What Is An Executive Coach?

By HBS Monday, February 22, 2016

what is an executive coach?Until recently, the word “coaching” was only connected with sports; next, it came to be associated with a way in which to improve one’s personal life, without delving into the emotional foray of psychotherapy, via a new type of self-help called “personal coaching.”

For the past few years, however, the way in which the word can be utilized has expanded once again, this time to the business world.

Executive coaching (an extension of personal coaching) has become so popular that, according to the ICF 2012 Global Coaching Study, the total annual revenue from professional coaching in 2012 was nearly 2 billion dollars; that same report stated that the number of professional coaches working throughout the world had increased from 2,100 in 1999 to 47,500 in 2012.

So what is an executive coach and why do people—especially zealous entrepreneurs and successful CEOs— employ them?

Executive coaches are people who are trained (yes, both personal coaches and executive coaches undergo extensive training in order to earn one or more coaching certificates, so don’t work with one who isn’t certified) to help people grow—emotionally, intellectually, internally.

Almost all of us will, at some point in our adult lives, hit a plateau; for those of us who are used to feeling both motivated and productive, when we slam into that plateau the feeling can be extremely disconcerting.

An executive coach helps people get un-stuck, so to speak, and in the process, points out areas of potential we may never have explored or pursued. Skilled executive coaches recognize the strengths within us that we may have overlooked, taken for granted or just never even noticed.

As an entrepreneur, you can likely be described as energetic, motivated and focused; however, entrepreneurs are often so busy and overwrought that they don’t dedicate enough time to strategic thinking, which is crucial for long-term success.

Entrepreneurs and CEOs who don’t slow down long enough to think strategically often wind up losing (or confusing) their vision of the company; they may also:

  • inadvertently begin to avoid obstacles to the point that forward movement becomes impossible
  • ignore the essential life-work balance until one or the other falls apart
  • become unable to sustain motivation, accountability or responsibility

why work with an executive coach

An executive coach teaches you not only the necessity of strategic thinking but also the tools you will need to utilize in order to think strategically throughout your career and life. In addition, by helping you eliminate your own self-limiting beliefs, an executive coach teaches you how to define your vision, confront obstacles, develop a work-life balance and sustain motivation, accountability and responsibility.

An executive coach offers support and helps you learn why you’re hiding behind your own self-limiting beliefs; the goal is for you to accept and then conquer these beliefs, and subsequently let them go so you can move ahead with both confidence and mindfulness.

A good coach will also ensure you are clear about your own core beliefs. Jerry Anathan, a Certified Personal Coach and owner of Inner Guru Coaching, explains that “core values are not ethics or morals. They are the truest representation of our authentic selves. Without an honest alliance with our own personal set of values, we lack the foundation to make powerful decisions at every moment.” Ms. Anathan says that a great executive coach “digs deep,” and focuses on illustrating the importance of the life-work balance to industrious, dynamic business leaders. “Work-life balance” doesn’t merely mean leaving the office before 8 PM. Work-life balance includes:

  • overall wellness
  • family time  
  • staying fit—both mentally and physically
  • feeding one’s intellect in order to prevent stagnation and continually sharpen one’s skills

If this sounds difficult and challenging, it is—that’s the point. Change will not just happen by itself; transformation takes work. However, the work is easier with the help of an executive coach, whose job it is to keep you motivated and accountable to your own plans for self-improvement.

Ms. Anathan describes the coach-client connection as one “based on trust, progress and celebration of accomplishments. Coaches teach you how to measure your progress, so you actually feel good about where your energy is spent.”

The stipulation, then, seems to be the self-dedication and motivation required to effect real change in your life, but this caveat exists in all methods of self-help, most especially psychotherapy. With an executive coach, however, you typically have more access to your support system as well as actual homework to do between sessions, which keeps you focused and determined while you break negative patterns and create more positive, healthier ones.

So how does a busy entrepreneur find an executive coach? The same way you do everything else these days—research via Google, personal references and/or word of mouth. Three things you should think about are:

  1. What type of personality you’d like to work with  
  2. How much time and effort you can realistically dedicate (though if you can’t go all in, perhaps it’s not the right time for coaching just yet)
  3. When and how you would like to meet.

benefits of ceo working with executive coach

Executive coaches are usually quite understanding of an entrepreneur’s demanding schedule, and most have embraced technology when it comes to meeting for sessions. Many offer a free consultation in which you have a phone conversation so both of you can gauge your comfort level and decide if it feels like a good fit.

The individual executive coaching will likely be presented in a variety of ways: a one-day, intensive session; a month-long package; a 3-month package; or a 6-month package, all of which will include:

  • varying numbers of in-person sessions
  • holistic assessments via personal metrics  
  • ongoing analysis
  • ongoing follow-up work
  • email access
  • phone access

At Inner Guru Coaching, Ms. Anathan emphasizes to her clients that they remain proactive, open-minded, committed to the process and, of course, willing to change their belief systems—all vital aspects of the coaching process.

At the end of the day, even the most passionate entrepreneurs and world-famous CEOs need to shut down the computer, hang up the phone, leave the office and go home. Whether that home is full of warmth, love and personal fulfillment or it is a hollow, unsatisfying part of your journey is completely up to you—help is available if you should need it.

*Disclaimer*: Harvard Business Services, Inc. is neither a law firm nor an accounting firm and, even in cases where the author is an attorney, or a tax professional, nothing in this article constitutes legal or tax advice. This article provides general commentary on, and analysis of, the subject addressed. We strongly advise that you consult an attorney or tax professional to receive legal or tax guidance tailored to your specific circumstances. Any action taken or not taken based on this article is at your own risk. If an article cites or provides a link to third-party sources or websites, Harvard Business Services, Inc. is not responsible for and makes no representations regarding such source’s content or accuracy. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Harvard Business Services, Inc.

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