How to become an Executive Coach

Have you ever wondered how to become an executive coach? When it comes to coaching, many coaches look longingly at the niche of Executive Coaching and wish they could find a way to break into that market.   After all, executives need coaching, are easy to locate and most of all, have the money and desire for coaching.   Executive coaching is a desirable and attractive niche but many coaches believe that they are not qualified to be an executive coach.   After all they say, the highest I ever rose in an organization is mid-level management, so the potential clients won’t relate to me.   Or they’ll say, I’ve never even worked in a big company so I don’t know anything about coaching executives.  

There are more excuses, but you get the idea.  

The first flaw in this argument is that Executive Coaching is not a niche.   Executive Coaching is a specialty and a very broad specialty at that.   It’s actually far removed from a niche.   In simple terms a niche is where the “who” you serve intersects with the “what” you help them with.  Misunderstanding the concept of Executive Coaching as a niche is the first of several mistakes that new coaches make and therefore rule out a potentially very lucrative niche.

Can you be an executive coach?  

To answer that question let’s start with the basics of why people, including executives hire a coach, or more correctly what coaching brings to a client. 

Anyone who hires a coach has certain expectations of that coach.    One major item on their list is a safe environment that will allow them to say what they are really thinking without having to filter their thoughts.   They don’t want to have to measure their words.   They want to say what they are thinking without having to use a “corporate filter”. 

An executive coach allows them to do that.

They also want honest feedback.   Too often they find themselves surrounded by people who can’t or won’t tell them the truth.   Their latest idea may have some major flaws in it but those around them won’t point out the truth.   They need someone who will speak their mind and ask questions and challenge their ideas.

An executive coach will do that for them.

Sometimes they want the opportunity to think through their ideas out loud.   To talk about an idea of situation freely without worrying about the end result because they know that verbally processing their thoughts can lead to new thoughts, new ideas and help uncover holes in their thinking.  And they don’t want to be judged while doing it.  They want a sounding board to hear and reflect their thoughts so they can hear them themselves.

An executive coach won’t judge them.

And sometimes a client wants to talk through a technical or complex business issue.   This is one area where the client may want to tap into a coach’s background and expertise.   But this is not the most common reason for executive coaching.   When executives need to work through complex business issues they tend to hire a consultant with expertise in this area. 

There are more reasons of course, but you get the idea.  

There are a lot of reasons why an executive might hire a coach and many of them have absolutely nothing to do with the coach’s business acumen.  

When people wonder about how to become an executive coach, they often think that you must have an in-depth knowledge of business, understand profit and loss statements, corporate strategy or mission and vision statements.   The concepts of sales strategies, market penetration, and complex Human Resource issues need to be second nature to you.   They assume that executives and executive coaching are only focused around complex business issues that can only be solved by a coach who has been there themselves. Coaching can help address many of the challenges an organizations faces, but it not because the executive coach has an abundance of expertise or knowledge to share.

Reality is quite different than this.   There are any number of reasons why an executive might hire a coach and many of those reasons have nothing to do with executive or business experience at all.  Contrary to popular belief, executives are people too and have all the same problems that everyone else has.   Sometimes they spend too much time at work, sacrificing their personal lives in the process.   Or they have grown tired of the constant travel and pressure of their executive position and want something with less stress.   Maybe they are looking to change their lifestyle and do something entirely different.  Or maybe they are simply trying to figure out what is next for them in life.

Executive coaching will grow in the future. Taking the Executive Coaching specialty, you can break it down into even more specialties before you even get to a formal niche. 

Common specialties in the Executive Coaching space:

New Leader Coaching:    This specialty is designed for those not yet in high level leadership positions in their organization.   It tends to mix coaching with consulting and training to prepare people for future leadership roles.   It is sometimes paid for by the organization, often as part of a training grounds for future leaders, but is sometimes paid for by the individuals themselves who want to get a leg up on their competition.   This type of coaching and training is often done by coaches with a leadership or training background themselves.  But most of these coaches were not high level executives but trainers or mid-level managers in their pre-coaching lives,

Life Balance Coaching:   It’s not surprising that executives have a problem balancing their work with their personal lives.  In order to get ahead at work many executives begin sacrificing their personal lives when they reach middle management.   They put in a lot of hours, sacrifice their health, their family and in many cases their futures.  The smart ones figure this out before their divorce, before their health issues, and before their children are grown.   This coaching provides focus on the client’s real priorities and helps them set healthy boundaries.   No prior executive or management experience is required.   

Behavioral Coaching/Emotional Intelligence:   One common thread in the executive suite is the highly intelligent executive who is able to see and solve complex issues.   They may even have tremendous forward vision into the business that has served them well in the past.  But these executives may not play well with others.   The phrase that is sometimes used is “Too much college and not enough kindergarten”.   Helping executives identify their blind spots and build action plans to overcome behavioral issues does not involve business expertise.   It’s about human beings and being able to build bridges. 

Retirement Coaching:   Some executives are workaholics and will work until they are kicked out the door.  Others have a desire to move on and enjoy the fruits of their labor.   But what’s next?   How do they go from being an executive where every utterance may result in 1000 people moving into action to a retiree with no real authority or responsibility?   How do they go from their highly structured life to an unstructured one?   What are they going to do with their time?   What is their purpose?    These are all questions that executives need to find answers to and they don’t involve any prior business experience.

Nutritional Coaching:    Executives often work long hours and find themselves on the road eating in restaurants or ordering room service.   This leads to unhealthy eating habits, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and more.   How can they put together some type of nutritional plan that won’t make them feel like they are limiting every choice they make but still allow them to eat healthy?   And how will they handle the guilt when the inevitable slips happen.  

These are just a few examples or possibilities.   As you can see, there are lots of things that executives want and need that have nothing to do with business knowledge or executive experience.  

Before you rule out executives as part of your target market, think about your special skills and talents and how you can really help them become more complete and more effective as an executive. If you are serious about learning how to become an executive coach, consider taking a Coach Training Program to develop your ability to help clients move towards the future they see for themselves.

About the author:  DAVID R. MEYER, is a CTA Certified Coach (CTACC), Mentor Coach, and Certified Behavioral Consultant.  As a coach Dave has many tools at his disposal.   He is a Wiley authorized partner in the use of DISC and has been certified in Social and Emotional Intelligence through the Institute for Social and Emotional Intelligence (ISEI).  Dave is a full time coach, trainer, and speaker who specializes in leaders and leadership teams.  His mantra is “Great Teams Are Built On The Foundation Of Great Leadership. Great Leadership Is Built On The Foundation Of Great Trust.”  He is the author of the Amazon best seller “The Engaged Manager” and also co-authored the DiSC Coaching Catalyst for training coaches in the use of DiSC with their clients.  Dave has also had numerous articles appearing in publications across the US.    Dave is a graduate of the CTA Certified Coach program in 2002and has been coaching ever since. He is very active in his local community giving back through his church and through his affiliation with Kiwanis International.