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Why people use executive coaching and how it can improve your work life

February 14, 2022 - 16 min read


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What is executive coaching?

What coaching is not

Types of Coaching

7 aspects of executive coaching

Benefits of executive coaching

Who should hire an executive coach?

Understanding the executive coaching process

Things to look for in an executive coach

The bottom line

The term executive coaching sounds exclusive. Traditionally, it was. But these days executive coaching doesn't have to be reserved for employees of a certain career or industry. 

Executive coaching aims to generate personal awareness and encourage action to help others learn and grow.


What is executive coaching?

In general, coaching refers to the relationship between a client and a professional coach, counselor, mentor, or consultant. The goal is to inspire and support participants to reach their potential — and keep reaching further. So what is an executive coach, and what does an executive coach do? 

Executive coaching shares most, if not all, of those characteristics. What makes it unique is that it aims at the leadership skills and executive functioning of motivated, achievement-oriented professionals. Executive coaching is mainly action-based, and it seeks to cultivate more intelligent, aware, and ambitious employees. 

Coaching is a practice tailored to an individual and their unique skillset and circumstances. The quality of the connection between a coach and client (or Member, as we call our BetterUp participants) is vital. Coaches work with groups or individuals, offering a different perspective and serving as a sounding board and mirror for reflection.

Coaches help people see themselves more clearly — and compassionately. Coaches help them learn how to work with their strengths and weaknesses. Plus, coaches can assist people in identifying and generating a development plan to achieve their goals.  

BetterUp was created to support human transformation at scale. We’re built on the values of mental fitness, professional growth, and social connection. Change is hard, but the benefits of unlocking your potential are worth it if you put in the effort.

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What coaching is not

Remember that executive and leadership coaching isn’t the same as mentoring or counseling. 

Mentoring cultivates personal progress through increasing self-confidence, broadening exposure, and building relationships. It helps you recognize your talents and boosts your performance at work by increasing your mental fitness and growth mindset


As an example, a work mentor might be someone you shadow at the office. This seasoned professional then teaches you about your position in the corporate world and the potential career paths available to you. 

Counseling is problem-specific, emotions-based, and based on therapeutic practices. A counselor will spend time looking at your past to explain your current behaviors. 

Coaching services and counseling involve similar introspection and self-awareness. But coaching is really about looking toward the future, setting goals, and growing beyond your current state.

Types of Coaching

Different coaching approaches can focus on aspects of an individual, team, or business. For instance, a coach may help a person establish leadership skills. Or, a coach can work with a group to strengthen public speaking skills. Some coaches, including the professional coaches of BetterUp, are skilled at practicing across a range of specialties.

Here are some common forms of coaching: 

Career Coaching

A career coach provides insight into your professional development and advises on how to reach your career goals. They can also aid in your job search and help you transition into new roles or jobs.

Life Coaching

Life coaches can focus on your career, health, fitness, finances, or interpersonal relationships. A life coach can also help with growth and motivation. Sometimes we lose our way and have trouble finding the purpose of the work we do. Seeking help from someone removed from the situation can reveal blind spots in any area of our life we need.

Organization or business coaching

These coaches provide support and guidance to business owners. They help them create goals, as well as plans to achieve them. Business coaching, for instance, can help to increase the organization's performance as a whole.

Performance Coaching

Performance coaches aim to help individuals perform more efficiently at work.

Executive team coaching

Executive team coaches will train leaders on how to run their teams and teams on how to be better employees. This regimen involves a blend of coaching, teaching, facilitation, mediation, and positive psychology. If each team member undergoes coaching, the entire team can see improvements in their performance, communication, and collaboration.

Executive leadership coaching

This type of coaching is about leadership development. It’s focused on training the business leaders of the future so they can take their careers to the next level.

7 aspects of executive coaching

The main aspects of executive coaching and its benefits are:

  1. Gathering and giving feedback
  2. Identifying development opportunities
  3. Building awareness
  4. Asking deeper questions to find solutions
  5. Facilitating further learning
  6. Providing long-term support and encouragement 
  7. Monitoring progress and ensuring accountability

Benefits of executive coaching

If you’re on the fence about executive coaching, we understand. But here are some of the benefits you can expect from your coaching:


1. Achieve your goals faster

The best goals have concrete deadlines, and your coach will hold you to them. Once they get to know you, your dreams, and your aspirations, they’ll help you set achievable milestones you can start on right away.

2. Stay accountable

A coaching executive will assign you tasks and expect you to achieve them within a certain timeframe. You’ll want to think twice about procrastinating because they'll ask you about your progress at the next session.

