The Ultimate Guide to Executive Coaching

What You Need To Know To Become a World-Class Executive Coach Even if You're Just Starting

Did you know Steve Jobs was fired from his own company, Apple, before making a stunning comeback with the iPhone, which revolutionized mobile technology?

Most successful people have had to overcome shattering failures at some point in their journey to achieve their big breakthrough.

They are not overnight successes. They've worked long and hard for many years to reach that point.

And here's the secret ingredient for their success a lot of people don't talk about...

High performers don't get to where they want to go alone.

They don't build determination, persistence, willpower, focus, discipline, and all the other success traits they need to get ahead and stay ahead, all alone and in total isolation.

Most of them know they need help and are not afraid to ask for it.

Some turn to family, friends, or mentors, but many turn to professional coaches.

This is excellent news, especially if you happen to be an aspiring (or experienced) coach looking to lead leaders, coach winners, and support the world's best so they can get even better...

And the truth is, no matter who you are and where you're at in your journey as a coach, you already have what it takes to become a world-class executive coach...

A deep, burning desire to become the best of the best in the executive coaching space.

So let’s jump right in!

What is Executive Coaching?

Executive coaching is the niche that specializes in coaching executives, high-level managers, and high-potential employees to increase their performance. It focuses on reaching their personal goals and potential to create better business outcomes for the organization.

It dramatically improves management performance and puts individuals on the fast track to making the most of their careers. Coaching is the most rapid and effective form of leadership development because it focuses entirely on an individual's goals, strengths, and overcoming obstacles.

Executive coaching can benefit leaders in many ways, including:

  • Improved stress and conflict management
  • Improved work-life balance
  • Successful role transitions
  • Increased self-confidence, confidence, and joy

For organizations, providing executive coaching to their management teams should lead to improved performance through:

  • Increased motivation and engagement of company executives and their teams
  • Unleashed more creativity, empowerment, and ownership within the organization
  • Higher employee engagement and key person retention
  • Supporting teams and individuals
  • Increased efficiency for more agile and collaborative teams
  • Supporting effective implementation of organizational change

Regardless of the industry they work in, from board members to team leaders, all leaders can benefit from having an executive coach. Executive coaching is tailored to your individual needs and goals in the workplace. It is often used to maximize personal impact and performance. 

Executive coaching is beneficial when leaders face new or challenging situations for themselves, their team, or their organization.

Executive coaching can benefit any working professional who is:

  • Preparing for role/career change
  • Dealing with stress, change, conflict, or crisis
  • Helping fill another role
  • Noted as a high-potential asset
  • A key individual who boosts the growth and development of the company, and must be retained

Often used to accelerate the development of potential leaders, it is especially useful during times of change and transition. Coaching can help bring about change. In addition to promoting, changing jobs, or launching new strategies, executive coaching can help leaders navigate transitions and successfully manage change.

Executive Coaching vs. Leadership Coaching: Key Similarities & Differences

Although executive coaches and leadership coaches serve similar roles in the business world, there are subtle differences between these two coaching careers. Understanding those differences is important when deciding which coaching niche suits your skills.

So, what's the difference between the two? Here, we take a closer look at executive and leadership coaching and their differences.

What is Executive Coaching?

Executive coaches help executives improve their performance and the organization as a whole. Serving clients as neutral interlocutors, executive coaches listen to executives as they work on decisions or seek personal improvement, making them more aware of how to achieve goals.

Executive coaches often work alongside C-Suite Executives and Vice-Presidents to help them make decisions in the fast-paced world of business. Executive coaches also help these executives learn how to work better with their employees, mentor, and leaders. It's all about managing relationships within upper management.

Executive coaches are often externally brought into the organization. That is, you work on a freelance or independent basis and are not directly employed by an organization. This allows the coach to support the manager in a completely impartial manner as the coach has no personal interest in the organization's success. Instead, coaches focus on the client's success, both personally and professionally, providing a critical, neutral, third-party perspective.

What is Leadership Coaching?

Leadership coaching has the same focus as executive coaching and is often considered a subset of executive coaching. The leadership coach's goal is to help clients recognize how to become more inspiring and influential leaders with strong communication skills. In a leadership coaching process, clients learn how to improve teamwork and communication with employees.

