written by Angie Morgan & Courtney Lynch

Executive Leadership Coaching: What Is It? 

Executive leadership coaching is a professional development experience where a senior leader pairs with an external coach. The coach’s job is to learn about their client’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for development. The coaching environment is a safe space for an executive to think out loud and strategize solutions for their real-world challenges.

Executive coaching services are conducted in a one-on-one format. Many coaches offer their services virtually, not just in-person engagements. Coaching conversations are confidential, which allows executives to share their thoughts freely with a sounding board they can trust.

Most executive leadership coaching programs last at least six months. The average coaching session runs an hour and occurs on either a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Many executive coaching programs also offer job shadowing opportunities. This is when the coach gets to observe the executive in real-time to see how they engage their team members and see their leadership style in action.

The executive coach provides feedback to their client throughout the duration of their coaching engagement. They offer behavior-based suggestions designed to assist the executive in strengthening their management and leadership skills. Some of these skills include strategic thinking, negotiations, and leading change.  

Executive Leadership Coaching: The Process 

Coaching isn’t often available to every executive in an organization. Executive coaching candidates are senior leaders who are:

  • Preparing for succession opportunities
  • In need of developing specific skills to be more effective in their role
  • Getting ready to lead a large-scale project and could benefit from support
  • High potential employees who would gain value from professional development

Once an employee gets identified for executive leadership coaching, they are either tasked to find a coach or their HR team recommends a few coaches to interview. An executive should always look for a good fit with a coach. A good fit is where the executive feels they can trust their coach and believes they have the insight and experience to guide them. 

An executive and coach launch their relationship with several introductory calls. These conversations allow the executive and their coach to get to know one another and develop clear expectations for the program.

Successful coaching relationships are goal-driven to ensure positive coaching outcomes. A good coach will ensure that the goals are revisited repeatedly throughout the coaching relationship. Goals can include:

  • Expanded self-awareness
  • Enhanced communication, to include presentation skills
  • Better time and energy management practices
  • Coaching and developing employees
  • Innovating and strategic thinking skills
  • Support in project management
  • Preparing for greater organizational responsibilities

Many executives experience a variety of assessments during their coaching program, to include 360-degree assessments. A 360 assessment allows the executive’s boss, peers, direct reports, and other stakeholders to weigh in on their performance. The executive is also invited to rate themselves. The stakeholder input, combined with the executive’s, provides insight into where they can direct their development.

Coaching programs aren’t designed to be “easy” for executives. They’re designed to be challenging, but for a good reason. A good coach encourages, but also brings candor into the conversations. Healthy confrontation is a catalyst for the executive’s growth and development.

Many executives worry about the time commitment when considering coaching. Effective coaches challenge their executives with action-based learning activities while at work, making leadership development both efficient and part of an executive’s daily routine.  

Executive Leadership Coaching: Return on Investment 

Executive leadership coaching programs can range from $7500 – $100,000 (and beyond). While this might seem like a large training and development investment, most HR and business leaders recognize that there’s a significant return on their investment.

Successful leadership coaches have experience delivering ROI for their clients. They recognize that when they partner with executives, there’s an expectation for results.

Here are examples of what ROI can look like:

  • Talent Retention. As a result of the coaching engagement, the executive continues to stay and contribute to the business that’s invested in their development.
  • New Innovations. During brainstorming sessions with their coach, the executive identifies a new product or service that launches a new line of business for the organization.
  • Engaged Culture. The executive learns leadership fundamentals that enable them to build their team, enhance engagement, and retain their talent.
  • Developed Bench. One effective leader has the power to inspire greater leadership across an organization. An executive, through their coaching of others, can play a hand in strengthening the skills of their team.
  • Improved Organizational Effectiveness. Many executives benefit from having a thought partner to explore new and/or better ways of performing their work. While these sessions might not result in new innovations, they can result in new efficiencies or enhanced processes.

Executives who are motivated to develop are ready to be coached. Organizations do themselves a great service by investing in leadership development to ensure they gain the advantage executive coaching brings.  

When it comes to coaching senior leaders, do they need executive or leadership coaching?

Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch are Lead Star’s founders, experienced leadership coaches, and bestselling authors of SPARK, Leading from the Front, and Bet on You. They help professionals reach new levels of success through their innovative coaching program, Year to Rise.