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  • Writer's pictureThomas Watson

What to expect during executive coaching





I get asked some pretty basic questions about executive coaching by leaders at all levels. Some who inquire have known an executive who had a coach and have some familiarity. Others have no idea what coaching is or can do for them.


Often I sense a hesitancy to ask about executive coaching. Rather than take the risk that some will not ask, and miss out on the benefits of hiring a coach, I decided to provide an outline of executive coaching – and what to expect.


What is an Executive Coach?


An Executive Coach is an unbiased, objective thought partner. They focus on professional and work-related matters.

Follow-up questions and answers:

  • Is there a difference between a Coach and a Mentor or a Consultant? A: Yes. The best Coaches are skilled at getting a client to broaden their perspective and explore alternative possibilities on a wide array of topics. They will not give you the answers as a Mentor or Consultant does, although they may selectively provide advice. 

  • Why don’t Coaches just give you the answers? A: There are several reasons, but the most profound is that if you don’t come to your own conclusions, you will not be as convicted as needed. In the future, when you inevitably encounter challenges, you will not be as likely to persevere if you have not spent the time to think through / work through “your” approach or plan and become committed to executing it.


Can I Benefit from Hiring an Executive Coach?


That depends. While everyone has the potential to benefit from hiring an executive coach, you have to be “coachable.” A disciplined executive coach will gracefully decline to accept a new client that is not really ready for coaching.To determine if you are coachable ask yourself the following six questions:

  • Are you willing to be coached?

  • Do you believe that even the most accomplished executives have some area that they can improve upon, even you?

  • Are you willing to be open-minded, and consider new ways of thinking about things and operating?

  • Are you able and willing to dedicate the time and effort to coaching and do the work required outside of coaching meetings to achieve your desired goals?

  • Are you willing to hold yourself accountable for making progress?

  • Are you willing to ask others – not only your coach - for support?


If you can honestly say “yes” to all six questions, then you are coachable. You should absolutely expect to benefit from coaching.


Skilled executive coaches have helped thousands of professionals at all levels, not just executives. Consider what sports coaches have done to help star athletes excel and perform at a level that never would have been possible on their own. Executive coaches can provide that same advantage.


What Happens During an Executive Coach Meeting? And, How Long Do Clients Normally Work With a Coach?


There is a pretty standard process that certified coaches use, however, there are differences depending on the training program the coach went through. Moreover, some coaches have chosen to adopt their own approach, despite how they were trained; and other coaches were never professionally trained.


Most executive coaching meetings are scheduled for one hour. What is covered in any particular session has a lot to do with the topic(s), the communication style of both the client and coach, and the stage in the coaching process. The length of time a client engages a coach varies, but three to six months is fairly common. However, some leaders seek a coach for a single meeting, while others retain a coach perpetually, requesting time sporadically, as needed.

There are three main phases in a coaching engagement that spans three to six months (or longer) that you can expect a well-trained coach to follow.

  • What’s Up? In this initial phase the coach seeks to understand what you want to accomplish. To be helpful the coach needs to get some context, and learn who the players are … the competitors, obstacles, and limitations. Before moving into the second phase, they may test your assumptions, beliefs, and perspective, working with you to objectively diagnose the situation.

  • What Matters? In phase two the client and coach will dig in, explore the options, and co-create a plan of action. Depending on the topic, this phase can take several weeks or months.

  • What’s Next? In the last phase, phase three, you and the coach will focus on execution. The coach will likely challenge you, while providing encouragement and support.


​What Kind of Topics Can I Bring to an Executive Coach?


You can bring any kind of topic that you want to an executive coach. Some coaches specialize in certain areas and may make a referral to another coach if your topic is outside their area of expertise or comfort zone.

Below are just a few common coaching topics.

  • Evaluation of a Tough Strategic Decision and the Trade-offs


If you have a tough strategic decision to make an executive coach, who is unbiased, can be extremely helpful in working through the options and trade-offs. Determining when to add a new product line, how to allocate finite resources, or whether to make a strategic acquisition are all great topics to cover with a coach. Often founders and small business owners without a board or with limited leadership teams engage a coach to get help with strategy.


Career Advancement


Almost every senior leader I have met who hired an executive coach later in their career has expressed the same sentiment – that they should have sought out a coach earlier in their career. Seasoned executive coaches can provide pivotal advice and dramatically change the trajectory of a high potential leader’s career.


Many highly capable leaders early in their career look at the most successful executives in their company and wonder how they got into the C-suite. Hiring an accomplished executive coach can be a game-changing move. A coach can help you create a career plan, chart a course, avoid pitfalls, and provide the necessary encouragement to ascend to roles that might not otherwise have been possible.


Discovering Your Blind Spots – Before They Derail Your Career


Skilled executive coaches can recommend the most effective assessments that will provide invaluable insights into your (negative) tendencies that you might not have otherwise recognized. The fact is, being aware and mindful of blind spots can enable you to escape the fate of derailing your career.


Assessing Your Core Values and What Truly Motivates You


A coach can help ascertain what your core values are, how they may have evolved over time and whether or not they are consistent with what you do day-to-day. Realizing that you are in a job that clashes with your core values can have a monumental impact on your satisfaction and joy at work. Many people just move through life not taking the time to think about what motivates them and could be more fulfilling.


What do Executive Coaches Charge?


The fees for executive coaching vary greatly. One of the most acclaimed executive coaches is Marshall Goldsmith, his fees for an engagement are in the six-figure range. On the other end of the spectrum, it is possible to find rates as low as $100 per meeting. Like most things, you get what you pay for, so consider the credentials, background, and experience of a coach before you dive in.


Executive coaching is an investment in you. Take some time to explore the options and find the right fit just as you would do with any other meaningful investment. You should be able to find a highly qualified coach with fees that average out to between $250 - $1,000 per meeting as of this writing.


A couple of other tips: 1) most coaches offer a free initial consultation, and there is no shame in taking full advantage of the opportunity to get to know them and understand their coaching process before engaging for an extended period, and 2) many companies will pay for the cost of executive coaching, so depending on the sensitivity of your topic you may want to inquire and evaluate that possibility.

One final point, looking back X number of years from today, will you regret not having made the relatively small investment of time and money in an executive coach? Isn’t the potential to improve your professional career, your success, and your lifetime income too significant to pass up engaging an executive coach?




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