Executive Coaching in a Nutshell: What You Need to Know to Decide if it’s for You

3rd September 2020

The popularity of coaching as an approach to personal and professional development and change continues to grow, and this comes as little surprise to us. As a transformational coaching school we know the power of coaching as a means for transformation, and it would seem we are not the only ones. ‘Coaching’ is actually the broad umbrella term within which there are various coaching styles.

Executive coaching is one of these many styles, but one that appears to be growing rapidly as organisations become more aware of the potential benefits of coaching. There appears to be a growing awareness of how coaching can help improve productivity, staff performance, profitability and customer service.

You may well have heard of executive coaching before, but what really is it, at its very core?

“What can an executive coach earn?” “How can I become an executive coach?” and “How might I work with clients in the role?” are all common questions we hear around executive coaching. In this guide we aim to answer them and provide an insight into the world of executive coaching.

what is executive coaching?

At its essence, executive coaching is coaching that is being provided for a senior leader in an organisation, that is usually paid for by the organisation.

Coaching in the last 10 years has become much more widely embraced by business for its success in improving performance and development. The executive coaching market continues to grow, with organisations seeking coaches to help leaders and managers raise self-awareness, enhance relationships and impact, develop leadership capability, re-shape culture, overcome blocks to performance and build resilience.

Executive coaches also often combine core coaching skills, such as those learned on the Animas life coaching course, with a range of organisationally relevant models such as psychometrics, 360 degree feedback, emotional intelligence models and other approaches that are more specifically tailored to the corporate and organisational environment.

Who tends to work with executive coaches?

If you glance back a few years, there was a bit of a stigma around having an executive coach. Why? Well, because the focus very much used to be on underperforming team members and those that were perhaps considered chinks in the armour of the organisation. This mindset however, has shifted in more recent years, with a recognition that executive coaching can also be of huge benefit to high-performers, who are trying to reach their potential and push through the barrier at which they currently find themselves.

Regarding the types of organisations that employ executive coaches, the scope is far-reaching. Everything from FTSE 100 companies, to blue-chip firms right through to smaller business and the NHS recognise the benefits and potential of executive coaching and creating a ‘coaching culture’ in their organisation.

‘One of the key benefits of a coaching culture we see at Lloyds Banking Group is the development of a more rounded leadership style in our senior people, with a better balance of intellectual and emotional intelligence.’

Alison Sherry Executive and Leadership Development Manager, Lloyds Banking Group (6th Ridler Report, 2016)

‘Senior leaders in ScottishPower who have received coaching from an external coach have recently reported that this in turn makes them better coaches and thus contributes to our own coaching culture.’

Julie Mackenzie, Senior Organisational Capability Consultant, ScottishPower (6th Ridler Report, 2016)

How does executive coaching differ from life coaching?

Whilst there are of course many crossovers between personal life coaching and executive coaching, there are also some key differences. These are namely:

Contracting

Due to the nature of the dynamic of executive coaching, and what we mean here is that it is paid for by the organisation for an individual, there will always be a minimum of three people involved in the contracting process. This will be the coach, the coachee, and the organisation. This differs from the 1-2-1 contracting between coach and client in the life coaching relationship. It is usually set to ensure that the sponsor can highlight outcomes, specific or more general, that they want from the coaching, and so that both the coachee and the sponsor are satisfied with the goals and progress of the relationship.

Specific tools

Truly effective coaching of any form will draw on a range of specific tools and skills that make it particularly powerful in whichever area it focuses on. Executive coaching is no different. Often there is a psychological grounding to an executive coach’s work. Whilst certainly not always the case, often a good part of their toolbox consists of psychometric tools and emotional intelligence models that are tailored to the organisational environment.

They also often administer and help to interpret 360-degree and behavioural assessments, and might conduct confidential interviews to help a client gain better self-awareness, as well as establishing development goals. Of course, the tools that are used in each coaching relationship will be unique, and will depend on each individual coachee, the coach, their background, and what they are trying to help the client achieve.

What sort of areas do executive coaches help people to develop?

The scope, and subsequent impact, of an executive coach’s work can be far-reaching. Some of the most common areas that come up are accelerating an individual’s development to prepare for promotion, issues around confidence and self awareness, building resilience, enhancing relationships and impact, developing leadership capability, and re-shaping the culture of the organisation. As an executive coach you might also work with clients who are considered key performers technically, but perhaps have some behavioural gaps, or their leadership styles have perhaps fallen behind the times and are looking for some behavioural shifts to bring them up to what is expected in certain areas.

This list is far from exhaustive, but provides a good overview. In reality, the work that you do will be unique from one client to the next, which is part of what makes the coaching profession so stimulating and rewarding.

what skills or qualifications do i need to become an executive coach?

Now, the coaching profession as a whole is an unregulated one, though some good self-regulation exists through reputable accrediting bodies (like the International Coach Federation or the Association for Coaching) and rigorous assessment criteria.

