The Executive in Executive Coaching

Executive coaching is a growing industry 30+ years old with global revenues in the billions of dollars – that’s not a misprint – billions with a “b”. However, in terms of consumer protection and service quality control, it lags far behind many industries you and I count on every day.

Unbelievable But True

Valued professions like medicine, law enforcement, education and the ministry have all established clear admission standards for training, education, certification, licensure and ongoing skill development. Strangely, executive coaching, with the potential to shape so many industries and to affect so many people’s employment satisfaction and productivity – has not.

Here’s a common example. The doctor you go to for annual physicals may not be the most talented physician in the world but what can you be assured of? Well, you know without question that he or she had to be smart, disciplined and dedicated enough to perform well in high school, graduate, perform well in college, graduate, earn admission to medical school, graduate, earn admission to an internship and residency program, graduate, take the medical board exams to be licensed, pass them and then, over time, continually educate her/himself to stay current in a medical specialty (e.g. internal medicine) – all just to earn and then to maintain a medical license, the required ticket just to work and compete in the medical field.

What do you think an executive coach currently needs to do to work in that industry? Absolutely nothing. What training, experience, expertise and service quality can we consumers of coaching be assured of? None. How long has the executive coaching field been aware of this critical problem? 3 decades or more.

The Solution

We’ll talk about solving this problem in this article and the series of articles that will follow it – based on the recent book Pinpointing Excellence: The Key to Finding a Quality Executive Coach. Readers say the book’s popularity is based on its simple purpose – arming consumers of executive coaching to evaluate and select only the highest quality coaches – in a field without quality requirements or consumer protection.

Put simply, consumers can now expect, insist on and measure executive coaches on their depth in 4 areas: business, psychology, coaching and ethics. Let’s start in this article with the first fundamental, non-negotiable requirement in executive coaching – business depth.

Business Depth

Experience, training, formal education and other knowledge in business and management probably sounds to you, the consumer of executive coaching, like a ‘no-brainer’, right? We would obviously expect substantial knowledge in this area in any coach working with corporations and their executives because, clearly, it would be impossible to understand and add value for the client – an executive – without this knowledge.

So it may shock you to learn that of the estimated 50,000+ practicing executive coaches world-wide, most have little to no foundation in business. Impossible as this may sound, remember that today and for decades anyone with any background could appoint him or herself an executive coach – and these many thousands are now lurking in the marketplace.

Here are just a few business topics for any well-qualified executive coach to be grounded in:

  • Management principles, processes and best practices
  • Leadership principles, processes and best practices
  • Organizational design and development processes and best practices
  • Deep, industry-specific expertise
  • Governance principles, processes and best practices
  • Functional areas (e.g. finance, marketing) and their interdependencies
  • Corporate board management
  • Talent management and succession planning
  • Merger and acquisition issues
  • Onboarding into new roles or assignments
  • Information technology developments and processes
  • Reengineering and downsizing processes and best practices
  • Diversity management
  • Distinctions between profit and not-for-profit principles and operations

We could ask at this point “Where and how would executive coaches acquire this business know-how?” and here are typical channels:

  • Substantive work experience as an executive
  • Undergraduate and/or graduate education in management
  • Continuous training in business

Classic Pitches

Most of the thousands of executive coaches enter the marketplace from 2 directions. They come from retired or experienced executives aiming to share their knowledge with others.

They also come, unfortunately, from people unsatisfied or unsuccessful in their current careers or businesses who simply switch their title to ‘coach’.

Every executive coach, regardless of his/her origin, then develops and practices a pitch or ‘value proposition’ to promote their services. With rapidly increasing quantities and varieties of executive coaches, the volume of these pitches is bewildering to those of us who listen and mind-numbing to the rest. The pitches can be counted on to be confusing, contradictory, incomplete and, of course, self-serving. As an example, here’s a true classic which I hope you have not had to listen to:

“I’ve always been kind of natural coach with a special, intuitive feel for people. I haven’t had to bother with any formal training or experience in business. And, as proof of my natural giftedness, you can see that I’ve been doing my coaching for years.”

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