How to Become a Certified Executive Coach

In 1926, the Duke of York, who would later become King George VI of England, engaged speech therapist Lionel Logue. Up until that point in his life, he had an intense stammer that not only impacted his ability to communicate but severely damaged his self-confidence and self-worth.

Logue worked with The Duke to improve his speech, which had a profound effect on the way he carried himself and, ultimately, his ability to lead. Yes, Logue was a speech therapist, but to The Duke of York, he was much more like an executive coach.

In a letter to Logue following the Duke’s (then King George) death in 1952, the Queen Mother wrote, “I think that I know perhaps better than anyone just how much you helped the King, not only with his speech, but through that his whole life and outlook on life.”

Not long after conquering his speech impediment, the Duke of York became King and led England through one of the darkest chapters of its history: World War II. It’s sobering to consider how the outcome of the war could have been different, had the Duke of York not sought the counsel Logue.

This is just one of countless examples of how coaching can empower their clients to exceed their wildest expectations to create positive, lasting change in the world. Granted, the term executive coach is a relatively new one; the coaches of the political, religious and thought leaders of centuries past probably never had a title at all.

For the past several decades, the title “executive coach” has been picking up steam. In the early days of coaching, executive coaches were reserved for Fortune 500 CEOs who were struggling to meet their goals and high-powered politicians who needed an image change.

Now, coaches are used at every level of management, from the upper echelons of the C-suite all the way down to Instagram influencers. What’s more, your career doesn’t have to be in trouble to seek the advice of a coach. Professionals are encouraged to seek the guidance of a coach in order to prevent career ruts, not fix them.

Do you think you have what it takes to be a coach? You aren’t alone. There are more than 6,100 certified executive coaches in the US listed on the International Coaching Federation’s website. These coaches have a wide variety of experience, expertise and know-how to effectively steer their clients’ careers in the right direction.

But how did they become a coach? Becoming a certified executive coach doesn’t happen overnight, it takes many years of experience, instruction and mentoring to become a truly effective coach. If you have a desire to help people change their careers, and ultimately their lives, for the better, then executive coaching could be a great career path for you.

What Makes a Great Executive Coach?

Not everyone is cut out to be a great executive coach. There are many essential skills that every coach should master, but there are also certain character traits that all good coaches have that simply can’t be taught. It’s been said by countless thought leaders because it’s so true: skills can be learned, but you either have character or you don’t.

There are several characteristics that make a great coach. These are executive  coaching qualifications that cannot be learned and are rather a part of your personality. Consider these qualities and how your personality stacks up:

Communication and listening are key when it comes to a successful coaching relationship. The best executive coaches are effective communicators who can listen to their clients with trained ears to help them reach the next level in their career. Great coaches not only hear what their clients say but can also deduce their long and short-term goals and ambitions. Without clear communication and attentive listening, the coaching relationship will lack depth and ultimately fail.

Executive coaches should be highly observant. Great coaches are natural-born people watchers who take note of how their clients respond and react to stimulus. These are the type of people who do a great deal of watching and listening before they speak.

They believe that they must gain a sophisticated level of understanding of their client and the factors affecting their performance – through observation – before they can offer a qualified, reasonable opinion about their career path. Coaches that aren’t observant may fail to see a variable that is impacting their client – for better or worse.

Every executive coach should have empathy. Your clients will bring unique professional and personal challenges to the job and having empathy to process and understand those emotions is essential. A great executive coach can listen to and understand the feelings of their client and be sensitive to those emotional realities throughout the course of coaching. If an executive coach lacks empathy, they will not be able to connect with their client emotionally, which prevents them from establishing a relationship of complete trust.

Problem-solving is another innate quality of a great executive coach. Coaches use their listening skills to learn what their client is facing, then strategize a series of goals to help their clients reach their professional goals. They are adept at finding problems, understanding the players and external variables and then working with their client to create a plan for success. Overcoming obstacles and solving complex problems is why many people utilize a coach, so someone who lacks these skills may not be right for coaching.