Technically speaking you could call yourself an executive coach tomorrow with no training. The reality of doing that, however, is that finding work however, will likely prove to be difficult.

Qualifications, training and accreditation are all of pivotal importance to a majority of organisations that are looking to take on an executive coach. Not to mention experience.

‘Accreditation is one element that we look for in our coaches, alongside a psychologically informed approach/experience/training, reputation, willingness to collaborate and commercial/business acumen and experience.’

Dee Cullen, Executive Coach and Coach Supervisor and Helen McCallion, Executive Coach and L&D/ OD Consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers (6th Ridler Report, 2016)

Not all organisations will be looking for this exact set of criteria, but you’ll find that most will want you to have undertaken some form of professional coaching course, be credentialed, and have at least some experience in terms of coaching hours.

‘Experience of external coaches is as important as qualifications.’

Caroline Clarke, Organisational Development Consultant, Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust (6th Ridler Report, 2016)

Another question that we find comes up increasingly from businesses is whether a coach is in regular supervision. Some organisations might be looking for a level of qualification that is equivalent to EMCC senior practitioner, and 250 hours of coaching experience.Others will want more, others less. Essentially, each organisation is different. Sometimes, you will even be asked to present case studies of your work to prove your track record, because qualifications and accreditation aren’t always enough to signify a good executive coach.

‘For corporate purchasers of coaching services, it’s surprising that even today, accreditation itself seems to be no guarantee of identifying an impactful coach. Accreditation indicates that a coach has reached a minimum level, but it is a fragmented industry and accreditation standards are variable across the different accrediting bodies… We look for the rare coaches who offer a range of flexible tools, approaches and deep skills to draw from, who are hugely invested in their own personal development, with varied experience developed over time with a diverse range of leaders.’

Samantha King, Global Head of Executive Development, Standard Chartered (6th Ridler Report, 2016)

The underlying message here is that when working as an executive coach, relevant experience, accreditation, professional training are all sought after. However these alone won’t always be enough to get you the contract. It’s about you, what you bring that is unique and how you combine the above with a flexible set of tools and approaches that will help you to show up as a competent executive coach.

how can i use my previous experience to help me as an executive coach?

With this being said, it is not impossible that you could find yourself in an executive coaching role through a different path. There are numerous examples of individuals that spent years working in a particular environment, let’s say chemical engineering for argument’s sake, who then go on to train as a coach. What this can enable them to do in some cases, A good starting point for executive coaches to get started is to draw on their existing knowledge and contacts to enter the executive coaching world by positing themselves as someone with a wealth of experience in that particular area. If you’ve got a connection to the world that you’ve worked in, you’re going to know people there, and that’s likely to be your best networking route to start to position yourself as an executive coach.

In this regard and through speaking with various executive coaches, a common theme emerged as a sage piece of advice for those starting out as executive coaches. Namely, focus on getting your first few clients to build up your experience and confidence. Even if longer-term you don’t want to work in the industry, sector or company that you have experience in, starting there could be invaluable for your credibility.

how much can an executive coach make?

It is difficult to give an exact figure for what an executive coach can make, as the fee will be affected by a number of variables, and many executive coaches won’t just be coaching, but will be doing other things too, whether mentoring, consultancy or group facilitation to name but a few examples.

The range of fees that seem to be industry standard, and are in line with the most recent Ridler Report’s findings are as follows:

Middle-Senior level – £300-£500 per hour — For Middle Managers, 91% of fees are at or less than £500 per hour. At Senior Management level, 75% are at or less than £500 hour.

Senior Executive level – £300-£1500 an hour — at Senior Executive level, 21% of fees are at or above £1,000 per hour.

CEO/Main Board level – £300-£2000 per hour — 40% of fees at Group CEO / Main Board level are at or above £1,000 per hour.

how might this look in a package?

A typical assignment for a senior leader in a large private sector business can involve diagnostic tools, 360 feedback, six 2-hour coaching sessions, and an evaluation meeting, which could be package priced at £6,000-£7000.

This data gives an insightful overview of what you might earn as an executive coach, though in reality there will be those that charge less than £300 an hour, and those that charge much much more. Again, this is all dependent on you as a coach, your experience, qualifications, proven track record, the organisation that you are working with, the coachee, their needs and the length of contract, as well as whether any additional diagnostic tools or assessment processes are used, such as 360 feedback or personality profiles.

It is important to note that when you start out on your executive coaching journey, you most likely won’t be charging the top end of that spectrum, and that to be a successful executive coach, you need persistence, patience, tenacity and most importantly a real sense of purpose in whatever route you go down. Just like personal life coaching, as you grow in confidence and experience, you will find that the value that you offer grows with you, and in turn the fees that you can charge.

So there you have it, our guide to executive coaching. Thank you so much for reading. We hope that you found this article useful!

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Categories: Working as a coach  

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