What is executive coaching? A four-part definition to a growing field

Kathy Iverson is an associate professor in Roosevelt University's Training and Development graduate program. She teaches organization development, cultural diversity, research methodology, training foundations, consulting, and evaluation.

Kathy Iverson is an associate professor in Roosevelt University’s Training and Development graduate program. She teaches organization development, cultural diversity, research methodology, training foundations, consulting, and evaluation.

The field of coaching has grown dramatically in the past 20 years. One reason is the high cost of attrition. Research indicates that 35 to 40 percent of new managers fail within the first 18 months (Fisher, 2005). The cost of replacement is estimated at $150,000 for a manager and as much as $750,000 for an executive (McCune, 1999).

Companies look to coaches to facilitate performance improvement in struggling workers, aid change and transition, resolve conflict, and address performance gaps. Individuals hire coaches to address all of the above and to also address career change and upward mobility.

Coaches can be either internal, working within larger organizations, or external, hired by organizations or individuals on a consulting basis. Coaching can be defined in many ways, but typically involves a one-on-one or team relationship that involves focused performance improvement. Berman and Brandt (2006) have further extended the definition of coaching to include:

  1. Facilitative Coaching: Short term, very focused on specific core skills needed by leaders and managers such as strategic planning, team building, motivation, etc.
  2. Executive Consulting: Offers senior leaders a resource to bounce ideas off of and to help with difficult and costly decisions. It can be brief or long term and involves the use of directive questioning to facilitate problem solving.
  3. Restorative Coaching:  Short term coaching that helps a valued employee overcome difficulties or performance gaps.  I can involve the development of new skills or performance interventions to address issues with organization or motivation.
  4. Developmental Coaching: Typically a long term coaching relationship that addresses significant gaps in skill or performance.  These clients might have long standing interpersonal issues or core skills gap that are holding them back from achieving their goals.

For more on this topic, please see Berman and Brandt’s Executive Coaching: Different strokes for different folks. 

Also, watch the following video, 
The Psychology of Coaching. This is a preview to a full length DVD. Note: If you are viewing this blog via Blackboard, you’ll need to right click the link above and select “open link in new tab” so that it will work.

We will be offering TRDV 445 Executive Coaching Spring 2015 in a fully online version if you’d like to learn more about this discipline.

What did you think of the movie? What can you add to the above definition? What area of coaching most interests you?

About Eric

Eric Hahn is a graduate assistant in the Training & Development program and works as an editor, graphic designer and writer. He lives in Chicago and has a cat with a criminal mind.
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26 Responses to What is executive coaching? A four-part definition to a growing field

  1. mzpastrychef says:

    I think this was a great clip on coaching. The definitions on coaching are great and allowed a better understanding of what a coach could be. I think I would like to be the coach who can be approachable and those who I would be coaching feel comfortable and know that I only have their best interest at heart as well as leading them in the direction we need them.

  2. Donna Guy says:

    I enjoyed the article and videos as well. A great coach establishes trust of the clients, gets to know the organization’s vision and help people reach their potential to becoming more effective leaders. I also feel the statement made by David B. Peterson, PhD. was very poignant and true “Coaching is a tangible way to make a difference in people’s lives” Very thought provoking!

  3. kljones75 says:

    I enjoyed the short clip and the article. I agree with many of the comments listed above. Coaching carries so many hats and definitions and what it means can depend heavily on your or the organization needs. There were so many terms used for the same idea but they all connected in some form or fashion.

