Executive or Life Coach?

by Paul Tripp in June 18th, 2020

The number one Google "coaching" search in Portland, Oregon and within the Pacific Northwest is for a Life Coach.  Yet, as we dig into the data a bit further, many of the people searching for a coach are in the age group of executives - so what's the difference between all of these coaching types?  I'm glad you asked.  

At first glance it's an understandable mistake to think of Executive Coaching and Life Coaching as if they are specific, well-defined, and distinct types of coaching. They aren’t.

Coaches use the term in front of the word “Coaching” to appeal to the type of clients they want to attract (i.e. Executive, Business, Life, etc.). They do this because they want to highlight the type of coaching they are offering, making it separate  from another type of offering.  The term in front of the word "Coaching" is merely a way to state "This will be our starting point."  Why is this important?

A corporate executive is more likely to be attracted to Executive Coaching or Leadership Coaching, especially when he/she needs to get their Board of Directors to sign off on the expense of the engagement. An entrepreneur, on the other hand, might be more attracted to Business Coaching because that’s where he identifies his need. Someone seeking work-life balance might run away from all these “business-y” types of coaching, seeking out a Life Coach instead.

All Coaching Has The Same Foundation

Coaching is defined by its methodology, approach and results. Coaching is a series of intentional conversations that empower a person or group to fully live out their calling. The International Coach Federation (ICF), the world’s largest coaching association, has 11 Coaching Core Competencies that all professional coaches will practice, regardless of what they call themselves.

Here are the common approaches for all coaching types:

  • Coaches don’t talk, they listen.
  • Coaches don’t give information, they ask questions.
  • Coaches don’t offer ideas, they generate ideas from clients.
  • Coaches don’t share their story, they tap into the client’s experience.
  • Coaches don’t present solutions, they expand the client’s thinking.
  • Coaches don’t give recommendations, they empower clients to choose.

What makes Executive Coaching, Executive Coaching?

Because Executives are used to an action/results mindset, they often get categorized as "talented achievers," and can be known to rise in the ranks because of their achievement.  Once at the top however, these achieving abilities can be the same thing that causes them to stall as their leadership decision have weightier consequences. Mistakes can cost millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs.

Because of this, Executives often seek out coaches who are experienced in dealing with an action/results mindset, who can readily recognize this "stall" and help them to continue achieving. 

Here are some of the focus areas for Executives in a coaching relationship: 

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Interpersonal relationships, listening skills, and empathy
  3. Influence
  4. Leading during times of change
  5. Communication skills
  6. Motivation and engagement, leading with vision, and purpose
  7. Building effective teams
  8. Strategy and strategic thinking
  9. Working with uncertainty and ambiguity; decision skills
  10. Mentoring, developing internal talent, succession

What Makes A Life Coach A Life Coach?

Life Coaching so-called because the focus of the client’s needs are more personal in nature. Rather than providing professional development in how to be more effective in a work role, Life Coaches often help with personal life challenges.

Here are some of the focus areas for people seeking Life Coaching: 

  • Making significant personal changes.
  • Improving relationships.
  • Finding meaning.
  • Making important decisions.
  • Growing spiritually.
  • Becoming financially more stable.
  • Making a bigger impact on the world.
  • Reducing stress.
  • Addressing transitions in family, location, and employment.

The term in front of the word "coaching" is the starting point.  It is the initial focus area for where clients want to begin.  What makes sense is that in cities like Portland and Seattle where the business growth trajectories are high, people are actively seeking assistance to make sense of this change.  Corporate coaching, Life Coaching, Executive Coaching, and even Group Coaching.  The starting point for the conversation is the only difference.  The education and training is all rooted within the same foundational structure.