Executive Coaching: The Complete Guide for 2018

What do Oprah, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and countless successful CEOs like Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt all have in common? They have used an executive coach.

Executive coaching, a tool that was once reserved for underperforming executives, is now widely accepted among most American businesses. Everyone from small business owners looking to get to the next level, to the upper echelons of Fortune-100 C-Suites are looking to executive coaching to elevate their careers from good to great.

Businesses and individuals in the US alone are slated to spend more than 1 billion dollars on executive coaching this year.  According to a recent survey by the American Management Association, more than half of their respondents said their organizations have coaching programs in place. Of those that don’t, more than a third plan to start coaching programs in the future.

A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers deduced that the mean ROI for companies investing in coaching was 7 times the initial investment, with over a quarter reporting an ROI of 10 to 49 times. With numbers like that, how can you not afford to get a professional executive coach?

In today’s business world, the stakes are high, and choosing the right executive coach could make the difference between spending your career as a staff accountant or becoming the company’s CFO. To make the best possible decision, take the time to learn more about executive coaching, its benefits and how coaching can work for you.

What is Executive Coaching?

So what exactly is executive coaching?  The definition of executive coaching is:

Executive Coaching Definition:

the practice of helping a leader or manager reach their goals, develop as an individual, and perform better

Executive coaching is just that, coaching. Much like athletes, business professionals looking to get to the top of their game and reach their full potential can do so by being coached. Executive coaches try to find areas that are overlooked or undervalued, then develop those areas to improve the quality and efficiency of the senior executive and their business. Think of it as a form of training or education.

Albert Einstein once said, “Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think.” This is a great way to think about “exec coaching”, as it’s sometimes called for short. It’s an educational tool that teaches executives how to intelligently navigate the business world. Coaches are there to help and offer support, allowing executives reach decisions on their own. Their focus is not to give answers but to build skills. Coaches increase clients’ self-awareness and self-esteem as they learn more about how to play to their strengths and eliminate their weaknesses.

Coaches are almost always third-party individuals from outside the business, as they should be. Their objective view of any problem or circumstance provides invaluable perspective. They have first-hand experience in the business world and draw on their personal experiences and experiences of previous clients to advise whomever is being coached on vital career decisions. This often takes the shape of mentoring or counseling. An individual or their company may engage a coach for any number of reasons, from underperformance to preparing to make the biggest career leap of their life.

Engaging a professional executive coach should never be viewed with negativity. Ultimately, the person being coached is seeking to become a better version of themselves. Such honesty and commitment to improvement should be applauded, not admonished.

What are the Benefits of Executive Coaching?

There are many benefits of executive coaching. When being coached, you can expect to become a better decision maker, improve your interpersonal skills and (hopefully) effectively reach your career goals. Here is a breakdown of the benefits:

  • Confidence – Executive coaches pinpoint areas that cause insecurity. They create action plans to improve those areas, ultimately fostering greater confidence.
  • Fulfillment – Executive coaching helps clients rediscover why they do what they do. Their guidance fosters internal passion for the task at hand.
  • Clarity – Executive coaches help clients see long-term problems or barriers through a new lens, shifting their perspective and allowing greater clarity for problem solving.
  • Enhanced Decision-Making – Executive coaches teach decision making skills so that fair and balanced outcomes are the norm, not the exception. Coaches work with clients to develop outside-the-box decision making that provides a positive outcome for everyone.
  • Self-Awareness – Executive coaches provide objective perspective to their clients so that they can do an honest self-evaluation. It enables clients to identify their strengths and weaknesses, as well as create a plan to play to one’s strengths and eradicate weaknesses.
  • Balance – Personal executive coaches work with clients to establish a healthy, happy balance between their work and personal lives.
  • Prioritization – Executive coaches work with clients to define their long-term goals. They create a plan to reach those goals by prioritizing several manageable short-term goals.
  • Accountability – Executive coaches develop an ongoing relationship with clients, with the expectation that clients put in the work to reduce weaknesses and develop strengths. They hold clients accountable to their goals and help get them back on track when they fail.
  • Interpersonal Skills – Executive coaches work with clients to master the social aspects of the workplace. Social skills can get lost in the minutiae of day-to-day business, but they can be the difference between someone on your team wanting to come to work or looking for a new job.
  • Empathy – Executive coaches teach clients the merits of empathy and work to develop the client’s empathy. Executives learn to put themselves in the shoes of their employees to develop true empathy.
  • Understanding – Executive coaches work with their clients to help them not only understand their own feelings, but also the feelings and motivations of their co-workers. Understanding the motivations of your peers can have a profound impact on your effectiveness.
  • Navigation – Executive coaches help clients define the relationships that exist within a business. The greater the client’s understanding of the interconnections within a business, the more readily they can navigate the organization.
  • Support – Executive coaches are available when their clients need them. Meetings with a coach are typically scheduled in advance, but if issues arise they are only a phone call, email or text away.
  • Reduce Stress – Executive coaches can look at a client’s priorities, goals and support staff to identify the root causes of stress and create a plan to effectively manage the cause, reducing overall stress.