    I particularly liked the following statement made by David B. Peterson, PhD. “Coacing is a tangible way to make a difference in peoples lives…”

  4. kfulsang says:

    What I found interesting in the article is the paragraph on ‘What Coaches Do’. “Companies look to coaches to facilitate performance improvement in struggling workers, aid change and transition, resolve conflict, and address performance gaps.” What first comes to mind when I think of Executive Coaching is upward mobility, and coaching an individual through tough times within the organization, such as large change initiatives. Given this though, while I agree that expertise in the person’s field is important – and helps to give credibility to the coach – I think it would be critical to have the interpersonal skills to relate to the person being coached and expertise around change management.
    -Kirsten Jackson

  5. Great article and video. The first thing that stood out to me was the saying that there are lots of people who can offer advice, but very few can coach. I found this interesting and true. There is a difference and coaching goes way beyond offering advice. It is important to note the difference. Before I watched this, I thought I had done coaching before. In reality I was .just offering advice.

  6. randerson04 says:

    What I found most interesting about the video was the wide variety of terms used to describe what coaching is. The assorted word choices included: Decision making, advice, trust, emotion, psychology, insight, making a difference, potential, confident, leadership, agenda and change.


  7. Joyce Pross says:

    I thought the movie was interesting, as well as the article. If I were to embark on coaching, I would like to do so as a restorative coach. I have experienced way too many people leave a job or be fired from one, because they needed restorative coaching. Since it was not provided, this led to a snow ball effect that ultimately resulted in the employee’s not finding job satisfaction and giving up.

    • Hi Joyce,
      It sounds like you have the same dream around restorative coaching as I do.
      In regards to the definition of coaching in the article is there anything else you could see to add? I am looking forward to hearing your thought as I continue to build my knowledge.

    • I never thought about this field but now that you mention it, I think it would be great to be apart of this process. You stand in as someone who tells someone to stop and look around to find solutions.

  8. jpearl19 says:

    When I talk about what I find fulfilling, and as such what I hope to build my career around someday, I always talk about guiding people to the best version of themselves, personally and professionally. It’s no secret that I am a work in progress on this journey as well. As such, the lines that jumped out at me from the video that I feel best define coaching were that coaching is “getting people in touch with their potential”, and that coaches have “one agenda- to make you more effective”. Another point I latched onto in this video and have caught in some of the reading is that coaching deals “with a future state”. I am in love with this part, in that coaching doesn’t try to fix or analyze where you have been, but rather has its eyes on where you will go. Our pasts have made us who we are today; a coach can help develop that person for tomorrow.

    • I love your comment about the future. I think people would successfully get much further in life if they simply focus on what they CAN accomplish instead of focusing on what they think they should have done.

    • Hi Jen,
      Great insight I see you pointed out that we walked away with the same key point. I like that you point out the piece that coaching is not trying to ‘fix or analyze where you have been rather where you will go’. Each person is different and they need to discover their own potential. If they don’t have the buy in or belief that then need to change then it will not be a good coach/coachee relationship. Would you agree?

    • kljones75 says:

      Can definitely relate to your comments about being a work in progress and taking a journey. The best part is you are aware and making decisions that will impact your future. I have copied this from your comment and added it to my vision board, ” coaching doesn’t try to fix or analyze where you have been, but rather has its eyes on where you will go”.

      Thanks for sharing

  9. The movie had many key points. The one that really hits home with me is the statement by Denise Probstein Verolini, PHD “Human potential movement”. I feel like this sums up my belief of coaching and that really is to focus on the person and uncover their strengths and refine their skill gaps. The video also speaks about knowing the organization. As an external consultant would this be the same as James Flaherty states in his book Coaching evoking excellence in others Stage three- assessment? Flaherty explains this stage as understanding the day to day activities. Or would this be something more in depth?
    I am most interested at this point in doing more internal coaching and specifically focus on “Restorative Coaching” or “Developmental Coaching”. I often tell my friends and colleagues I just want to help someone to make a difference. I am excited when I see the growth of the individual employee into larger role impacting the organizaiton. As I build my skills with this type of coaching I can see myself moving up into more management then executive level coaching. Does anyone else see they start with one area and move?
    I would like to add to the definition to equip coachees with tools, wisdom and opportunity to effectively develop themselves to meet and exceed their potential.
    I am looking forward to hearing from others on these topics as well.
    Peg O

