Executive Coaching vs. Leadership Coaching: How To Decide on the Right Path For You

Summary. This article explains the differences between executive coaching and leadership coaching. Executive coaching is for high-level individuals and focuses on performance and strategic thinking, while leadership coaching is for anyone in a role that has leadership at its core and focuses on self-awareness, inclusivity, and social leadership. The article also discusses cases where leadership coaching may be better suited to address modern workplace challenges, such as evolving demographics and a greater emphasis on soft skills.

Coaching has become commonplace in today’s world, particularly in the business and corporate sectors. The value and multiple benefits of working with a coach are well understood, and coaching is now firmly established as a highly valuable resource.

As any market grows and establishes itself over time, it begins to specialize in providing more targeted solutions to specific groups of people.

It’s important to understand the differences between sub-niches in the coaching industry for several reasons:

  • First, it helps you decide which direction to take your training.
  • Second, it allows you to clearly define and communicate the type of coach you are and the focus of the work you do.
  • And the bonus, of course, is that your target audience can easily identify you and seek you out if you offer exactly what they are looking for. So it’s a win-win situation.

This article compares two closely linked sub-niches of professional coaching and outlines their key differences.

Executive coaching and leadership coaching are terms that are often used interchangeably when coaching is discussed in a professional context. However, they have different connotations depending on the context.

Here’s How We Define Them:

Executive Coaching

This style of coaching traditionally focuses on individuals in high-level positions, such as CEOs, CFOs, or other C-suite executives, most likely they have been at this level for a while and are established, some refer to this style as ‘executive function coaching’.

  • Executive coaching promises to improve overall performance.
  • Enhance decision-making skills.
  • Elevate strategic thinking.
  • It also often deals with the complexities and challenges associated with managing large organizations, such as dealing with boards or managing shareholder relationships.
  • Executive coaching can help managers navigate challenging relationships with key stakeholders, which is particularly important in large organizations where there are often many competing interests.

To sum up:

Working with an executive coach, managers can can feel the benefits, gain the confidence and skills they need to navigate the often unpredictable and tumultuous landscape of business, even in the face of complex challenges and difficult situations.

Leadership Coaching

Leadership Coaching is beneficial to anyone in a role that has leadership at its core, not just those at the very top. It’s the ideal choice to support emergent leaders who want to evolve and grow, including middle managers, team leaders, new leadership hires, and even non-managerial staff who need to exercise leadership in their roles (which, let’s face it, is a lot of positions these days). The focus of leadership coaching is:

  • To enhance an individual’s self-awareness and range and develop their own unique style of leadership.
  • Elevate their ability to inspire, motivate, and guide people effectively towards achieving their goals.
  • To help empower individuals to feel a sense of autonomy, purpose and presence.
  • Leadership coaching operates within the realm of relationships, which includes relationships with oneself and others, as well as within teams.
  • Leadership coaching plays a critical role in fostering inclusivity. It emphasizes understanding and appreciating the uniqueness of every team member and creating an environment in which everyone feels valued and heard.
  • Furthermore, leadership coaching also encompasses social leadership. This highlights leaders’ responsibility to comprehend their personal and broader impact, and manage their teams in ways that uphold and encourage ethical and sustainable practices.

To sum up:

Leadership coaching is beneficial for anyone in a leadership role, including middle managers, team leaders, new hires, and non-managerial staff. Its ideal for focussing in on enhancing self-awareness, inspiring and guiding people towards goals, fostering inclusivity, and promoting ethical and sustainable practices or as Brene Brown says:

“Leadership coaching brings out the potential in individuals, transforming managers into leaders, and leaders into change-makers. It’s not an option, it’s a necessity.” – Brene Brown, Research Professor and Author.

Four scenarios where leadership coaching may be better suited to address modern workplace challenges.

  1. Workplace Diversity: Modern workplaces are diverse, cross-generational, and often remote. This presents challenges for leaders who must understand and respond to a variety of perspectives, work styles, and needs. Leadership coaching can help build the skills necessary to navigate this new landscape effectively.
  2. Flatter Organizations: Many organizations now prefer flatter, team-oriented structures over hierarchical models. This requires a new leadership style that is open, communicative, collaborative, democratic, and empowering. Leadership coaching helps established and up-and-coming leaders adapt to and embrace these new approaches.
  3. Importance of soft skills: Soft skills like emotional intelligence, empathy, communication, and motivation are just as crucial as technical skills or business acumen for success, especially in the age of AI. Leadership coaching helps develop these skills effectively.
  4. More diverse leadership development: To succeed, organizations need a broad range of future leaders. Previously, there was emphasis on a select few. Leadership coaching can support a wider range of people within organizations and is key to this exciting evolution in business.

Closing Thoughts.

So there we have it, a few things to consider as you weigh up your decisions on what kind of specialist coach you want to be in these exciting times. It’s important to note that both executive coaching and leadership coaching are incredibly beneficial, and there are, of course, a lot of crossovers. They aren’t mutually exclusive but rather different approaches for different circumstances, use the table as a quick reference guide.

Quick Reference Table of Comparison:

Executive CoachingLeadership Coaching
Target AudienceHigh-level individuals like CEOs, CFOs, or other C-suite executivesAnyone in a leadership role, including middle managers, team leaders, new leadership hires, and non-managerial staff
Main FocusImprove performance, decision-making, strategic thinking, navigate complex organization issuesEnhance self-awareness, motivate and guide people effectively, foster inclusivity, promote ethical and sustainable practices
BenefitsNavigate challenging relationships with stakeholders and manage competing interestsNavigate diverse, multi-generational, and geographically dispersed workplaces, adapt to flatter organization structures
Role in Changing WorkplaceHelpful in managing large organizations, boards, and shareholder relationshipsBuilds skills to navigate evolving demographics, flatter organizations, emphasis on soft skills, and a widening leadership talent pool
OutcomesIncreased confidence and skills to handle complex business landscapesEmpowered individuals with greater self-awareness, more inclusivity, and ethical practices in management

If you’re curious about training to become a fully certified leadership coach with one of the most respected coach training schools in the world, read more about our ACT Leadership LPCC course here.

ACT is an internationally recognized coaching, leadership development and consulting company known for its commitment to leadership and performance coaching, valuing its long term partnerships with Brown University, the intelligence communities and its loyal and devoted diverse community.