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Differences in Personal and Executive Coaching

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Personal coaching and executive coaching share many fundamentals. However, they can and do differ in their agenda setting, content, and objectives. Executive coaches also face unique challenges posed by the incorporation of the client organization into the coaching process.

In over 25 years as an organizational consultant and 17 years of personal and executive coaching, I’ve seen the many ways coaching can assist in both individual and organizational growth. As a board member of the International Coach Federation (ICF) Independent Review Board, I review ethical cases that highlight the challenges of coaching in various settings. As a teacher of leadership development, I am continuously reviewing the competencies and deep skills required of leaders and coaches. All of this has contributed to my understanding of the distinctions between personal and executive coaching.

What They Have in Common

Personal and executive coaching share these fundamentals:

The presumption of equality. Coaching is defined as a partnership of two equals, client and coach, who co-create a process to assist the client in exploration and action. As the International Coach Federation (ICF) states in its Code of Ethics: “Coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.[i] This definition of coaching applies to all types of personal and professional coaching.

The presumption of a capable client. This underlying tenet is defined by the authors of Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives as the belief that:

people are, by their very nature, creative, resourceful and whole. They are capable of finding answers; capable of choosing; capable of taking action; capable of recovering when things don’t go as planned; and, especially, capable of learning.[ii]

Shared core competencies and ethics. The skills of personal and executive coaching include: a structure that supports the client agenda and results in action; deep listening skills; powerful questioning; coaching presence; and effective communication. A relationship of trust between client and coach is essential to good coaching. But solid coaching competencies alone are not enough to establish trust; ethical practices are essential. The ICF Code of Ethics applies across the field of coaching, whether in a personal or executive format.

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