HR Management & Compliance, Learning & Development

The Nuances of Executive Coaching

It’s easy to look at executives within an organization and think that these leaders have it all figured out. If they only had the time, they’d be the perfect mentors and coaches for others further down the hierarchy of the organization. But this perspective overlooks the simple fact that we’re always learning and growing—regardless of our level of seniority or position within the company.
If we accept the premise that even the most senior leaders can benefit from coaching—and they can—the next step is to think about what is different about the coaching needs of top executives relative to other employees within an organization.

What’s Different About Executive Coaching

Perhaps the biggest difference between general coaching, targeted at frontline or mid-level employees, and executive coaching is the vast difference between the competencies needed in these roles—both technical and interpersonal.
“Providing one-on-one executive coaching is an expensive yet potentially powerful part of a leadership development strategy,” says Janet Ioli, writing for the Association for Talent Development (ATD). “It provides the opportunity for regular, targeted, individualized, and accelerated attention on a leader’s development goals. It offers a structure and safe space for consistent self-reflection and action planning, as well as a thought partner to provide support, reflective questioning, and feedback to move forward.”

A Need for Greater Personalization

While coaching for frontline or mid-level employees can sometimes gain efficiencies by leveraging common needs and interests, executive coaching requires greater personalization.
There are a number of reasons executive-level coaching needs to be particularly individualized and one-on-one. For one, executives are busy, and it’s difficult to coordinate the schedules of multiple executives for group training sessions. Additionally, executives are often put in charge of specific, specialized departments and functions. The skills required to be an effective chief operating officer may not be the same as those required to be an effective chief marketing officer or chief technology officer. Finally, executives, more so than employees at other levels within an organization, may be more comfortable being coached in a private, as opposed to group, setting.
While it’s understandable for L&D professionals to view executives as those who have reached the pinnacle of their careers and, therefore, no longer need coaching, that is far from the case. These ambitious individuals are often hungry for further growth and development. The trick is finding the right coach and the right coaching setting to make it happen.