In leadership coaching, the client is typically a manager or team leader. They can also be a C-Suite executive. If the person leads a team or department or is looking to become a leader, they may benefit from the services of a leadership coach.

Leadership coaches are usually employed by an organization or company. They may be senior mentors in the organization, or they may be hired specifically to serve as coaches on the management team. They build trust with management and encourage them to do their best to lead their teams.

Key Similarities and Differences

Remember, leadership coaching and executive coaching have important similarities. Both are aimed at developing leadership skills, but the result for the client depends on the type of coaching required.

For a leader who wants to focus on their leadership skills, improve their EQ and empower themselves with one of the greatest benefits they bring to an organization (leadership), leadership coaching may be the right choice.

Executive coaching, on the other hand, includes many strategic skills that are better suited to high-level executives and leaders within an organization. The skills developed, including leadership training, can help clients become more versatile leaders and managers in their business environments.

Executive Coaching Principles

There are five key principles and traits every world-class executive coach nurtures and follows.

In this chapter, we'll look at how you can practice fearless, authentic coaching with successful and sometimes far more successful clients than you.

Once you put these five principles into practice, you’ll understand that no matter who you are and where you're at in your coaching journey, you already have what it takes to become a world-class executive coach.

Principle #1: Get Uncomfortable

You can only take your client as far as you're willing to go.

Most coaches are familiar with this phrase because it's been shared again and again at in-person events, on stages around the world, and on social media.

The reason why it's so popular is simple... It's 100% true!

Coaches who are willing to go "there" and explore hidden places that are inside each of us -- negative thoughts, anxieties, fears, limiting beliefs, and all of the stuff that stops us from becoming our best selves - have what it takes to create life-changing results for their clients.

When you turn away from looking at the emotional, mental, and spiritual blocks within yourself, you'll have a hard time recognizing those blocks in your clients, and you'll probably end up wasting your clients' time and your own.

The truth is your own deep, courageous inner work as a coach is one of the fastest paths to becoming an incredible coach because we cannot take our clients to places we've never been.

Deep inner work is even more critical when it comes to executive coaching.

Here's the thing...

This is a critical foundational principle that you must practice as you begin your journey to executive coaching, and it's at the top of the list in this Ultimate Guide because none of the other principles can work if you don't get serious about this one.

Principle #2: Become Fearless

Top-level entrepreneurs and experts don't get to where they are by playing it safe.

They are risk-takers.

In a world where most people look for approval and validation before making a single decision (including what they want to have for dinner) ...

In a world where most people allow their fear, doubt, and anxiety to override their passion and purpose...

The most successful leaders and executives charge toward their goals no matter how they feel, and they don't let anything get in the way of hitting their mark.

They are willing to push the ticket, take action, and do innovative, creative and unusual things to achieve their goals.

They don't focus on what others think or say about them. They're even willing to be seen as "crazy" as long as they get to follow their dreams, their path, and their passion...

Now, let’s make it clear that they're human and struggle with these emotions just like everyone else. But most of the time, they have what it takes to motivate themselves to move forward and get things done no matter how they feel.

As a powerful executive coach, your job is to match and surpass your client's ability to be bold and brave in the face of fear.

Fearless executive coaching can happen when you can guide your clients to see the world in different ways so they can leverage their courage and their sense of purpose and passion to get to a place of deep clarity.

Becoming a fearless coach is about showing them how to see their life and their work through different lenses. So they can step outside their routines, processes, and viewpoints to try something new - even if they helped them achieve their goals in the past.

Exponential creativity gets triggered when your clients see the world through different lenses and this is a key ingredient to help them skyrocket past their current level of success and soar even higher.

Powerful, transformational executive coaching is about overcoming your personal fears of creating uneasiness in your client.

It's about getting over feeling intimidated by your client's success and achievements and getting over the fear of "not being liked."

This is so you can ask difficult questions and hold space for awkward - even painful - conversations as volatile emotions and reactions arise during sessions.

When you do this, your client will start seeing what they must see about themselves - their hidden emotional and mental blocks - around their work, life, and relationships.

Becoming fearless and getting over the need to be praised, validated or liked is one of the quickest, most effective ways to become an in-demand, world-class executive coach.

Principle #3: Tune into Emotions & Energy

When it comes to world-class executive coaching, Principle #3 is where the rubber meets the road.