Executive coaches must be consistent and reliable. They need to follow through on promises and be proactive in the way they communicate with their clients. Most clients are trusting their coaches with the trajectory of their career, and if they can’t rely on them to be on time for a meeting, pick up the phone or answer an email, what can they trust them with? Coaches who aren’t reliable will fail to establish a meaningful, productive relationship with their clients.

Confidence is key in coaching. This one can be difficult, as many coaches are dealing with Fortune 500 C-suite clients who have a great deal of power and authority. Qualified executive coaches resist the urge to be intimidated and can stand toe-to-toe with any titan of business as an equal. Coaches who are working with high-powered clients need to have the confidence and authority to speak their mind, even when their opinions conflict with those of their client. This is certainly challenging, but the stronger the voice of the coach, the more effective their solutions will be.

These core characteristics are what make a great coach. But having these personality traits isn’t enough in the competitive coaching world. Completing one of the top executive coaching certification programs is the next step in becoming a truly great coach.

What Certifications Are Available?

Before diving into this, it’s important to clear up some jargon. The credentialing organizations and coaching professionals use many different terms to describe what we will refer to as certification. For the purposes of this article, certification includes, but is not limited to, executive coaching accreditation and credentialing.

There are three top executive coaching certification organizations: the International Coaching Federation, the European Mentoring and Coaching Council and the Center for Credentialing and Education. Each certification group offers its own unique certification process for many levels of coaching. They offer education and support for every coach, at every stage. These groups can help new coaches get their feet off the ground as well as provide continuing education for coaches who began many years (or decades) ago. Here is more information about each certification provider:

International Coaching Federation (ICF)
ICF is a global, non-profit certification organization. They are widely regarded as the industry leader in coaching certification. Their coaches have worked for countless world leaders, business tycoons and more. ICF has the only globally recognized, independent executive coaching certification program for coach practitioners. ICF coaches are regarded for the organization’s high standard of coaching competence.

Center for Credentialing and Education (CCE)
CCE is a credentialing organization based in the US. They serve counselors, coaches and other similar practitioners in a variety of fields, including executing coaching. CCE not only offers executive coaching certifications; they also provide assessments and business support when needed. They have certified nearly 25,000 professionals around the world.

European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC)
EMCC is a European certification organization that works to equip coaches with the tools they need to succeed. They seek to develop and promote best practices in executive coaching while certifying coaches and training facilities across Europe.

What Can You Expect from Certification?

Every certification program is different. They vary in terms of classroom time, experience, continuing education and more. Here’s a look at what you can expect from certification from each of the top executive coaching certification programs:


Coaches seeking to get ICF certification must go through rigorous education and training. There are several coaching levels offered, but for our purposes, we will focus on the requirements to become a Professional Certified Coach. Here’s what you can expect from ICF certification to become a Professional Certified Coach:

  • 125 hours of classroom instruction
  • 10 hours of mentoring
  • Recommends 10 or more years of professional experience
  • Minimum of 500 client contact hours (spread over 25 clients)
  • 40 hours of continuing education every three years
  • Pass the Coach Knowledge Assessment Test
  • Certification process takes 12 months


Coaches seeking to get CCE certification have a more straightforward path than the other certification organizations, as they only offer one type of certification: Board Certified Coach. Here’s what you can expect from CCE certification to become a Board Certified Coach:

  • Bachelor’s degree required
  • 120 hours of classroom instruction
  • Recommends 10 or more years of professional experience
  • Minimum of 30 client contact hours (no client minimum)
  • Automatically awarded upon completion
  • Certification process takes 12 months


Coaches seeking to get EMCC certification have several options, but we will focus on the requirements to become what they call a Senior Practitioner. Here’s what you can expect from EMCC certification to become a Senior Practitioner:

  • 250 hours of classroom instruction
  • Minimum of five years of coaching experience
  • Minimum of 250 client contact hours (spread over 20 clients)
  • 32 hours of continuing education every year
  • Certification process takes 12 months

What Type of Education is Required?

There is no legal minimum education requirement to become an executive coach. Literally, anyone can begin “coaching” (if you want to call it that) with no education, training or certification to back it up. This is by no means a path that we’d recommend.

