Executive coaching Vs Life coaching

15 Nov Executive coaching Vs Life coaching

Similarities and differences in coaching leaders who need to be more effective in an organizational context and those who desire to be more effective as individual self-leaders


In our days, coaching has been more crucial than ever. In the modern society we live in, Individuals and Executives are faced with many challenges; they have to perform at their full potential in many areas in their personal and professional lives. This can lead people to underperform, feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and many times, unhappy. Often, they don’t know how to initiate progress, as they desire in their lives, or how to remain competitive in their work environment. Coaching can facilitate productive change and ‘help’ Individuals and Executives reach their full potential. As defined by Dr. Hicks, Coaching is “the process of facilitating self-determined and self-directed problem solving or change within the context of a helping conversation. Coaching is akin to leading a person through a process of self-discovery.” (p.21). Coaching is facilitated in the context of an organization setting, known as Executive Coaching, and/or conducted on an Individual basis, Life Coaching.


The main difference between coaching a leader in an organizational context and an individual self-leader is mostly related to where the emphasis is given. What alters the coaching relationship is that coaching in an organizational environment entails that there is a sponsor organization, with which, the coach and executive collaborate, discuss and create an agreement. Therefore, the coaching process is not solely about the leader. The leader is accountable to the shareholders, the employees that are working with him, and to the organization itself. Executive Coaching is more focused on a specific measurable outcome(s). The sponsor company will initially meet with the coach and leader and discuss the purpose of the coaching engagement. When coaching a leader in an organizational context there is a formal procedure that takes place before the actual coaching commences.
In life coaching, the emphasis is directed primarily towards the individual’s well-being. Individual development plans are formalized and action plans are developed. When coaching an individual, their employee’s performance is not necessarily attached to their coaching agenda. In coaching, the client is the one who initiates his desired outcome(s); therefore, the emphasis depends solely on what the individual wants to work on. Generally, the component of work comes up as an issue of life/work balance and the business objectives are not usually the center of the client’s agenda. In other words, the agenda is designed by the individual himself and not in conjunction with his organization.
Furthermore, the expectations of a coach differ when coaching a leader versus coaching an individual, in the context that a faster pace is desired by the sponsor organization and the specific outcomes are expected to come by a specific time frame. Also, the coach here helps the client stick to the business agenda with a clear recognition that official reports will be requested, which, will access the leader’s progress towards the agreed outcomes. Moreover, although a coach does not need to know all the technicalities of the client’s employment, it is beneficial for the coach to have been exposed to and experienced in working in a corporate environment and/or business setting. Knowing how an organization operates, its corporate culture, politics, and leadership style is a valuable asset for the coach to possess in order to be a more effective change agent for his client. When coaching an individual the only accountable party is the individual himself who partners with the coach as so to determine, goals, outcomes, and coaching duration.
Moreover, as mentioned above, in contrast with coaching an individual, when coaching a leader in an organizational setting, it is crucial to consider the organizational culture where the leader performs and more specifically, the organizational leadership style and the employee motivation approaches that the organization advocates.
“Leadership and coaching and go hand-in-hand. A good coach must be able to relate to people in a way that will help them solve problems and pursue their goals.” (Hicks R., p.10). An organizational leader that practices a “ “coach-like” approach will demonstrate a collegial style of interaction that will develop relationships that lend themselves to persuasion and influence.” (p.10). This brings us to consider coaching as a leadership style. A transformational leader is considered a leader that is accessible and approachable for coaching. (p.21). “Transformational leaders inspire followers to transcend their self-interests for the good of the organization and can have an extraordinary effect on their followers.” (Judge T., p.409). Transformational leaders care about the concerns and needs of individual followers. “They change followers’ awareness of issues by helping them look at old problems in new ways.” (p.409). This leadership style is a coach-like leadership style, which is effective because these leaders “are more creative, but also because they encourage those who follow them to be creative, too. Companies with transformational leaders have greater decentralization of responsibility, managers have more propensity to take risks, and compensation plans are geared toward long-term results-all of which facilitate corporate entrepreneurship.” (p.410-411). In the article, Leadership Lessons from India, the authors state that in a study conducted to assess top bosses leadership style at their executive’s companies, by using the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ), “the executives scored high on “transformational” or charismatic leadership designed to encourage employees to care about the goals of the leader and the organization.” (Cappelli P., p.4). The leaders attributed the success of their companies to “employees’’ positive attitudes, persistence, and sense of reciprocity, which executives inspire in four specific ways.” (p.4-5). Specifically, by creating a sense of mission, engaging through transparency and accountability, empowering through communication, and investing in training. (p.5-7). All the above mechanisms that the Indian leaders have been using and are successful at are directly related to their transformational leadership style and their coach-like approach to leading their people. Therefore, one of the essential goals of an executive coach is to transcend and help his client adopt a coaching style that will be incorporated in his own leadership style and have the ability to motivate team members for outstanding performance and place the organization’s interest above theirs. In this way, organizations achieve higher employee engagement, which results in higher performance and productivity, higher employee morale and satisfaction. This will bring higher organizational effectiveness, lower turnover, and absenteeism. (Judge T., p.410). All the above is achieved through a pattern of behaviors; initially, individualized consideration, which is a core component of transformational leadership and is demonstrated through coaching conversations. This pattern of behaviors promotes open communication and positive interactions among employees. Individualized consideration gives personal attention, treats each employee individually, coaches, and advises. Intellectual stimulation promotes intelligence, rationality, and careful problem-solving. Inspirational motivation communicates high expectations, uses symbols to focus efforts, expresses important purposes in simple ways, and idealized influence, which provides vision and sense of mission, instills pride, gains respect and trust. (p.410).
Last, a coach-like approach to leadership promotes the self-efficacy theory, which collates to a coach-approach leadership style since “it refers to an individual’s belief that he or she is capable of performing a task.” (p.228). The higher an employee’s self-efficacy, the higher the confidence level of the ability to succeed and therefore the higher the employee productivity and hence organizational performance. Last, by fostering all the above, an organization increases its possibilities to be less resistant to change. A leader, in the context of an organization, needs to be open to change. Change is essential for organizations to grow and be flexible to adapt to a rapidly shifting worldwide market. In order for an executive coach to be effective with such a leader, it is essential to establish clear communication of the change agents, bring the employees to participate and contribute to the change decision, foster building support and organizational commitment, develop positive relationships and implement the change in a fair manner. (p.590).