Recently, a CFO with a Fortune 500 company sought the guidance of an executive coach with Bates, a well-known business development firm. She had risen to the rank of CFO, but needed help honing her skills as an executive. The coaching she received not only made her a more effective executive, but delivered many of the benefits detailed above. According to the client, coaching taught her how to better communicate with her team, increase her executive presence and developed her leadership skills. It also enabled her to solve complex problems through strategic planning and a renewed ability to adapt. As a result, she claims that she and her team are more energized and focused than ever, despite intimidating goals ahead.

Who Needs a Coach?

The answer is rhetorical; everyone can benefit from coaching! But not for the same reasons. There are many professionals in a myriad of circumstances who could benefit from the insights of a coach. Here’s how coaches can help:

  • Career Development – Executive coaches assist clients to transition between careers or to move up within their existing career.
  • Leadership – Executive coaches help clients in a new leadership position make the most of their role and effectively lead their team.
  • Time Management – Executive coaches help clients to manage their agendas and find balance in their schedule.
  • Remedial – Executive coaches observe, analyze and aide in overcoming obstacles and issues that are jeopardizing the client’s goals.
  • Image – Executive coaches act as a sounding board and mirror to shed light on areas that are overlooked and those that can be enhanced to improve the client’s image.
  • Mentor – Executive coaches share their wisdom with clients by discussing past experiences, successes and failures. In this case, the coach acts as a role model for the client.

Methods and The Executive Coaching Process

What does the executive coaching process look like?

Coaching methods can vary greatly. It’s important to know that there are many schools of thought on how to coach effectively. Everyone has a unique learning style that responds to different types of coaching. Understanding coaching methods enables you to engage a coach that will work well for you. Here are a few of the most prominent coaching methods:

  • Solution Based – This method assumes that the client already has the capability to solve their problems. The coach focuses on building trust and encouraging their client to commit to creating, recognizing and following through with the solutions they create.
  • Behavioral Change Based – This method is based on coaches testing and challenging their clients to foster a greater capacity to change. This method works well for clients who are harboring stubborn habits and behaviors.
  • Reason and Planning Based – This method focuses on how a client perceives their success. Their perceptions shape their willingness and ability to perform. This method works well for those clients who are about to move up within their organizations.
  • Social Learning Based – This method considers how the environment and surrounding social factors influence people’s ability to adapt to and incorporate change.

CEO Coaching vs Executive Leadership Coaching vs Executive Business Coaching

There are several types of coaching. They include leadership coaching, CEO coaching, executive business coaching and executive career coaching. They are all a little different and are best engaged at a certain point in your career. Learn more about each type to learn which is best suited for your current position.

Executive Leadership Coaching

Leading people well is of the utmost importance in today’s highly-competitive business world. Great leadership can make a company, but bad leadership can very easily break it.

You may have heard the term “executive leadership coaching”. Leadership and executive coaching are distinctly different. Leadership coaching specifically fosters positive leadership qualities aimed at protecting the most vital asset of a business: its team.

Leadership coaching can benefit anyone in a leadership position, from a newly minted manager to a battle-hardened CEO. Anyone holding a leadership position can and should participate in leadership coaching to develop and maintain effective leadership qualities. A great leader would admit that leadership education isn’t a once and done thing. It takes constant, deliberate action to maintain the qualities of a world-class leader.

CEO Coaching

CEO coaching is a bit different than some of the other types. Instead of always looking at end results, the process to get to the results is emphasized. A CEO coach sees the client as a person with a highly specialized skill set, but who also has the capacity to become a better version of themselves.

For many CEOs, this outlet for self-discovery and improvement is a welcome one. They often want help, but may be reticent to ask for it. CEO coaches provide an external perspective for CEOs to more clearly see the problems they face and to develop common-sense solutions.

Executive Business Coaching

Executive business and executive coaching sound the same; they’re not. They both have the same goal in mind, that of continued success, but the method and practices that each use are quite different. Here’s what makes executive business coaching unique:

  • Teaching Concepts – Executive business coaches teach simple skills like how to analyze a new market or how to create a reorganization plan. These concepts are tools that any good business executive ought to know.
  • Creating a Team Environment – Teams are a key component to the success of any business. An executive business coach can either bolster a successful team or provide guidance for a team that is struggling.
  • Look to the Future – Executive business coaches are always considering the future. They help clients create plans to ensure continued success. These plans can involve goal charts, personnel planning and growth strategies.

Executive Career Coaching

Sometimes, people reach a certain level in their career and hit a plateau. They have reached their goals and have enjoyed great success, but they are at a loss for what to do next. It’s not a dead end, but they know they are capable of more, if they could only figure out how to get there. Executive career coaching helps already successful executives take their careers to the next level.

Executive career coaches provide guidance and inspiration at these crucial career crossroads to help clients explore their options and determine the right direction. Some may end up wanting to change careers completely. Others simply choose to reinvent their positions and purpose within the confines of their current career track.

An executive career coach can help navigate all the possibilities and guide a client down the right career path.

Corporate Executive Coaching

As the name suggests, corporate executive coaching is executive coaching in a much more corporate setting.  There is no major difference between regular “executive coaching” and “corporate executive coaching”, other than the fact that corporate executive coaching may indicate that it is coaching at an organization that has a much more “corporate” environment.

What Does Executing Coaching Cost?

As with any type of service, rates depend on many factors including: the expertise of the coach, location, the specific area(s) requiring assistance, the level of complexity and the amount of demand for that particular coach. Generally, executive level coaching starts at about $50 an hour and can go as high as $5,000 an hour. It also varies greatly depending on how often you meet and how much time you require from your coach. Some coaches offer discounts on monthly rates that include a set amount of meeting times per month.

If cost-conscious, consider online executive coaching instead of in-person. It’s more affordable, much more convenient and it widens the pool of possible coaches. This makes it much easier to find a coach that suits your every need, instead of choosing someone based on geography.

Many businesses will pay, within reason, for this service. Just like training or continuing education, they see it as an investment in one of their most precious resources: You! Alternatively, you may decide to pay for mentoring yourself as many executives take on this cost as an investment in themselves and their continued success.

No matter what the coach costs, understand that this is a personal investment in yourself. Consider the schooling, training and many hours of hard work you put in to get to where you are today. Each one of those things was an investment, no different than the investment of executive coaching. The ultimate value of executive coaching depends on the amount of hard work you’re willing to put in.

Warren Buffett once said, “The greatest investment you can make is in yourself.” Don’t let the up-front cost of executive coaching prevent you from making the most important investment of your life.

Finding a Coach

Finding a professional executive coach can be a daunting process. If you want to be coached in-person, start with finding firms in your local area. If you can not find one in your area, or prefer an online coach, then do some research to find a firm that suits you. Going online opens the possibilities with many more firms to choose from.

Interview several firms that specialize in areas in which you would like to improve. Come up with interview questions and test scenarios in advance of the interviews. Ask about the size of the firm, expectations and privacy policies. Compare the answers between the firms you have interviewed to determine which one is best suited to help you reach your goals.

Before engaging any coaching firm, be sure that they are a legitimate business. Ask important questions about their certifications, degrees and services. They should be up front about what they are offering and give you an idea of what to expect. Read reviews or testimonies to learn about their coaching techniques.

Every executive is unique, as is every coach. There isn’t (yet) a mobile application that can take one’s personality, goals and circumstances and match them with an ideal coach. Ultimately, this is a very personal thing, and no amount of guidance, recommendations or tips can guarantee you will find the perfect personal executive coach. As with all things in life, do your due diligence and make the most educated choice with the information you have.

Top Executive Coaching Providers

Below are just a handful of the top executive coaching providers.  There are many more that you can choose from:

  • Personnel Decisions International (PDI) – This is one of the most well-known coaching firms that boasts many high-profile clients. It claims to be the secret weapon for many notable businesses and executives.
  • Hay Group – This is another large firm that boasts over 60 years of experience and credibility among top executives.
  • Aon Corporation – This firm is in more than 120 countries. It offers everything from risk management to human capital and management consulting.
  • Towers Watson HR Consulting – This up-and-coming firm has recently entered the executive coaching scene and has proven itself in other areas such as leadership development and succession management.

Qualities of Effective Coaches

There are a few qualities that every good coach should have so that you can get the most value out of coaching. Before committing to an executive coach, make sure they have these qualities:

  • Highly Observant – A coach’s observation skills are crucial to pinpointing the most important issues and implementing the correct plan of action.
  • Problem Solver – Coaches should be able to help clients brainstorm solutions to complex, unique problems, while staying true to their professional goals
  • Experienced – Coaches should be familiar with their client’s business. Their first-hand experience ensures that their guidance is based on an understanding of your industry.
  • Training and Certification – There are many certification programs available to executive coaches. Any coach worth their salt will have some type of credential to legitimize their authority as a coach.
  • Consistent and Reliable – Great coaches are always there for their clients, period. When a client trusts a coach with something as monumental as the trajectory of their career, they should have priority.