Top executive coaches understand that far more often than not, what a client says in a session is not as important as what a client does not say.

While executives and high performers are open to asking for and receiving help, they are often afraid or anxious about being vulnerable.

This is why, as their coach, you need to get into that space of 100% focused attention with your whole self -- you need to learn to focus conscious awareness and attention on your client with your heart, mind, and soul.

This will allow you to connect with your client's energy, which is about how they feel, and tune into their hidden emotions and energy.

When you master this coaching skill, you'll astound your clients with your ability to understand them on a deep level and they'll feel seen, heard, and understood.

You're giving yourself room to absorb and process what your client is saying, feeling and thinking, and you're allowing your client to do the same for themselves.

This synergistic pattern is incredibly powerful in giving your client permission to be themselves without feeling judged and to feel safe enough to be vulnerable with you, their coach.

As every coach knows, these are the elements that lead to exponential success for clients and for coaches.


Here are some practices you can try for tuning into your client's emotions and energy.

Practice watching their body language, focus on the expression on their faces and how they hold themselves. Are their shoulders hunched, do they look anxious, are they frowning while sharing good news? Reflect on these little clues and start to practice getting a feel for their hidden emotion and overall energy.

Whatever happens, don't feel like you have to fill in pauses in the conversation by saying something "useful" or "smart." Learn to get comfortable with silent stretches during a coaching session. Often a client will feel naturally inspired and motivated to dig deeper and go further into their own heart and mind when you hold quiet space for them to do so.

Make sure you check your biases and judgments at the door. There is no room for your personal opinions and beliefs during a coaching session. This is your client's time to express themselves and to be heard, seen and understood in their raw, vulnerable state. Judgments will cloud this sacred space and create instant - and possibly lasting -- distrust between you and your client and it's a total deal breaker.

Principle #4: Encourage the Moonshot

If you're interested in figuring out how to coach executives, you must understand that what differentiates them from any other coaching client is their ambition.

Most people are looking to live better lives and become better versions of themselves, but top-level executives and high performers are wired to go for more...

Much, much more.

CEOs, top athletes, and world-class performers are looking to live a wildly successful, abundant life and to leave a legacy that imprints on the history of the world.

In line with this, executive leadership coaching -- at the highest level -- must open up the path for clients to go for bigger and bigger goals...

"Moonshot" goals and innovations are not a new concept. If you look closely, you'll see them pop up throughout history.

We're talking about things like "defying gravity so humankind can take to the skies in a flying machine" or "putting a man on the moon" or "replacing horses with motorized vehicles known as cars" or more recently...

The personal computer, the iPhone, and the internet.

The truth is, moonshot goals bring out the best traits, skills, creativity, and productivity in the best of the best. They are game-changing stretch goals that have the potential and the capacity of shifting the trajectory of the entire human race.

But here's the thing about the top performers you need to be aware of...

They have the potential to change the world, and they know they can do it, but they want to achieve all of it... yesterday. So, they set ridiculous timelines for themselves and push way too hard. This often leads to major issues like health problems and burnout.

Which is why your role as their executive coach is so crucial. You must guide them to achieve their ambitious goals while enjoying the process - without burnout, overwhelm, or putting their well-being at risk.

Going for moonshot goals is hard work, and it's easy for high performers to lose themselves in their pursuit of exponential results and excellence.

Your role as an executive coach is to support them so they can see that it's not just about the destination; it's also about the journey.

And it's about who they are becoming as they go for those massive moonshot goals.


Question #1: What is a big change you want to see in the world? If you could wave a magic wand and get something changed, what would you like to change?

Question #2: How would you like to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be?

Question #3: What is one radical transformation you're willing to make in your personal life to achieve a moonshot goal?

Question #4: What is the cost of achieving this goal?

Question #5: What is the cost of not achieving this goal?

Question #6: How do you plan to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically during your journey?

Principle #5: Lead Don't Follow

Extraordinary CEOs, executives and entrepreneurs are leaders by nature.

They're accustomed to having just about everyone in their life follow their lead.

However, when we talk about how to coach executives, we're not talking about following, we're talking about leading your client to connect with who they truly are...

Even as they continue to improve on all aspects of their inner and outer world.

As they aim to achieve outstanding results and outrageous success...

