What is Executive Coaching?

By Contributing Writer, Rennie R. Cook, M.Ed., 
Owner/President, The Triumph Team, LLC

I have recently become a huge fan of the NBA. Honestly, I took a sabbatical from the league when my childhood hero, Michael Jordan, retired. But with the arrival of the Thunder to my hometown OKC and league all-star Kevin Durant, my love for the league has been resurrected. However, now I am no longer just enamored by the amazing talent of the superstars on the court, but also by the competent coaches on the sidelines that bring the best out of these world-class athletes. I find it interesting that no one is surprised, and in fact it is assumed, that a great coach is usually behind the scenes supporting and developing these great athletes. However, would you be surprised to know that world-class CEO Jack Welch worked with a coach for much of his time at GE?

The Harvard Business Review  recently reported the findings of a Stanford University/Miles Group survey that showed an overwhelming majority of CEOs are increasingly receptive to the input and suggestions of an executive coach. This report supports the trend we are seeing across markets that coaching is no longer seen as only a rehabilitative intervention, but also as a proactive step by high capacity performers seeking to take their performance to the next level. 

While coaching is becoming more popular with high capacity leaders there still is confusion about what differentiates the field of coaching from training, consulting, mentoring or even therapy. To differentiate coaching we need to begin with a sound definition and understanding of coaching. 

  • Hargrove (1995) has defined coaching as “challenging and supporting people in achieving higher levels of performance while allowing them to bring out the best in themselves and those around them.” 
  • Whitmore (2011) stated “coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.”  
  • The International Coach Federation, a leading certification program in the profession, has defined coaching as “an interactive process to help individuals and organizations develop more rapidly and produce more satisfying results; improve others’ ability to set goals, take action, make better decisions, and make full use of their natural strengths.” 

Common elements of the definitions above include:

  1. Coaching is an interactive process between the coach and coachee(s) and assumes the coachee is the expert on their own performance. 
  2. The goal is improved coachee(s) and/or organizational performance.
  3. Ideal performance is defined as the maximum potential of the coachee and/or organization. 

So how do other related fields differ from coaching (Bianco-Mathis, Nabors, and Roman, 2002)? 

  • Consulting focuses on a specific problem and the expertise is assumed to lie with the consultant.
  • Training is a short-term intervention used to typically develop pre-determined knowledge, skill, and abilities and is driven predominately by the trainer.
  • Mentoring typically focuses on personal development in congruence with organizational goals and career development
  • Therapy is reflective in nature with the purpose of bringing understanding to problems from the past, diagnosing pathologies and ultimately providing healing. 

Paul Martinelli, president of The John Maxwell Team, is well-known for stating that “being stuck stinks!” If you feel that your performance is “stuck,” maybe the outside perspective of a coach will help take your performance to the next level.   

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