The best place to start when considering becoming an executive coach is to check out certified training programs. As you may have noticed, every type of certification includes “classroom instruction” requirements. Certified training programs are how you fulfill those requirements.

There are countless executive coaching programs from which to choose, both through universities and training centers. These programs can teach you the skills you need to become a great coach and satisfy the certification programs’ classroom instruction requirements.

Any training program worth its salt will be accredited by at least one of three executive coaching certification organizations. In fact, the ICF, EMCC and CCE won’t accept classroom instruction hours unless they were earned at an accredited training facility. Here are a few of the many executive coaching programs offered in the US:

College of Executive Coaching

The College of Executive Coaching offers the “Advanced Certified Professional and Executive Coach” training program to equip students with the skills they need to be a great coach. Students must have a minimum of a master’s degree and can take the course either online or via teleconference. This program has the benefit of 15 PhD level faculty members on staff to support you in your journey of becoming a world-class executive coach. This program is accredited by the ICF.

Institute for Transformational Leadership at Georgetown University
Georgetown University offers the “Executive Certificate in Leadership Training” program for students with a bachelor’s degree or greater and at least five years’ experience in coaching, human resources, leadership, organization development or a similar field.

This program is very leadership-intensive and would be a great fit for students who wish to coach executives in leadership positions. This program is offered on-campus only. The tuition for this program is $11,995. The program is accredited by the ICF.

Duquesne University School of Business

Duquesne’s “Professional Coaching Certification Program” is a business-based program housed at one of the nation’s most prestigious business schools. The program includes on-campus, teleconference and online elements. Students must have at least a bachelor’s degree to apply.  The tuition for the program is $7,295. This program is accredited by the ICF.

Academy for Coaching Excellence

The Academy for Coaching Excellence’s “Professional Coach Training Program” is a great program for those who are unsure of their journey in becoming a coach. They offer a guest pass program for their initial four-day intensive so you can give the training a try before investing in the full training course. The program is offered in-person only. The cost of this program is on a sliding scale, based on income (or organizational budget if training is financed by an employer), and ranges from $700 to $2,300.

Aligned Action International

This organization offers a “Coach Certification Program” that focuses on character development, self-leadership and responsibility. It is a virtual training course that takes place in five parts over 100 days. This program is accredited by the ICF.

How to Choose a Training Program

You want to go to the best executive coaching program available, so start by doing extensive research. Make sure that all programs you consider are accredited by at least one of the three certification organizations.  Know that if you go through a training program that lacks accreditation, you risk investing in education that does not yield certification.

As you research executive coaching programs, see what others are saying about the training in articles, online forums and blogs. Take everything you read with a grain of salt, but if you notice any negative (or positive) patterns, it’s safe to make an educated assumption.

Before enrolling, call the institution(s) in which you have interest and ask them a few critical questions:

  • Are they are accredited and by which organizations?
  • How much is tuition?
  • Are materials included in tuition?
  • Is mentoring included in tuition?
  • Do they offer continuing education?
  • How long is the course?
  • Is the course in the classroom, online or a combination of both?
  • Do they offer executive coaching certification online?
  • How large is the class?
  • Who teaches the class?
  • What are their core values?
  • Who are their most notable graduates?

These questions will get a conversation started to help you discover whether their executive coaching program is right for you. The more you know about the institutions under consideration, the better equipped you will be to make the best decision for your coaching career.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Coach?

Costs to become a coach vary greatly. They depend on the type of certification you are seeking, where you do your training, training materials, travel expenses and more. Here is a breakdown of the certification costs:

  • ICF: $300 annual dues
  • CCE: $40 annual dues for the first five years ONLY
  • EMCC: €150 or about $175 annual dues

As you can see, the cost to retain and maintain credentials with these organizations varies, but at the most, you are looking at a few hundred dollars per year.

Training and education pose a greater up-front cost. Executive coaching programs can cost as little as $1,000 for online instruction or as much as $12,000 for classroom instruction at a reputable university. These investments can be daunting, but seriously consider the quality of the institution before committing to anything. This is ultimately an investment in yourself that should not be taken lightly.