Nothing is Guaranteed

Yes, there are many benefits to executive coaching. Yes, there have been numerous famed CEOs, world leaders and celebrities who are still using executive coaching regularly to their advantage. Executive coaching, with the right coach and the right attitude, will help you reach your goals. However, executive coaching is not without its risks.

As with most things in life, executive coaching is not a sure thing. It requires the right combination of experience, reasonable expectations and clear communication between the coach and the client to ensure success. If the coach is not appropriate for the client or the client is not prepared to handle the rigors of executive coaching, it can become a frustrating and negative experience.

Sometimes, the coach is not trained or experienced enough to give their client the guidance they need. Therefore, it is important that you do your homework and select a coach that understands your business and your goals. Some situations may be beyond the help of executive coaching. Take care to select a coach who is trained to recognize this rather than try to come up with a quick fix for a problem they are not qualified to manage.

Expectations are another area where coaching relationships can go awry. Some clients expect to engage a coach who will not only assist them but take the reins completely and solve all of their problems. This isn’t how it works. Coaching is just that, coaching. A soccer coach can’t score the game-winning goal, much like an executive coach can’t roll out a new organizational structure. Clients seeking easy answers and quick fixes will not benefit from executive coaching, plain and simple.

The executive coaching process isn’t an easy one. In fact, coaching often results in some of the most challenging times in an executive’s career. However, if done properly, it can also create valuable teachable moments where an executive is learning, stretching and growing in ways they never thought possible. When both parties are aligned and willing to do the wok, great things can happen.

Should You Hire an Executive Coach?

If you are considering hiring an executive coach, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need a better work life balance?
  • Do I need to build a more productive and highly motivated, loyal team?
  • Do I need more accountability in my professional life?
  • Am I having a hard time focusing on my goals and priorities?
  • Do I want to reach a higher level in my company or career but am not sure where to start?
  • Do I feel stuck or stagnant in my job or with my career motivation?
  • Am I having a hard time balancing my job with future dreams and goals?
  • Do I need another person to observe my work and show me what I’m missing and where I can improve or shift my focus?
  • Do I need someone who will challenge me when I’m feeling overwhelmed or unmotivated?
  • Do I need to build a legacy in the company and/or the community?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then an executive coach can help you.

If you’re still unsure if you want to commit to this process, consider meeting with a coach that interests you and discuss the questions above. Share your goals and ambitions with them to see if they have interesting ideas or the capacity to help you. Many executive coaches are selective in who they choose to work with, so expect brutal honesty on if they think they can be of help to you.

Also, recognize that executive coaching is not a simple fix. This is a process that needs to be taken in careful, manageable steps and followed through with the utmost care and patience.

Hiring an executive coach can come at a great cost, both financially and in the amount of time invested, and there is no guarantee that you’ll get a return on the investment. A good coach isn’t going to do the work for you. It will require a great deal of effort, time and patience before you can expect to reach your goals. The more you commit to the process, the better the results will be.

Some people believe that when you reach a certain level, you are beyond coaching. The truth is the opposite. The higher you rise, the more you have at stake and the more important guidance through coaching becomes. As you seek to expand your business, reach your goals and meet personal or professional milestones, seek guidance from experts who can challenge you and hold you accountable.

The most successful people in the world, whether they are athletes, senior executives or political behemoths didn’t get there overnight. They toiled at their trade for years, learning and growing every step of the way, before they could consider themselves successful. Even then, successful people know that development and improvement are never-ending processes.

Never stop investing in yourself and your personal development. Executives who continue to challenge themselves to increase their knowledge, understand marketplace trends and gain an edge over their competition, all the while being approachable, fair leaders are much more effective than those who sit and settle. Don’t settle. Get a coach and unlock your hidden potential.


American Management Association
Interest group that offers training solutions for businesses and individuals.

Aon Corporation
Business services firm based in London that offers executive coaching.

Dave Schoenbeck
Leader in the executive coaching industry.

Industry-leading business magazine that covers markets, economy and financial trends.


Good Reads
Database of quotes.

Hay Group
Executive coaching firm that is a subsidiary of Korn Ferry.

Personnel Decisions International
Top executive coaching firm based in Colorado.

Quote Investigator
Database of quotes.

Towers Watson HR Consulting
Human resources firm that offers executive coaching services.