talent to build the all important leadership succession pipeline.

Support initiatives

Executive coaching can be used as part of a broader leadership development programme. Receiving coaching after training can help leaders reflect on what they have learned and set goals to use and embed their new skills on a daily basis. Coaching can help a leader excel on an assignment or special project while maximizing the learning and new behaviours they take away from it.

Coaching is bigger than coaching

According to a recent survey by The Conference Board, the use of coaching continues to increase. They found that companies no longer view coaching as just a perk for their top layer of management but want their broader employee population to benefit from internal coaching, peer coaching and a coaching style of leadership.

How does executive coaching work?

Good coaching takes a leader far beyond the limits of the coach or leader’s perception of their ability and opens up new vistas of opportunity. It is a collaborative partnership that relies on the coach’s belief in the potential of the leader rather than focusing on leader’s problems. Coaching leads to high performance by raising the leader’s awareness and generating their responsibility to take action. Coaches use powerful questioning, active listening and coaching frameworks like the GROW model to achieve this.

Best practice for executive coaching engagements

Steps in executive coaching process

Best practice coaching engagements will include the above elements. Executive coaching takes place across a number of sessions over a period of time, typically 9–12 sessions across 6–9 months. The space in between sessions is important so the leader can test out new approaches and behaviours they have committed to in their previous session, then debrief and build on it in the next session. Executive coaching sessions can be delivered either face to face or virtually. A mixture of both can be used over time.

Finding the right coach

Finding the right coach is important. A good coaching provider will work collaboratively with each leader to ensure that their needs and objectives are understood before offering a selection of coach profiles. It is good practice for a leader and coach to hold a short “chemistry meeting” before committing to the relationship.

Benchmarking and measuring

A coach and leader might agree to benchmark the leader’s performance before and after the coaching sessions. This can be done by gathering data through 360 feedback, a diagnostic or the coach observing the leader in action. This provides valuable information about the impact of the coaching on behaviour, the organization and the bottom line (depending on the role of the coachee). Measuring the benefits and return on investment (ROI) of executive coaching is considered the “holy grail” of coaching because it enables organizations to understand the impact of the investment and prove the case for coaching.

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How can you bring executive coaching into your organization?

Sir John and his colleagues at Performance Consultants were the first to take coaching into the workplace and coined the term “performance coaching” in the early 1980s. We continue to lead the field in performance improvement through coaching leadership training.

Select one of the options shown. Or get in touch and one of our world-class leadership development consultants will work with you to create a tailored programme that meets your specific needs.

  • Attend a Coaching Course – experience the benefits of coaching first hand. See our Global Training Calendar to find the right course for you
  • Transformational Leadership Pathway – learn how to be a leader–coach with a coaching leadership style that creates a culture of high performance for you, your team and entire organization
  • Performance Coach Certification – become a coach or take your coaching skills to the next level so that you can practise transformational leadership coaching
  • Individual Coaching (1:1) – take your leadership to the next level with a tailored, fast-track professional development coaching programme
  • Team Development – unlock the next level of potential in your team with team coaching