    • jpearl19 says:

      You and I both attached to the word potential from the clip (great minds).I definitely noticed the stress placed (particularly by one of the speakers, didn’t catch names) on understanding how the organization works, where the power is, and what the decision making process is. One of the more formal things I came across when doing some reading also stressed this “business acumen” as a necessary competency for executive coaches. An internal coach would have a much better grasp on these intimate details (as they really exist versus what is shown to the coach) – this would be much more challenging I think for an external coach to really grasp. Do you think because of this that external coaches would have niches that they work in, insofar as industries they coach within? I have a contact in the restaurant industry (of course I do LOL) and she told me about a woman who handles all the executive coaching for the managers and above in her restaurant’s organization. I am crazy trying to get an introduction to this woman so I can interview her for class. Anyway, here’s a question: do you think business acumen / specific organizational knowledge is equally necessary to the different types of coaching? You mention being interested in restorative or developmental coaching – where do you think it fits on that spectrum? Looking forward to hearing from you, as always.

      • Hi Jen,
        Great question. Here is my opinion around the business acumen and specific organization knowledge. I think that as a coach you don’t necessarily need to have these skills yet you do need to provide guidance on where they can find that resource. I always tell people I may not know the answers to everything ‘but I know people’ which means I have resources that can help me out. I think since business acumen is something I am lacking I have found people to help me with this task. What are your thoughts?

    • We share the same stand out quote. I didn’t even look at your post before answering your question. I genuinely just want to see people do well. I want to be able to be apart of someone’s success, not to take credit but everyone needs help in some way.

      • Hi Olivia,
        I too love to post first then read others and see if I have the same feelings. After our discussions in the small group forum it does not surprise me that you and I had the same thoughts.

  10. In my opinion I would believe that an executive coach is someone who has learned the ins and outs of their specific field. They have come into this role to focus on improving the process of their organization by transferring the knowledge they’ve gained from their experiences to lower level employees. As a learner for life, the entire idea of learning is to be able to share your experience with others. You take on the role of an executive coach because you truly want to give back not only to the organization but to the personnel. You act as a trailblazer in a sense because you not only have old experiences that you’ve learned from but you want to introduce new processes that will hopefully change the organization’s workflow. An executive coach truly wants others to experience the success that got him/her where they are at the moment. An executive coach has the ability to see the potential in others and develops ways to allow employees to bring the best out of themselves.

    • Hello Olivia,
      I like your statement ‘you act as a trailblazer’ I can see the potential of providing experiences and new process to help the executives with the change process.

      There were so many great statements in the video was there any one statement that stood out for you? I am also interested to hear if you by any chance have a preference to your coaching style (items 1-4 above). I see myself maybe starting off on an employee level and working my way into an executive level of coaching.
      I am looking forward to hearing your feedback.
      Peg O

      • Hi, I would have to say I’m looking to be more of a developmental coach. I want to build long term relationships… mainly because I want to see that growth in the individual. It’s really rewarding for me to be able to see the change in someone.

        As far as a statement that stood out: getting people in touch with their human potential.

    • jpearl19 says:

      Hi Olivia,
      Great post. My immediate thought is to agree with you – if you are aiming to be an executive coach, business acumen and experience in that particular business are a must. But… then I can’t help but wonder if being familiar and experienced in solving a specific problem(s) could also be what makes someone a “trailblazer” (love!) without having specific industry knowledge. I interviewed an executive coach for TRDV 400, and she currently coaches for a financial services organization, but has never worked in one. She has been there for many years (and does external coaching as well). So it makes me wonder, if situationally expertise can come in different forms depending on how and where it will be applied? This particular woman considers herself a people expert, independent of those people’s professions; she can help anyone in any job transform into a good leader if they have the intention and commitment to become one. Of course, she also has a degree and experience in clinical psych in addition to her coaching creds, so that may put her in a different category altogether!
      Would love to hear your thoughts on this – thanks!

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