On the other hand, both executive and life coaching are the same in their core structure. In both, the coach needs to meet the ICF core competencies so the coach can help the client reach deeper insights and understandings. Specifically, the coach needs to establish the ethics and standards of coaching. Coaching is not teaching, mentoring, or therapy, “but is about creating the conditions for learning and growing.” (Whitmore J.).
Moreover, the coach needs to establish the coaching agreement, establish trust and intimacy with the client, coaching presence, active listening, powerful questioning, direct communication, designing actions, planning, and goal setting, and managing progress and accountability. (adapted from ICF Competencies, Marum P., 2009). In all coaching situations, it is essential for the coach to balance appropriate support to the client as well as appropriate challenge as so to help the client develop discrepancy; “all behavior is a constant attempt to reduce the difference between what one wants (the pictures in our heads) and one’s current reality; the greater the discrepancy between the two, the greater the motivation to reduce the difference.” (Hicks R., p.79). This “difference” can be achieved in both executive and life coaching with the process of powerful questioning by the coach in order for the client to reach awareness and ultimately take action towards change. A coach can “help leaders bridge the huge gap between understanding what to do and actually doing it.” (Koriath J., Goldsmith, 2007, p.xiv). Additionally, in both coaching relationships, it is very important that a coach uses a good sense of humor and empathy hence the coaching relationship strengthens, and trust and intimacy are developed.


In summary, the main distinction between the two spheres of coaching is where the emphasis is focused. In executive coaching, the leaders’ coaching agenda is angled on business objectives, tied with the organizational culture and the leadership style of the organization. Also, the organization is involved in the coaching outcome(s) of the leader. In contrast, individual coaching is based solely on a personal agenda, which the client designs in partnership with the coach.
Both coaching paths share the same core structure, values, and ethics, and in general, the ICF core competencies that a professional coach must possess and foster as to create an effective coaching environment where development and deep learning can take place for the ultimate benefit of the client.


Cappelli P., Singh H, Singh J., & Useem M., (2015), Leadership Lessons from
India. Harvard Business Review.
Hicks, R. (2014). Coaching as a leadership style. The art and science of
coaching conversations for healthcare professionals.
Judge T., Robbins S., (2013). Organizational Behavior. Pearson.
Koriath J., Mc Anally K., Underhill B., & Goldsmith M., (2007), foreword,
Executive Coaching or Results. p.xiv.
Marum P., 2009, adapted from ICF Competencies
Whitmore J., UT Dallas CoachNotes. Issue #341. Excerpt from: Coaching for
Performance. Retrieved from http://www.isom.utdallas.edu/coaching.