A Manager's Guide to Coaching for Executives

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At some point in a manager’s career, there may be an opportunity to consider hiring an executive coach. Here are 10 questions and answers that managers may have about executive coaching.

What Executive Coaching Is

An executive coach is a qualified professional that works with individuals (usually executives, but often high potential employees) to help them gain self-awareness, clarify goals, achieve their development objectives, unlock their potential, and act as a sounding board.

They are not consultants or therapists (although many have consulting or therapist backgrounds) and usually refrain from giving advice or solving their client’s problems. Instead, they ask questions to help an executive clarify and solve their own problems.

What Executive Coaches Do

Executive coaches provide a confidential and supportive sounding board for their clients. They ask questions, challenge assumptions, help provide clarity, provide resources, and yes, sometimes, with permission, provide advice. They often administer and help interpret 360-degree and behavioral assessments, conduct confidential interviews to help a client gain self-awareness, and establish development goals.

What It Takes to Become an Executive Coach

Unfortunately, (or perhaps, fortunately, if you are interested in becoming a coach), not much. Just about any retired executive, consultant, ex-HR or training practitioner, or therapist can call themselves an executive coach.

There is no formal or required certification, although many have turned to the International Coach Federation (ICF) for formal certification.

Who Hires Executive Coaches

Companies used to hire executive coaches to come in and fix broken executives. Nowadays, most companies hire executive coaches as a way to invest in their top executives and high potentials.

It’s no longer a stigma to have a coach; it’s a status symbol.

While executives can hire their own coaches (usually CEOs or business owners), it’s more common for companies (often Human Resources) to recommend a coach to an executive as a part of an executive development program. The coachee could be newly promoted (transition coaching), be facing a number of challenges (usually involving people relationships), or is being groomed for larger roles. And yes, coaches are still hired to correct behavioral problems and help leaders resolve interpersonal conflicts.

When a Manager or Company Should Not Hire an Executive Coach

An executive should not hire an executive coach if:

  • They don’t believe they need coaching, are not interested in feedback, and don’t believe they need to change (or don’t want to).
  • They are looking for business advice or consulting, i.e., someone to solve their problem for them.
  • Executive coaching is only a last-ditch, “Hail Mary” token attempt to fix a failing executive who is already on their way out the door.
  • The executive is not at the appropriate level in the organization to justify the expense of coaching.
  • The executive’s manager should be working with the executive (coaching should not be simply a way to outsource challenges).

    What the Typical Executive Coaching Process Looks Like

    While there are many variations, executive coaching usually involves a series of phases, starting with intake, assessment, goal setting, and development planning, and then progressing through the development plan, with periodic check-ins with the executive’s manager. The process is over when the development goal(s) is achieved, or when the coach and/or coachee decides that it should stop. The typical duration of a coaching engagement is seven to 12 months.

    The Confidentiality of Executive Coaching

    When it comes to executive coaching, conversations are completely confidential between the coach and coachee. If an organization is paying for the coaching services, they may receive periodic status updates (dates, milestones achieved), but nothing else is shared without the coachee’s permission.

    Where Executive Coaching Happens

    Face-to-face is ideal, given that so much of communication is non-verbal and it helps in building rapport initially. It’s becoming more common to coach virtually over the phone (or through Skype).

    How Much Executive Coaching Costs

    Coaching is a $3 billion per year industry worldwide, and, as the Harvard Business Review estimated, the median rate for an executive coach is $500 an hour. Many coaches will charge for a six or 12-month engagement, but some will work on an hourly basis.

    Where You Can Find an Executive Coach

    There are many ways to find an executive coach. Your own company may already work with a number of trusted coaches. Executive recruitment or outplacement firms often provide coaching services or work on a referral basis with independent executive coaches.

    Word of mouth referrals from other executives can be a source – in fact, many of the most successful coaches don’t even advertise. When selecting an executive coach, chemistry is important, so it’s best to interview a few for fit. There are also several resources for locating an executive coach, including: