What is an Executive Coach?

This question always seems follows an introduction, when I share that I’m an executive coach. I understand the confusion, as this term has multiple definitions, both formally (in a dictionary), and the casual way it’s used in conversation. To answer it, I thought I’d start with the formal definitions, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

  1. To convey in, seat in, provide with, a coach. A coach can convey you from where you are to where you want to be. Coaches are often change agents, helping to change organizations as well as individuals.

  2. To prepare … for an examination; to instruct in special subjects; to tutor. A coach can be a teacher or tutor, helping you prepare for a challenge.

  3. To train for an athletic contest, as a boat-race. This is the definition that comes to mind for most people. In this capacity, the sport coach is someone with more expertise and/or training than the players being coached.

  4. Mentoring is often used interchangeably with coaching: a person who acts as guide and adviser to another person, esp. one who is younger and less experienced. A person who offers support and guidance to another; an experienced and trusted counsellor or friend; a patron, a sponsor (OED).

An executive coach has a different role than that of a mentor. The executive coach works with individuals (usually executives, but often high potential employees) to help them gain self-awareness, clarify goals, and achieve objectives. The coachee or client is the expert in this relationship.

You know your company, your industry, your personal vision. You set the goals, determining what the outcome is that you seek. The coach provides an opportunity for self-reflection and discovery, for working to develop a vision of the future.  Your coach works with you to gain and practice the new skills needed to begin the journey of getting from where you are, to where you want to be. 

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