3. Gain a new perspective

Coaches can suggest options you hadn’t considered before. You’ll learn to look at situations differently than before, use your skills in new ways, and let go of limiting beliefs.

Who should hire an executive coach?

Whether you’re the company vice-president or the mailroom manager, anyone with high potential and eagerness to improve may consider joining an executive coaching program. Ambition is necessary to work goals, but it isn't the key to growth at work or in your personal life.


If you don’t know where to direct your energy, success is harder to achieve. You must first understand yourself, your motivations, and where you really want to go. That’s where a professional coach can be helpful. 

In the past, executive coaching focused on remediation and mitigation. An executive coach often came in to help fix a bad situation or help a struggling new leader. It focused on the very top of the corporate ladder to remove unhealthy behavior and engagement or accelerate already high performance. 

Today, anyone looking to improve their capabilities and become a great leader can hire a coach.

Understanding the executive coaching process

Executing a coaching program can take six months or more. It can vary depending on the circumstances. The longer you work with a coach, the more time you’ll have to hone your skills and see change

In the beginning, a coach will try to understand you as a client. They’ll look for information about your work environment, history, and motivations. This first stage is all about building intimacy and trust between both parties. 

Executive coaches often use a scoring system to evaluate your progress quantitatively. They are looking for evidence of behavior change as well as outcomes. Coaches ask you questions and may get feedback from your colleagues. This helps them understand your capabilities and determine what strategies will be effective. 

Throughout this journey, coaches will periodically debrief. They might tell you what they see and help you reflect on what you see and feel. This determines what goes on in subsequent coaching sessions. 

Once the coaching process nears its end, clients and their colleagues participate in a final interview to compare the beginning of the journey to the results.

To summarize, here are the key steps involved in corporate coaching.

1. Establish a relationship

The goal of your first session is to get to know you a bit better. Your coach will try to:

  • Figure out your chemistry. Do you both get along? Will it be easy to build trust and rapport?
  • Discuss your goals. What do you hope to accomplish with your coaching?
  • Establish confidentiality and working agreements. Your consent is important, so your coach will spend time reviewing the details with you.
  • 360 assessment. They’ll ask you questions about your current work and personal life. This will help them understand where you’re coming from, so you can plan the next steps. You might do this before your first session so you can discuss your results while getting to know each other.

2. Coaching sessions

You’ll spend the bulk of your time with your coach in this category. You’ll have regular sessions every two to three weeks, adding up to between six and twelve total sessions (on average). 

During each meeting, you will:

  • Check-in on how you’re progressing
  • Follow-up on any assignments your coach gave you
  • Set goals for the current session
  • Receive coaching and advice

3. Between sessions

When you’re not with your coach, you should be putting what you learned into action. Your coach will hold you accountable at your next week. Make sure you:

  • Try new ways of doing things
  • Pay attention to the results
  • Keep track of your actions, reflections, and any outcomes
  • Stay focused on your goals

4. Between sessions

As your coaching engagement comes to an end, you’ll have plenty to celebrate. Here’s what to expect from your last session:

  • Assessing how far you’ve come
  • Celebrating your achievements
  • Creating a plan for your post-coach life

Things to look for in an executive coach

Not all coaches are created equal. Some don’t have a coaching certification, clear development program, or history of strong results. For the best executive coaching experience, you’re allowed to do some research.


Leadership and corporate experience

You don’t have to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company to guide others. Understanding leadership skills and the ins and outs of an industry can be a huge asset.

Remember that a coach’s primary role is to help you develop the skills and awareness to find the answers for yourself. However, sometimes a coach can suggest more relevant advice and realistic solutions is easier if they have experience in your field.

Proper credentials

An executive coaching career doesn’t require professional certification, but it helps. According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), there are three levels of certificate programs:

  1. Associate certified coach (ACC), where individuals must complete over 100 hours of paid coaching experience 
  2. Professional certified coach (PCC) with over 500 hours of experience 
  3. Master certified coach (MCC) with over 2,500 hours of completed experience

Don’t be afraid to research a coach and ask questions before hiring them. Anyone can call themselves a coach, but that doesn’t mean they have a credible track record.

The bottom line

Coaching isn't just beneficial for higher-ups and managers, but for anyone looking to grow and develop their skill set. 

Let BetterUp pair you with a coach to learn how to be your best self. Our coaching program is aimed at helping you get to know yourself better. Our coaches will help fuel your transformation, enabling you to think, feel, and perform your best.

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Published February 14, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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