What is executive coaching and how does it work?
Executive coaching is a confidential partnership between a professionally trained coach and a leader.  Coaching is a targeted, time-limited intervention designed to help leaders achieve sustainable behavior change in a way that positively impacts the business.

Through helping leaders develop greater knowledge and skill on such competencies as influence, strategy, executive presence, managing emotions, communication, and relationship management, the leader is able to be more effective.  This can result in top line growth, bottom line savings, greater efficiency, and happier and more productive employees (which is linked to cost savings).

How does executive coaching work?
Even though there are about as many approaches to coaching as there are coaches, a coach is really only doing 2 things:  raising awareness and helping to forward the action.

Raising awareness.  Through 360 feedback and other assessments, asking powerful questions, sharing insight, and even through certain exercises, executive coaches help leaders become more self, socially and organizationally aware.  Einstein once said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of awareness that created them.”  Coaches help leaders solve problems by becoming more aware.

Forward the action.  Insight and awareness are helpful but only insomuch as it leads to positive change.  Effective executive coaches will help leaders craft and execute on specific, measureable actions in order to reach personal and business goals.  The coach will then hold the leader accountable.  “Did you do X?  How did it go?”  If the leader did not follow through on commitments, the executive coach will identify the barriers and help the leader move past it.

What's the difference between executive coaching, leadership coaching, management coaching, business coaching, and life coaching? Is executive coaching just for executives?
Executive coaching is coaching for executives and coaching for high potentials on a path to be an executive.  Executive coaching might focus on such competencies as executive presence, strategic agility, motivating and inspiring others, driving for results, and political savvy.  Leadership coaching is a broader term and includes executives but could also include other types of leaders and may focus on a broad range of competencies.  Coaches who work with executives or other leaders may also call themselves business coaches, but business coaching tends to assume a strict focus on the business (e.g., managing the P&L, reducing costs, and identifying new markets).  It closely resembles business consulting except that business coaching relies heavily on helping the coachee identify the solutions rather than providing theories and direction to improve or grow the business.  Management coaching is typically for middle managers.  Life coaching is a broad term suggesting that the coaching is focused solely on personal development without an intention on improving business.  The coachee may or may not work in business.
Can anybody be a coach?
Coaching is a non-licensed field of work.  Thus, anybody can call themselves a coach, as there is no legal repercussion for doing so.  In addition to the types of coaches mentioned above, there are many other labels for coaches, each suggesting a particular are of focus.  Some examples include:  ADHD coach, organization coach, career coach, performance coach, skills coach, personal coach, relationship coach, presentation coach, and spiritual coach.

While the state does not regulate coaching, there are non-profit associations that set and oversee the ethics and standards for coaching.  The largest and most recognized of these is the International Coach Federation (ICF) (coachfederation.org).  In addition to accrediting coach training programs, the ICF also credentials coaches based on coach-specific education, experience as a coach, meeting supervision requirements, and passing written and oral exams, demonstrating proficiency across eleven coaching competencies.  The ICF offers three levels of coach certification – Associate Certified Coach (ACC), Professional Certified Coach (PCC), and Master Certified Coach (MCC).  The level of certification is based on experience, education, and demonstrating proficiency in the 11 competencies, increasing with complexity for the different certification levels.

How do I vet a potential coach?
Some considerations for vetting a potential coach include the coach’s education, coaching credentials, years and type of coaching and other professional experiences, and reputation for a specific industry and leadership level.  Here are some questions to ask a coach you are considering hiring for yourself or, if you’re an HR professional, for one of your leaders:

  • What coach specific training have you had? How many hours of coach specific training have you had?
  • What other types of formal education have you had?
  • Are you certified with the ICF or other recognized non-profit association that oversees the standards and ethics of practice? If so, what is your level of certification?  Have you ever had your credential suspended or revoked?
  • How long have you been coaching? How long have you been certified (if applicable)?
  • What is your typical client? If the coach has been coaching long enough, s/he likely has had many types of client and, thus, a better approach would be to describe profiles of leaders and coaching goals you’re looking for and ask the coach to provide an overview of how s/he has approached this in the past.
  • How would you describe your approach to coaching?
  • What separates you from other coaches – what do you think is your unique value?
  • How do you define and measure results?
  • Who else, if anybody, do you include in the coaching process (e.g., the manager and HRBP)?
  • Define your approach to confidentiality, knowing that the leader and the company are both your “client”.

Also ask for references or testimonials and review the prospective coach’s website, LinkedIn or other professional online presence.

How do you determine if a client is the right client for you?

At this point in my career, almost all clients coming to me are the right clients. I’ve been officially coaching since 1999 and people that refer know my niche and specialties.  Having said that, I still often will have a sample session / chemistry meeting where the prospective client and I interview each other and both assess if it’s the right match. During this, I’m looking for:  Can I work with this person? Do I want to? Are their goals appropriate for coaching? Are they goals that I can help with? Are the expectations realistic? Do they have enough support (e.g., organizational support if within a company)?

What are your parameters (procedural and stylistic factors) for establishing the relationship?

Honesty and openness.  The more the conversation with one’s coach sounds like a conversation with a friend and colleague, the less they’re getting out of the coaching.  Negotiating directness with a preference for me being direct.  Coaching isn’t about being nice, it’s about being honest.  Most my clients’ get “VIP access” – They can reach out to me anytime with the understanding that my schedule is quite full, like theirs, and that we will work together so that I can be there for them in “real time” – i.e., be able to support them when they need it and not just during a regularly scheduled meeting.  I will often provide a “Welcome to Coaching” welcome packet that explains the process, talks about how to get the most out of coaching, provides forms, etc.  My standard for Jefferson is 24 pages long. Others are less and sometimes I don’t provide depending on situation.  I also provide a Coaching Prep form and expect the client to complete and email the prep form prior to a coaching session to help us both prepare.

What can I expect during my first coaching session?

There is a contract that the client signs. Sometimes this is a representative (such as HR) from the organization and other times it’s with the client him/herself.  In some situations, it’s both – i.e., I have a contract that the organization and I both sign clarifying expectations, conditions of confidentiality and expectations of coach and coachee, and one with the client going through similar areas.  Each client also has a SOW that I create and is signed by their manager. I provide clients with a truncated copy of this SOW outlining expectations, overview, timelines and confidentiality. Further, this is discussed during the chemistry meeting.

In summary, coaching does only two things:  raise awareness and forward the action.

In the business world, coaching generally does this for only two reasons:  improve performance and/or position the leader for promotion.  And, regardless of the focus of coaching, most coaching is really only doing this in one way – by helping the leader have greater influence.  The terms executive coaching, leadership coaching, management coaching, business coaching and life coaching are less important than the qualification of the coach and his or her ability to help the leader achieve specific goals as defined by the coachee.  Anybody can call themselves a coach, thus, be sure to properly vet any prospective coach.

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