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A Concise Guide to Executive Coaching: Definition, Process, and Professional Benefits

Updated: May 12, 2023

You've probably heard or read about executive coaching but may still be unsure how it would benefit your company. What does it entail? How beneficial are the outcomes? These are just a couple of the initial questions you might have.

When it comes to Epiphany's services, we offer both executive and business coaching. While there can be some overlap, executive (or leadership) coaching focuses on developing an individual's potential and ways he or she can improve their results. On the other hand, business coaching focuses on the company as a whole and guides stakeholders and top-level leadership in achieving company-wide goals.

Most of what I highlight in this article relates to executive coaching. While we've touched on several coaching topics through this blog, I thought we'd tackle all those initial burning questions in one place.

Definition of Executive Coaching

Executive Coaching is an inquiry-based approach to personal and professional development that is aimed at creating awareness, generating action, and facilitating learning and growth in pursuit of business outcomes. It focuses on improving performance by helping individuals to develop and sustain new perspectives, attitudes, skills and behaviors.

The key to distinguishing leadership coaching from other forms of intervention (i.e. Counseling, Mentoring, Therapy, etc.) is its forward looking focus on goal setting, outcome creation and personal change management. Coaching, unlike consulting where the consultant diagnoses problems and sometimes implements solutions, adheres to a process that encourages the client to diagnose and implement desired behaviors with the support and encouragement of the coach.

In its current state, the answer to “what” constitutes a professional coach is, at best, cloudy. The term is often used generically and its benefits are frequently misunderstood.

Yet, for those who are defining the profession, the following guidelines provide insight into what constitutes a professional coach.


A professional coach has completed advanced coaching education by an ICF (International Coach Federation) accredited program and has been certified by the ICF. Preferably their certification is underpinned with a bachelor’s degree and some graduate work in applied psychology.

Additionally, a reputable coach must acquire a minimum of 60 hours of coach training and mentoring. They are also required to submit testing and coaching dyads for review and feedback and must commit to ongoing professional education.


A professional coach should have experience in coaching but not necessarily in a particular industry or job. While they may not have experience specific to your industry, they should have enough executive coaching experience to ensure a client-centered approach.

Industry experience can bring context and depth of understanding to your executive coaching process, but it’s crucial that the coach not allow their biases to influence the engagement. A skilled professional remembers that their role is to coach, not consult.


A professional coach has a clear methodology associated with the coaching process. From induction to close, understand their approach and how it aligns with your expectations.


The connection between you and your coach should be comfortable, because a coaching relationship is rather intimate. Trust is paramount, since growth requires the ability and willingness to challenge and be challenged.

Anyone who represents themselves as a professional coach should have coach-specific training, credentials, experience, and a proven methodology. Otherwise, while they may be able to offer value in some capacity, the benefits of the executive coaching process may be diminished.

Who Benefits from Executive Coaching?

At Epiphany Professional Development, we frequently work with mid-to-senior level executives in the corporate space. But a leader at any level can reap professional rewards from partnering with an executive coach.

The leaders we work with are typically transitioning in some way because the corporate world is often in flux. Many of them are acclimating to a new team or are being promoted to a higher corporate level. Even if their team hasn't changed, they might have hit a wall when engaging with and motivating their direct reports.

Therefore, anyone who is interested in expanding their effectiveness in leading themselves and others can benefit from working with an executive coach. This often involves developing greater emotional intelligence, specifically to develop a leader's executive presence, collaborative techniques, communication style, and especially self-regulation. They are all hot topics for many higher-level executives.

Our Approach to Executive Coaching

Most of our clients appreciate our objective but direct approach to coaching. We ask the difficult questions while remaining supportive. This helps both us and the client stay focused on targeted goals while strengthening confidence and resolve.

We ask the questions that help you develop insight and create new outcomes. This type of direct communication increases coaching session effectiveness while maintaining that supportive environment I've already mentioned.

In short, we identify both your strengths and the gaps that keep you from your goals and from achieving success. Then we work with you to prioritize those growth areas and develop a path for goal attainment.

What Happens During the Discovery Session?

An executive coaching relationship will typically begin with a discovery session (sometimes referred to as a consultation). This is where you and your coach will determine if you're a good fit for each other.

While this is a professional relationship, it still requires at least some chemistry to ensure effective outcomes. Some personalities don't mix, even in a professional setting. But rest assured that most often we’re able to establish a rapport.

During a discovery session, you and your potential coach should explore these three criteria to heighten the likelihood of a successful outcome:

1. Chemistry: A comfortable relationship between you and the coach fosters transparency in client-coach discussions and challenges.

2. Client readiness for change: A client must be committed to the coaching process and achieving their goals.

3. Coach competency: A coach must be able to facilitate a successful journey for their client and should fit the professional coaching guidelines outlined above.

If all goes well, the two of you will affirm your coaching agreement and schedule your next session.

How to Know When Executive Coaching Is Successful

Coaching ROI can be difficult to determine since it depends on accurate evaluation of coaching outcomes. These measurable outcomes can be considered in two distinct ways, external indicators of performance and internal indicators of success.

Ideally, both external and internal metrics are assessed. Examples of external measures may include achievement of initial coaching goals, increased income or revenue, obtaining a promotion, performance feedback from relevant associates, etc.

Examples of internal measures may include self-assessment, changes in the individual's self-awareness and awareness of others, shifts in thinking which inform more effective actions, and shifts in emotional state which inspire confidence.

Ultimately the client and stakeholders will determine the success criteria associated with the engagement and document those at the outset.

Senior Executives Prefer External Coaching Opportunities

While some companies hire or develop internal coaches, it's not what most senior-level executives prefer. Numerous studies indicate that most executives in general (regardless of their level) prefer external coaching.

It's far more comfortable for higher-level leaders to divulge vulnerabilities and concerns to neutral, third-party confidants who aren't involved in their daily professional world (i.e., coaches from outside the company).

This breeds greater security and trust between them and their coaches, making executive coaching sessions more productive and successful.

Still have questions? Feel free to contact me for more details.

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