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Differences in Personal and Executive Coaching

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Contracting and organization alignment. In contrast to personal coaching, coaching the executive requires the coach and client to examine and address the organizational environment and goals as they affect the client. This means that the coach needs to work with the client to build an understanding of not just the client’s goals, but also those of the organization as well. The contracting must reflect the agreements with the organization or boss before the coaching begins. With the client taking the lead and the coach partnering with the client, the organization’s expectations are carefully vetted and negotiated during the contracting phase. Once those goals are established in a development plan owned by the client, it will be important to keep the client’s boss or other sponsor informed of the client’s progress to ensure leadership’s enrollment in the client’s success and to be sure there is adequate transparency that gives the organization confidence in the coaching value proposition.

The method I most often use are three meetings with the boss, with both client and coach present, held at the beginning contracting phase, at the midpoint, and then at the end of the coaching engagement. In these meetings it is the responsibility of the client to share goals, progress, and strategies with the coach present to support the client.  This maintains confidentiality and client ownership.

Maintaining the role of coach as opposed to consultant or mentor.

One of the challenges of the executive coach is to hold the role of coach distinct from that of consultant, advisor or mentor. Most executive coaches have extensive backgrounds in organizational development, consulting, or as executives themselves. It is incumbent upon the coaches to make clear they must be impartial and independent of the organization in their coaching conversations. This means that it is not the coach’s role to advise the client and convince them of the right action to take, but rather to assist the client in making his or her own decisions. When the executive coach begins to act on behalf of the organization as driver of a strategy or performance evaluator then they are no longer a partner to the client, but rather potentially taking on the role of manager or advocate for the organization.

Challenges of internal executive coaches. The internal executive coach is a coach who is an employee of the organization in which they coach. They may be part of an internal coaching program where leaders are selected to become part-time coaches, or they may be members of the HR department. Internal coaches face significant challenges in establishing full trust with their clients, in maintaining boundaries of confidentiality, and in moving between roles of mentor, advisor or evaluator.


Personal and executive coaching share many fundamentals, and coaching in one realm often improves the client’s performance in the other.  But executive coaching entails unique challenges and considerations that arise from the fact it takes place in an organizational setting. Multiple relationships, issues of confidentiality, and the need for sufficient transparency to earn the organization’s   confidence in the process require high levels of skill and an understanding of organizational dynamics. Even if they overlap, the two practice areas should not be conflated.


[i] ICF Code of Ethics.  http://coachfederation.org/about/ethics.aspx?ItemNumber=854

[ii] Kinsey-House, H., Kinsey-House, K., Sandahl, P. and Whitworth, L. (2011) Co-Active Coaching: Changing Business, Transforming Lives. Boston and London, Nicholas Brealey Publishing.  p. 3.

[iii] O’Neil, M.B. (2007. Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart.  San Francisco, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.  p. xv.

[iv] Knudson, M.J.  (2002). “Executive Coaching and Business Strategy,” Executive Coaching Practices & Perspectives.  Palo Alto, Davies-Black Publishing.



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