Understanding Executive Coaching and Avoiding Misconceptions

Aug 15, 2019 | Coaching

There are many misconceptions about the utility and nature of executive coaching, a service of extraordinary value that is not only underused, but also perceived as ineffective because of faulty expectations. In this article, I intend to offer a more precise picture of the realities pertaining to this development growth tool, while correcting some of the mistaken perceptions about coaching.

What executive coaching is NOT

Coaching in the classic sports sense

Athletes expect their coach to be prescriptive, that is, to tell them what to do and teach them how to execute according to plan. The athletic coach transfers her or his expertise to the athlete. An executive coach, on the other hand, is almost never prescriptive. They are not present to be an expert in the field or be in charge of the game plan. Rather, an executive coach helps unlock the expertise within the client, thus empowering them to see solutions already there but not completely worked through. The agenda belongs to the client. The coach works collaboratively and supportively to find success.


Similarly, the coach is not there to offer solutions, solve problems or provide advice based on his or her experience. How the coach might solve an issue or tackle an executive dilemma is irrelevant in most situations. Often, the client knows the situation and the organization more clearly than the coach, and solutions should be authentic to the client executive. It is not at all unusual for coaches to know very little about the business at hand yet achieve outstanding results with the client.


In many organizations, the suggestion that an executive have an executive coach is often viewed as a sign that they are at best struggling, and at worst on the cusp of termination. Conversely, executive coaching should be applied proactively and to your highest potential executives. An example of the former would be a talented executive going through a significant role change, with the coach supporting her or him through the change successfully. An example of the latter would be a strong executive considered a future star, who can work with the coach to hone their leadership skills toward consistent success.

A substitute for effective human resource management

Too often, coaches are used to facilitate the exit of an underperforming executive or handle a dysfunctional subordinate when the proper solution is a conversation with their manager. The better use of a coach in these situations is to work with the manager and guide them through those crucial conversations, thus improving their executive skill at people management.

The value of shifting away from misunderstandings

As one’s perception shifts away from these misunderstandings of the role of an executive coach, the incredible utility of coaching for high performing executives who want to improve their leadership skills and achieve success becomes clear. We invite you to stay tuned, as we will be writing in more detail about these opportunities in subsequent articles.

Coaching is at its heart a development opportunity, an investment in the growth and achievement of your best people. Coaching should always be utilized with a clear goal and define measures of success from the start. Through the assessment process, an executive can build self-understanding and recognize how she/he is perceived by others.

Additionally, coaching can help advance strategic clarity, improve presentation skills, assist in managing up in the organization, support crucial conversations and communication, repair dysfunctional teams and reinforce changes in specific behaviors impeding the executive’s overall effectiveness. Using active listening, role-plays, informal 360 degree feedback and other tools, a great executive coach is there to partner with the motivated client executive to achieve their goals and attain measurable success by helping them remove barriers and unlock the solutions that are inside of them.

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