Executive Coaching: What Is It?

Cognova Consulting

The same thinking that was used to create a problem can not be used to solve it.
Albert Einstein

An executive coach is someone who works with Senior Executives around four primary areas:

Masterful Coaching
Robert Hargrove


The optimal situation for executive coaching to take place is through an external learning relationship with another person. That is, each individual in the relationship is open to listening, learning and using the expertise the other possesses to discover solutions, expand perspectives and recognize possibilities that may not yet exist. Key to coaching is the use of a learning relationship to solve business problems. In order for a coaching relationship to be effective there must be a commitment to learn, to challenge and confront the routine ways of thinking and seeing, and put new knowledge into action.

Executive coaches encourage individuals to set stretch goals with the knowledge that if one does not expect anything extraordinary, one will certainly not get it. Stretch goals require people to think and learn outside of the box.

Data from CSC Index’s consultant, Judith Rosen indicates what differentiates among winners is: they consistently aim high at the outset.  High achievers hit the target, low achievers missed by half.  This was true for all goals-market share increases, reduction in cycle times, quality and productivity improvements.


One of the inherent advantages of “executive coaching” is that it uses someone external to the organization to look in on both the executive and the organization with fresh eyes and unencumbered perceptions. This necessity is occasionally viewed as a luxury. Individuals within any system become habituated and captive to routine ways of thinking and coping with problem situations. The external coach provides a regular window to look beyond commonly encountered barriers. They provide a regular time-out, a way to generate solutions that look to the future.

At the highest levels of corporations, senior executives are responsible for the care of the entire organization. Senior executives often try to manage with inadequate support networks. There is a predominance of burnout, suicide, depression, isolation, divorce, and alcohol and drug abuse among this group. Executive coaching builds into the lives of these individuals a means to recognize, respond to and correct the imbalances that threaten their professional and personal effectiveness. Coaching is the optimal choice for those whose responsibilities and therefore stewardship have effects beyond the boundaries of the organization.

Mentors are internal managers and executives who coach others at different levels of the organization. Mentoring has many of the same goals as executive coaching. Mentoring is a responsibility assumed by individuals within the organization. It starts early in an employee’s tenure with the corporation and is an excellent way to capitalize on the wealth of experience and knowledge that is within the corporation. The mentor model establishes learning as a value within the organization. The degree to which mentoring is effective depends on the quality of the mentors and the priority it is given in the organization. Mentoring works best for those whose scope is limited to working within the organizational system.

Whether formal or informal, mentoring is the mechanism by which organizations transfer knowledge about culture, problem-solving abilities, core competencies, business knowledge to employees. Some corporations view executive coaching and mentoring as a core competency for the corporation: IBM, Xerox, GE, ING America, Deloitte-Touche, Compaq, Apple Computer and 3M to name a few. These corporations have come to understand that executive coaching and mentoring develop key executive competencies such as political savvy, motivation, problem solving and strategic thinking. Executive coaching and mentoring are contemporary names for apprenticeship, a time-honored method used to teach and transfer knowledge.

Group coaching and mentoring is often used to build working units and change organizational thinking and ways of doing things. This is a particularly good vehicle when groups of individuals must get on board to implement rapid change, to minimize resistance to change, and to rapidly institutionalize important strategies.

Executive coaching and mentoring are up close and personal ways to train and educate. Cost effectiveness, compassion and rigor are its hallmarks. Executive coaching by definition means bringing forth the best of what an individual has to offer. It is inherently rewarding for those who want to make a difference in their work environment. The coaching paradigm conveys to individuals and groups in the organization that learning, achievement, and discovery are capital investments to be cared for and nurtured.

Organizations with multiple personality disorders confuse us with their incoherence.   …the only antidote for the unnerving effects of such incoherence is integrity.  People in organizations with integrity are wholly themselves.  No aspect of self stands different or apart.  At their center is clarity, not conflict.  When they go inside to find themselves, there’s only one self there.Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellner-RogersA Simpler Way



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Suggested Readings

“Coaching Collection.” Harvard Business Review Collection, July 28, 1997.
Bohm, David and Edwards, Mark. Changing Consciousness: Exploring the Hidden Source of the Social, Political, and Environmental Crises Facing our World. San Francisco: Harper, 1991.
Cox, Allan; w/ Julie Lessie. Redefining Corporate Soul: Linking Purpose & People. Burr Ridge: Irwin, 1996.
Galpin, Timothy. The Human Side of Change: A Practical Guide to Organizational Redesign. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996.
Hargrove, Robert. Masterful Coaching: Extraordinary Results by Impacting People and the Way They Think and Work Together. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.
Judge, William Q.and Cowell, Jeffrey. “The Brave New World of Executive Coaching.” Business Horizons, July 1997.
MacLennan, Nigel. Coaching and Mentoring. Ashgate, April 1995.
McDermott., Linda. “Wanted: Chief Coach.” Training & Development, May 1996.
Minor, Marianne. Coaching for Development: Skills for Managers and Team Leaders. Crisp Publications, June 1996.
Olesen, Margaret. “Coaching Today’s Executives.” Training & Development, March 1996.
Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday/Currency, 1990.
Spencer, Lyle and Leshner, Martin. The Executive Coaching Trainer’s Package, 1995.
Waldroop, James and Butler, Timothy. “Executive as Coach.” Harvard Business Review, November 11, 1996.
Wheatley, Margaret. Leadership and the New Science: Learning about Organizations from an Orderly Universe. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1992.
Wheatley, Margaret and Kellner-Rogers, Myron. A Simpler Way. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1996.
Williams, Monci J. “Are You Ready for an Executive Coach?” Harvard Business Review, October 1, 1996.
Witherspoon, Robert and White, Randall P. “Executive Coaching: What’s in It for You?” Training & Development, March 1996.
Witherspoon, Robert and White, Randall. Four Essential Ways That Coaching Can Help Executives: A Practical Guide to the Ways That Outside Consultants Can Help Managers. North Carolina: Center for Creative Leadership, 1997.

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