What Is Executive Coaching?

Executive coaching is a collaborative process of identifying, learning and practicing the skills and awareness’ required for an executive to be more effective in a leadership role at a company or organization.

The Executive Coach works closely with the Client to identify development areas specific to the client’s personality, company culture and industry. We use a combination of confidential one-on-one conversations and discussions, “360 degree” or group feedback from peers, direct reports and supervisors in the executive’s environment, and standardized assessment tools such as Meyers Briggs, DISC, Benchmark and others.

Depending on the executive and the company I often employ a proprietary Leadership Assessment that I have designed that identifies growth and development areas not addressed in traditional assessments.


Sometimes executives know exactly what area they need to develop. Sometimes they don’t but their boss does. And often we start down the path of coaching with one development goal in mind and in the process we discover other important areas to address. It’s a dynamic process that creates change in the executive and others around him/her as well.


The primary goal of executive coaching is to developing an executive’s skills and awareness’ towards a combination of business results for the company. And we support the executive’s growth and development towards positions of greater responsibility and authority and leadership role in the company.


The process usually begins with a conversation with an Organization Development representative or Human Resources partner who has identified an executive who has either requested to work with an executive coach or otherwise has been identified as a candidate for the process. In the initial conversation with the OD/HR partner we’ll discuss some aspects of the executive identified and some of the areas likely to be developed. If we agree that this sounds like an area where executive coaching is right for the executive an in person meeting will occur. This initial meeting will be to learn more about the development areas at hand and to assess if it feels like a good fit.


Often the company will have identified an executive they want to invest in to assist the executive in gaining the skills and leadership to move up to future role of greater responsibility. Thus, having identified employees with “High Potential” the executive coaching process is an investment the company makes in the future of that executive.


Having successfully reached the top of the food chain, a chief executive knows that even he or she may have a thing or two to learn about their own leadership skills or high level concerns. We might work on challenging business relationships within or outside the company, improved communications with direct reports, investors or board members or sometimes the “issue du jour” for whom an executive may not have a confidential ear to act as sounding board or catalyst.


In order to create the business results they are tasked with Chief Executives and High Potential leaders must develop the leadership skills to manage their companies, their teams, and their selves to maximum efficiency and creative synergy.

The best executives with most loyal and effective teams have learned their individual role in empowering and catalyzing their best people to do their best. This goes beyond simple hiring, firing, cutting costs and commanding teams to work harder.

Executives need to have the awareness’s of their own leadership strengths and development areas and to be a champion of the strengths and development areas of their trusted teams.

They must be effective, aware leaders in their own office before they can command full respect of their people.

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Coaching is no magic carpet. It requires dedication and hard work from the coachee. Those who receive the most benefit are those who have chosen their coach carefully and then invested a considerable amount of courage in the process. Because coaches tend to be ruthlessly oriented to results, they are not for the meek, warns Claire Tristram, in the magazine Fast Company. “They’re for people who value unambiguous feedback. …Executive Coaching isn’t therapy. It’s product development, with you as the product.”


A key theme of coaching for the workplace is about being an effective leader. To remain a follower requires little in the way of skill or imagination, but today even the humblest worker is likely to be called from time to time to the role of leadership.

There is, of course, no gene for leadership. Among the countless numbers of leaders, few are instinctively effective. And those who need the most help with this responsibility find little challenge or support within the organization. No one has time to mentor them. Who will offer honest feedback? Who will remind them of simple truths and best practices?

Those for whom leadership is the primary task–CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CAOs, CIOs, CTOs, other executives, directors, and managers–find themselves in a paradoxical bind. If they insist on their authority, they stunt the growth of others. If they require obedience, they invite revolt. If they consult only themselves, they are accused of arrogance. If they consult widely, some will assume that they have no opinions and no authority. The art of facilitative leadership is not only crucial in this age, but also very complicated to perform.

-From Leadership Coaching for the Workplace by Timothy Bentley & Esther Kohn-Bentley


Leaders need to balance learning–which by definition means becoming vulnerable–with managing their image as leaders. One good way to do this is to work with an executive coach, a relationship in which it is safe to explore and where leaders can have an opportunity to talk more freely then they may have done with anyone, ever, about their own dreams and their business challenges. In the context of executive coaching, leaders can talk about things they feel pain and passion about–and really get at the core issues for themselves, their teams, and the organization. Of course, the sheer level of emotion in these conversations is far beyond what typically occurs in business, so the coaching relationship must be trusting, totally confidential, and almost sacrosanct.

Most executive coaching processes involve leadership assessment and an ongoing focus on development. They also include work on the broader organizational issues–especially those in the people realm, such as the leader’s challenges with his or her team, the organizational climate, culture, and politics, and how all this fits with the business strategy.

Leadership assessment and feedback can be done in a number of different ways, but the best practice starts with a series of interviews and observations by a professional executive coach. The interviews should look and feel much like conversations a good part of the time, with the intention of building a strong, confidential relationship between the leader and the coach. Typical processes include conversations about the leader’s career and life history, discussions of current managerial and leadership challenges, and discussions of the organizational-level issues as well, including things such as climate, politics, and systems. In addition, this phase often includes observation of the leader in action at meetings, when giving speeches, and when engaging in one-on-one performance reviews, among other things.

One such process called “A Day in the Life” was developed by our colleague Fran Johnston of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. The coach spends a typical day with the leader, literally following her around, attending meetings and one-on-one sessions with staff, even sitting in on phone calls. Of course, all of this is done with a clear explanation to employees–with the added benefit that the leader is seen to be actively involved in learning and leadership development.

More structured assessment is also usually a part of the coaching process, and will often include behavioral event interviews and 360-degree feedback on emotional intelligence, managerial style, climate, and other factors pertinent to the particular leader and her organization. When it comes to coaching on team and organizational issues, it helps to have more than just the leader’s perspective. Whether or not the leader is really suffering from CEO disease, it is a fact of executive life that much information is filtered, and many issues are softened or disguised before they reach the top. Through interviews, observations, assessment, and even a mini-dynamic inquiry process, a coach can gather information about what’s really going on in an organization that can be truly helpful to the leader. Of course, for this process to work over the long term, the coach needs to honor the confidentiality of all relationships–even with those people interviewed to gather information about the leader–which means that the coach presents the leader with only general themes, not specifics.

Coaching enables a leader to further her own learning quickly, while getting a different–and sometimes more accurate–picture of what’s happening in the organization, especially with respect to how people experience the leader and the leadership team.

-From Primal Leadership Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Coleman, Richard Boyatzis & Annie McKee