If you want to be certified by ICF, you need to have 10 mentoring hours in addition to classroom time. The mentoring must take place over three months. Be aware that not every training program includes mentoring, and that you may need to see a mentor independent of your classroom instruction. Plan to pay your mentor by their hourly rate.

Another cost to consider is continuing education. The ICF and EMCC both require continuing education on an annual basis, and those courses aren’t free. Again, your education is of the utmost importance, so don’t skimp out on your training. The greatest investment you can make is in yourself.

How Much Does an Executive Coach Make?

There are tens of thousands of people across the world creating an excellent living for themselves and their families by coaching. Executive coach income varies from country to country, but here is a table of what you can expect to earn as a full-time coach:

Region Average Annual Income (USD)
North America $61,900
Latin America and the Caribbean $27,100
Western Europe $55,300
Eastern Europe $18,400
Middle East and Africa $35,900
Asia $37,800
Oceania $73,100


What Certification Program is Right for Me?

Hopefully, at this point, you can clearly see the need to become certified in order to become a successful executive coach. Credentialed coaches have the tools and know-how to be extremely effective. In fact, 83 percent of consumers who experienced a coaching relationship reported that it was important for coaches to hold a credential. Furthermore, 77 percent of coach practitioners agree that clients expect them to be certified or credentialed.

Having established the importance of certification, it’s time to consider which one is best for you. The ICF is essentially considered the gold standard in certification and is the only one that is recognized across the globe. Most industry insiders consider it to be the best executive coaching certification.

Interestingly, once you achieve the status of Professional Certified Coach from ICF, you are automatically awarded CCE’s certification of Board Certified Coach and EMCC’s certification of Senior Practitioner. If you plan to take your business overseas, or simply want to have the most comprehensive certification, then ICF is the way to go.

A CCE certification of Board Certified Coach is only relevant in the US. It’s a quality certification, but if you plan to make a career out of Executive Coaching, consider going for ICF’s Professional Certified Coach status so you can become a Board Certified Coach by default.

An EMCC certification, while valuable, is only relevant in Europe.

There are incredible opportunities in the world of executive coaching. This year, businesses and individuals in the US alone plan to spend more than 1 billion dollars on executive coaching services. The American Management Association conducted a recent survey which revealed that more than half of their member businesses have coaching programs in place. A third of those that don’t plan to begin coaching programs in the future.

Incredible opportunity brings great expectations. According to MetrixGlobal, executive coaching at Booz Allen Hamilton provided a return of $7.90 per dollar the firm spent on coaching. This return on investment was confirmed by a recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey that found that the mean ROI for companies investing in coaching was seven times the initial investment.

Furthermore, Fortune magazine recently reported that training alone improves leadership skills by 22 percent. When combined with executive coaching, leadership skills improve by 77 percent – 55 percent more than what leadership training can do alone!

These are the expectations you’ll be met with when you become a coach. Can you handle the pressure? Becoming an executive coach is not for the faint of heart. It is a long, arduous process of self-discipline and discovery to properly prepare yourself to become a great coach. If you can commit to the work, the payoff is well worth it.

Not only are you given an opportunity to change someone’s career, you have the power to change their life. Or, in the case of Lionel Logue, the world. Don’t you want to be a part of something that powerful and influential?

Life-changing, world-altering impacts are possible with executive coaching. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Become an executive coach and create positive change in someone’s future.


Academy for Coaching Excellence
Coaching education firm.

Aligned Action International
Coaching education firm.

Center for Credentialing and Education
Executive coaching certification organization.

Coaching education firm.

College of Executive Coaching
Coaching education firm.

Dave Schoenbeck
Leader in the executive coaching industry.

Duquesne University School of Business
Accredited college that offers executive coaching education.

Industry-leading business magazine.

European Mentoring and Coaching Council
Executive coaching certification organization.

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

Georgetown University
Accredited college that offers executive coaching education.

ICF 2016 Global Coaching Study
Analysis of executive coaching trends in 2016.

International Coaching Federation
Executive coaching certification organization.