As they manage hundreds, sometimes thousands, of employees and followers...

And as they step into the spotlight to perform at their best as millions of fans watch their every move...

You need to lead them toward their authentic self and their values and this means having the courage, to tell the truth even if it hurts or causes discomfort at the moment.

Here's the thing...

Some of these truths can be hard to hear, but it's important that you, as their coach, have the courage and rapport to say what your clients need to hear instead of what you want to hear if you want to coach high performers successfully. 

Here's an example…

There was a high-power CEO who believed everyone in his upper management team was not assertive enough at meetings, and were not always open to sharing their opinions and engaging with the topics at issue.

It turned out that wasn't the case at all!

The real reason people didn't speak up at meetings was because the CEO often interrupted them or challenged their thoughts and opinions.

This stirred up feelings of frustration and even fear as managers and other high-level executives felt like they were not being heard or that their ideas were not good enough.

In situations like this, a great executive coach who isn't afraid to share the truth is worth more than their weight in gold!

Often, your client will have no one telling them the truth in their world so you need to step up as the truth-teller so they can get to where they want to go in their life and work.

The question is, are you willing to step up, be your most authentic self, and help your high-performing clients unlock their highest potential?


Try these 5 powerful questions with your coaching clients to start tapping into this new phase of fearless coaching and creating deep, exponential results.

Question #1: What do you not want me to ask you?

Question #2: What do you not want people to know about you?

Question #3: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Question #4: What are you doing to procrastinate or pull away from your goal?

Question #5: What are some comments or feedback you've heard about yourself that you don't like?

How To Coach Executives

Today, there is often a large gap between what we expect from our leaders and what is available to develop the attributes and skills needed to meet their expectations. Executive coaching aims to fill this gap. 

While most organizations rely on custom training and development assignments as the foundation of their leadership development approach, executive coaching can be far more effective.

But how do you develop a good coaching methodology as an executive coach?

Executive coaching consists of four basic phases in the coach-client working relationship.

Phase 1: Awareness

The 'Awareness' phase of the executive coaching intervention begins with a meeting with the coach and the executive. At this stage, the coach participates in discussions to understand the client's background, goals, and expected results, and to ensure that the client team is committed to the coaching process.

In addition, the Executive Coach will conduct one-on-one meetings with the person being coached. The goal here is to summarize and deepen the information from the first group meeting and clarify expectations if necessary. Another is to make sure that leaders are fully committed to the coaching process. 

As executive coaches, we must conduct an extensive interview that delves into the executive client's life, career, strengths, weaknesses, and motivations.

Phase 2: Analysis

The second phase of the executive coaching intervention is about analysis. The client assesses all the factors that affect their daily work and decision-making capabilities. A meeting is then held between the coach and the client to set expectations, discuss target competencies for success, and understand the different factors that are at play in the workplace. Then, the individual development plan will be finalized in a conference call between the coach and the client, and the client's HR manager.

One of the first objectives developed is to review assessment data about the client from the organization to identify the client's strengths (including strengths of which they are unaware) and development needs. The client's HR manager will provide this data.

From this, you can develop action plans, schedule coaching calls, review progress, and bring issues and concerns to the table.

Phase 3: Actions

In this phase, the client focuses on the specific changes required to achieve their individual development plans.

This can include:

  • Testing new behaviors
  • Testing new skills
  • Strengthening key relationships within the organization
  • Participating in training programs, if/when needed

At this stage, the client and coach meet regularly, either in person or by other means, to focus on development plans and discuss successes and problems in specific situations...

Phase 4: Performance

The final phase of the executive coaching intervention is the performance phase. At this point, a survey is sent to stakeholders within the organization to provide feedback on client improvement and progress. The results of these studies are discussed with the client, and course modifications are documented where necessary.

When the time comes for the client and stakeholders to agree that the leadership coaching process is meeting expectations, the coach begins a phase-down coaching period, where they scale back their role in their client's decision-making process.

Finally, a formal follow-up session can be held several weeks after the last coaching session to receive feedback, recognize achievements, and provide a final report on the results of the coaching process.

Successful executive coaching is a defined process within which each coach and client can tailor procedures and activities for maximum effectiveness. It requires commitment from the client, coach, and stakeholders in the client's organization.

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