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Creating Competitive Advantage with Executive Coaching

Successful leaders look for a competitive advantage. In today's turbulent and digital marketplace, personal and organizational development is not an option you want to ignore if you want to get ahead. Using a fresh food metaphor, you are either ripe and rotting or green and growing.

Executive coaching is a relatively new approach for many leaders and is often not well understood. It comes out of the disciplines of consulting, management, organizational development, and psychology. Executive coaching is a highly individualized and impactful results-based development approach. Coaching is a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires clients to maximize their personal and professional potential. When done right, executive coaching is a confidential trust-based relationship between the qualified coach and client.

Over the past twenty-five-plus years working in the field of leadership development with hundreds of high potential professionals to c-suite leaders, I have witnessed first-hand the significant benefits of coaching. Compared with other development approaches, executive coaching achieves lasting results in a relatively short period of time.

Coaching is Not Mentoring or Counseling

Coaching is often confused with mentoring and counseling but differs in many ways. Unlike counseling, coaching does not deal with overcoming past or current trauma, painful events, or relieving emotional pain but instead focuses on the future.

Unlike a coach, a mentor typically sets the mentee's agenda, using their experiences to guide the relationship. In a mentoring relationship, the mentor typically does most of the directing by offering advice. A coach draws out the client's desire and collaborates with the client to cocreate options to achieve client-generated goals.

Simply stated, coaching facilitates forward progress toward accomplishing the client’s desired future.

Typical Executive Coaching Process

There are many variations of the coaching processes and reasons why you might want to hire an executive coach. A typical coaching process starts with an inquiry and a welcome meeting to get acquainted, establish the coaching process, direction, relationship, and begin moving the client toward the coaching outcome. Based on the goal, the coach and client begin assessing and exploring the current reality, potential options, and obstacles. The learnings gained from these steps lead to co-creating specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound action plans. An executive coaching program typically lasts for 6 to 12 months, depending on the client’s goal(s).

According to Sherman and Freas (2004), no one has yet demonstrated conclusively what makes an executive coach qualified or what makes one approach to executive coaching better than another. However, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the leading global organization dedicated to professional coaching standards and ethics. The ICF identifies the following eight core competencies updated as of 2019 based on empirical data collected over two years and from job analyses of 1,300 coaches globally:

  1. Demonstrates Ethical Practice

  2. Embodies a Coaching Mindset

  3. Establishes and Maintains Agreements

  4. Cultivates Trust and Safety

  5. Maintains Presence

  6. Listens Actively

  7. Evokes Awareness

  8. Facilitates Client Growth

Benefits of Executive Coaching

The benefits of engaging clients in customized ways through executive coaching creates both personal and organizational results. 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence. Over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. 86% of companies report that they recouped their investment in coaching and more (Source: ICF 2009).

Personal Benefits:

  • Establish and take action towards achieving both career and life goals

  • Become more confident

  • Gain more personal satisfaction

  • Contribute more effectively to the team and the organization

  • Take greater responsibility and accountability for actions and commitments

  • Work more efficiently and productively with others (leader, followers, peers, customers)

  • Communicate more effectively

​Organizational Benefits:

  • Empowers employees

  • Increases engagement

  • Improves performance

  • Improves employee retention

  • Supports identification and development of high potential employees

  • Supports identification of both organizational and individual strengths and development opportunities

  • Shows organizational commitment to employee development

When Executive Coaching Fails

Why would executive coaching ever fail? The truth is that no development approach always works with all people in all situations. The following are some examples that might surprise you based on my experience of situations when executive coaching does not deliver the desired results:

  • When the coach is asked to provide a message that the client's leader does not want to give.

  • When coaching is either implied or stated as required.

  • When the client has a goal better aligned with mentoring or counseling.

  • When the coach and client fail to establish a trust-based relationship.

  • When the client is not open to self-discovery or unable to experiment.

Executive Coaching Online

Coaching does not have to be face to face to be effective. Online coaching is a technology-facilitated coaching relationship. Research by Berry et al. (2011) demonstrated that virtual coaching and face-to-face coaching are equally effective when using a skilled coach. Virtual coaching offers added convenience, service, and support benefits over traditional face-to-face coaching:

  • Accessibility is likely one of the most significant benefits of virtual coaching, especially during a pandemic. Technology enables the coach and client to connect, whether in different places within the same building or worldwide.

  • Availability improves, enabling the coach to be brought into just-in-time and rapid response needs or unique situations like cross-cultural needs. Virtual coaching allows the coach to increase the number of clients they can support at one time. Also, both the coach and client benefit from the flexibility and administrative ease in scheduling.

  • Affordability improves through reduced travel and associated time out of the office.

  • Access to resources improves through digital access to tools supporting goal setting, coaching preparation, and progress tracking.

  • The coaching relationship's evaluation improves through the ease of tracking commitments, satisfaction, strengths, opportunities, and trends both on an individual client level and at an aggregate organizational level.

Getting started with executive coaching is as simple as clicking the following link to schedule your initial (no cost) inquiry consultation or learn more about our coaching solutions:


Berry, R. M., Ashby, J. S., Gnilka, P. B., & Matheny, K. B. (2011). A comparison of face-to-face and distance coaching practices: Coaches’ perceptions of the role of working alliance in problem resolution. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63, 243–253.

Goldsmith, M., Lyons, L., & Freas, A. (2000). Coaching for leadership: How the world’s greatest coaches help leaders learn. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer. San Francisco.

Kimsey-House, H., Kimsey-House, K., Sandahl, P., & Whitworth, L. (2018). Co-active coaching: The proven framework for transformative conversations at work and in life. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Boston.

Sherman, S. & Freas, A. (2004). The wild west of executive coaching. Harvard Business Review Online.


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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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