What Makes Executive Coaching Unique

Anyone who is not already familiar with the concept of executive coaching may easily confuse it with related professional advice from other sources.  Since executive coaching clients are often senior executives, they have probably experienced many kinds of advice and encouragement in their professional careers, but coaching is a unique form of personal leadership development.

Perhaps the most familiar advisor for many executives is the mentor.  A mentor is an invaluable resource at any stage of your career and provides advice, counsel and resources to show an executive how to achieve success in the way that the mentor did it.  The mentor shares the strategies that worked for them at a similar stage in their career to help the executive achieve similar results.  The mentor is usually 2-3 levels further on in their career than the executive and has a “been there done that” approach to helping the executive think through the options in front of them.  They can provide a model for how progress can be made – and the executive gets a roadmap for following in the mentor’s footsteps.

A coach, on the other hand, is not necessarily someone who has taken the exact career path the coaching client is pursuing, but helps the executive develop their own path to whatever destination they are seeking.  While a coach may provide resources, models and ways of reframing a situation, the coach does not provide “the solution” for how to handle a situation, but helps the executive consider many alternatives for moving forward.  The coach is not there to tell the executive how to do their job better, but rather to provide an outside perspective to help the executive consider more broadly the impact of their actions and a wide range of possible alternatives to arrive at more powerful solutions that fit the executive and the situation.

Think about great athletes and their coaches.  The coach is often a fan of the game, a student of the game, but usually not a superstar player themselves.  Like a great sports coach, an executive coach is not necessarily a better player than you at your game, but the coach can provide feedback and insight to help you fulfill your potential and reveal your inner greatness.

When you are navigating the waters of a culture, club or structure where there is a more senior person whose footsteps you want to to travel, a mentor can be a great fit and a huge help in making the right connections, playing the politics and getting seen in the right places.  However, for the executive who is creating a new game or forging a new path due to changing markets, customers, organization or technologies, a coach can guide the executive to get very clear on the goal, develop strategies that leverage their unique strengths and talents, plan and implement every day, and clear away barriers as they arise.

The coaching relationship is a unique one that can open the eyes of an executive to new possibilities and catapult them to greatness of their own making.