Is Executive Coaching Different From Life Coaching?

Ram Ramanathan  •  Apr 23, 2018  •  4 min read

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Is Executive Coaching Different From Life Coaching?

All coaching becomes life coaching after the first session.

Coaching Cliche

Many people thinking about our coach training program as well as many coaching clients ask me the same question – How is executive coaching different from life coaching? Executive coaching does differ vastly from life coaching in terms of purpose, audience and requirement from coaches. However, in terms of process there is very little difference.

Coaching skills and competencies

Skills of coaching as core competencies are common to all types of coaching, whatever the niches are. An executive coach grounded in coaching competencies can be a good life coach as well. A good life coach, however, may not always fit than bill for executive coaching.

Often coaches ask, “Coaching is about client centricity, exploration and awareness creation. So, why should executive experience matter in coaching executive leaders?”

Psychotherapy too is about client centricity, exploration and awareness creation. Yet, psychotherapy is licensed and psychiatrists need to have medical degrees. There is more to executive coaching than coaching skills.

Even though coaching is not a licensed profession yet, criteria that corporations consider important to coach selection are about corporate experience:

  • Has the coach walked the talk? A CEO may seek another CEO as coach, for example.
  • How many years of experience? What level?
  • Domain of experience. Does coach speak my language?
  • Can the coach put on my shoes and experience the pain I experience?

Mentorship, systemic coaching and life coaching

Some other trends that differentiate executive coaching are about mentoring and systemic coaching.

Executive leaders do not have the time and patience to be explored patiently for hours to co-create solutions. At times, they require ‘advice’, decidedly a bad word in coaching lexicon. Executives don’t care. They want results not perfection.

Ability to mentor an executive client with relevant examples from own and other people’s experience is not that different from using metaphors and stories. The trick is not to over do this and end up in solution giving mode. Coach’s job is still to create client’s own awareness leading to sustainable action. Mentoring can be an adjunct not the core.

Another trend is systemic coaching that blends team and individual coaching with clear focus on organizational needs is the critical leadership development need now. Systemic coaching allows engagement with alignment in performance. It is cost effective. It is more powerful and sustainable than one on one coaching. It co-creates individual and team vision leading to collaborative action.

Life coaching is about individuals for the most part, occasionally for couples, and rarely for groups. Executive coaching would soon become primarily about groups that emotionally bond as teams creating a culture change.

For those with the needed RFP qualifications, executive coaching would often be the preferred option given the scale of fees. The question often asked of me by coaches without the corporate executive experience is how they can become successful executive coaches:

  • Coaches can start with small businesses and start up operations, which may not be rigid about corporate experience and build a portfolio of testimonials.
  • Start at junior and middle level executive space that may not require the same qualifications.
  • Coach not for profit organizations, whose requirements may lie between life and executive coaching needs. Not all need be pro bono.
  • What executives look for is a sign of leadership in those who coach them. A life coach with proven leadership record may often be acceptable to a corporate executive.  

Mentors without formal coach training and credentials offering themselves as executive coaches often miss the critical need to integrate work and life issues while coaching. Coaching is about reframing internal barriers. Mentoring, especially with ex corporate executives without formal coach training, is often about external barriers.

Coaches are trained in exploring the mindset of the client to create awareness about blind spots and barriers helping the client to develop insights to overcome these for action. Many mentors I have trained to coaches have struggled with this.

To many mentors the question often is, “The company is paying to get results in the corporate space. Why should I waste my time with the client’s emotional turmoil?”

A client cannot be cut in two haves, work and life halves, and each treated separately. Mastery in coaching is about partnering as a whole.

Life coaches wanting to move into executive coaching would need to build a professional path. Executive mentors, who wish to be executive coaches, need to train themselves in coaching.

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Ram Ramanathan

Ram

Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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