A Manager's Guide to Executive Coaching: 10 Questions and Answers

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At some point in a manager’s career, there may be an opportunity to consider hiring an executive coach. I’ve been coached, coached others, and managed executive coaching programs for a number of companies. Based on that experience, along with the advice of others, here are ten questions and answers that managers may have about executive coaching.

What Is Executive Coaching?

An executive coach is a qualified professional that works with individuals (usually executives, but often high potential employees) to help them gain self-awareness, clarify goals, achieve their development objectives, unlock their potential, and act as a sounding board.

They are not consultants or therapists (although many have consulting or therapist backgrounds) and usually refrain from giving advice or solving their client’s problems. Instead, they ask questions to help an executive clarify and solve their own problems.

What Exactly Do Executive Coaches Do?

Executive coaches provide a confidential and supportive sounding board to their clients. They ask questions, challenge assumptions, help provide clarity, provide resources, and yes, sometimes, with permission, provide advice. They often administer and help interpret 360-degree and behavioral assessments, conduct confidential interviews to help a client gain self-awareness, and establish development goals.

What Does It Take to Become an Executive Coach?

Unfortunately, (or perhaps, fortunately, if you are interested in becoming a coach), not much. Just about any retired executive, consultant, ex-HR or training practitioner, or wannabe therapist can call themselves an executive coach.

There is no formal or required certification, although many have turned to the International Coach Federation (ICF) for formal certification.

Who Hires Executive Coaches?

Years ago, companies hired executive coaches to come in and fix broken executives. Nowadays, most companies hire executive coaches as a way to invest in their top executives and high potentials.

It’s no longer a stigma to have a coach; it’s a status symbol. While executives can hire their own coaches (usually CEOs or business owners), it’s more common for companies (often HR) to recommend a coach to an executive as a part of an executive development program. The coachee could be newly promoted (transition coaching), be facing a number of challenges (usually involving people relationships), or is being groomed for larger roles. And yes, coaches are still hired to correct behavioral problems and help leaders resolve interpersonal conflicts.

When Should a Manager (Or Company) Not Hire an Executive Coach?

An executive should not hire an executive coach if:

  • They don’t believe they need coaching, are not interested in feedback, and don’t believe they need to change (or don’t want to).
  • They are looking for business advice or consulting, i.e., someone to solve their problem for them
  • Executive coaching is only a last-ditch, “Hail Mary” token attempt to fix a failing executive who is already on their way out the door
  • The executive is not at the appropriate level in the organization to justify the expense of coaching
  • The executive’s manager should be working with the executive (coaching should not be simply a way to outsource messy people issues)

    What Does a Typical Executive Coaching Process Look Like?

    While there are many variations, executive coaching usually involves a series of phases, starting with intake, assessment, goal setting, and development planning, and then progressing through the development plan, with periodic check-ins with the executive’s manager. The process is over when the development goal(s) is achieved, or when the coach and/or coachee decides that it should stop. The typical duration for a coaching engagement is seven to 12 months.

    What About Confidentiality in Executive Coaching?

    When it comes to executive coaching, “What’s said in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Conversations are completely confidential between the coach and coachee. If an organization is paying for the coaching services, they may receive periodic status updates (dates, milestones achieved), but nothing else is shared without the coachee’ s permission.

    Does Executive Coaching Have to Be in Person?

    Face-to-face is ideal, given that so much or communication is non-verbal and it helps in building rapport initially. It’s becoming more common to coach virtually over the phone (or through Skype).

    How Much Does Executive Coaching Cost?

    Coaching is a $3 billion per year industry worldwide, and, as the Harvard Business Review estimated, the median rate for an executive coach is $500 an hour. Many coaches will charge for a six or 12-month engagement, but some will work on an hourly basis.

    Where Do You Find an Executive Coach?

    There are many ways to find an executive coach. Your own company may already work with a number of trusted coaches. Executive recruitment or outplacement firms often provide coaching services or work on a referral basis with independent executive coaches.

    Word of mouth referrals from other executives can be a source – in fact, many of the most successful coaches don’t even advertise. When selecting an executive coach, chemistry is important, so it’s best to interview a few for fit.

    There are also several resources for locating an executive coach, including:

     The Center for Creative Leadership

    The International Coach Federation (ICF)

    The Coaches Training Institute (CTI), 

    Right Management,

    The Marshall Goldsmith Coaching Network.