Apr 01

Dispelling the 13 Myths of Executive Coaching


I was just tidying up some files on my computer when I can across this article.  My first ever article I wrote back in 2007!  I remember the pain is caused me as I laboured over it for what seemed like weeks.  I have presented it here for you in its original form.  I may consider updating it, especially around my life coaching rant! Enjoy



This article has been written to address all those myths that have been circulated about executive coaching, what it is and what it isn’t. As a practicing executive coaching working for some of the top global organisation I believe that I am in a better place to make a more accurate assessment of what coaching is or isn’t that maybe some people who have heard about coaching on the grapevine and would happily place themselves as experts on such matters. This article will not attempt to give a detailed view of what coaching actually is, but I believe there is power in re-educating people on those myths all pervasive myths that seem to perpetuate in our industry.


You may be considering hiring an Executive Coach at this time so we would like to set the record straight and provide you an honest picture of coaching from the viewpoint of dispelling these myths.


MYTH 1: Executive coaching is where the coach tells me what to do and how to run my business

FACT: Absolutely not! An Executive Coach is in no way qualified to tell you how to run your business. As an executive you may hire an executive coach to streamline your thinking or to provide assistance as a sounding board for your ideas, but an executive coach cannot advise you on how to run your business. The executive coach is qualified to be a coach and as coach they will help you overcome obstacles or achieve goals. They are qualified in the art of coaching not in running your business. The executive will be reminded by a skilled executive coach that it is the executives responsibility to decide whether to act on any suggestions or advice the coach may give during the course of a coaching engagement.


MYTH 2: It takes up a lot of time

FACT: Lets be scientific for a moment. “A lot” is a relative term so to some people the 90 minutes every four to six weeks that we suggest for a coaching engagement may seem a long time. Many executive coaching practitioners may spend an hour a week with their executive clients, but research at Ashridge School of Business has shown that it is more effective to allow four to six weeks between the coaching sessions and to never exceed more than two hours in any one session. Sessions of coaching that are too frequent fall into the category of therapy and ceases to become coaching.


MYTH 3: It is just a management fad

FACT: It is true to say that coaching itself has been the subject of a remarkable trend since the turn of the millennium but fads die out and come back – just like corduroy flares or hairstyles. Executive coaching has been around in many guises but not under that label for over twenty years. So it is fair to say that it is not just a management fad, but is a trend where executives have experienced great benefit from working with us and other talented coaches.


MYTH 4: Executive coaching is the same as therapy and counselling

FACT: There are many reasons why this is not true. The main reason is that therapy and counselling are not solution oriented interventions. Executive coaching will always have some goal in mind for the coaching engagement. We certainly do not advocate that our clients lie on a coach and tell us about their mother! Executive Coaching can be people-centred but that does not make it therapy or counselling. Therapy can last for up to two years or longer with little evidence to support that the therapy itself had any real impact on the client   Executives have often reported that after having received executive coaching they feel like a weight has been lifted of their shoulder so the effects are similar to therapy.


MYTH 5: Executive coaching is the same as life coaching

FACT: Are you ready for a rant? Arrrrgghhhhhhhhhhh. Life coaching is a fad that is going to die very soon as there is a proliferation of under-trained, under-qualified, unregulated bored housewives dispensing advise for huge sums of money. A life coaches main qualification is life experience, or so they say. A skilled executive coach has many coaching models that they work from and is continually updating their knowledge and skills. Usually life coaches have very little experience in the way of self-development. Professional executive coaches are very self aware and understand the value of their own personal development. For instance all of our coaches have supervisors and their own coach. We walk our talk. So if you are considering hiring an executive coach, look them square in the eye and ask them who their coach is and how often they receive supervision. If you get less than satisfactory answers – call security. I’ll get of my soapbox now. Rant over.


MYTH 6: Executive coaching is only for use when executives are failing

FACT: Executive Coaching has a diverse range of applications for executives including improving their effectiveness and performance, advancing their communication skills, collaborating with them to create a compelling vision, provide assistance in applying their time to strategic issues and so on. Yes, Executive coaching can also be used to provide assistance to executives who admit to having challenges, but only those executives will benefit once they take responsibility for their change and own the issues that they are faced with.


MYTH 7: Successful executive don’t need executive coaches

FACT: The most successful executives in top FTSE 100 companies have their own executive coaches. The most savvy of executive know that everyone can always improve. Lets restate that everyone can improve in all ways.   We have no way of measuring the maximum potential that anyone can aspire to, but executive coaching provides the key to unlock any latent talent within an executive while building on the talent that they are consciously aware of.


MYTH 8: Executive coaching is expensive

FACT: Again this is a relative term, I ask the question expensive compared to what? Lets compare the coast of coaching to training. One of the major challenges facing executives is once they have attended any training course on leadership, communication, strategic thinking or whatever, they are left to apply the knowledge learned from the training on their own. The result is that little if any of the training is applied during the course of the executives day to day role. Research has shown that up to 90% of training budget is wasted because it is rarely applied. Executive Coaching on the other hand, provides a tailored form of continuous eduction and learning for the executive where the executive can apply the learnings from the coaching immediately and discuss the observations with the coach at the next session. This ensures that value is derived from the coaching. Studies have also shown that coaching can provide as much as 570% return on investment, so coaching can actually make money for your organisation and is less of a cost and more of an investment.


MYTH 9: Executives that have a mentor don’t need an executive coach

FACT: Mentors are different to executive coaches. There is a school of thought that says that mentoring is a form of coaching. Mentoring differs from coaching because it is more directive. A mentors teaches their mentee to perform certain behaviours or processes in the same way that they would. The mentee depends heavily on the experience of the mentor. An executive coach works best when they are being non-directive with their client assisting them in finding the answers within themselves. This has the effect of reducing the dependence that an executive may develop on a coach. A professional executive coach fosters independence in their client. Mentoring has its value and is mentors are usually provided in-house. Executive coaches tend to brought in form outside to be able to shine a light on an executives issues without the contamination of the internal politics or a particular culture.


MYTH 10: A successful executive coach needs to have similar experience to the executive being coached

FACT: This may be of help to the executive to know the coach has been through what they have been through, in which case a programme of mentoring may be of value to the executive. However, an executive coaching brings a whole new set of skills that the executive is unlikely to possess. So the balance of the executive’s knowledge coupled with the coaches skill at being able to provide learning strategies to assist them create a powerful alliance.


MYTH 11: It is impossible to measure outcomes of executive coaching

FACT: This myth is a sort of half truth. It is possible to measure some of the outcomes of coaching, especially a programme of behavioural coaching. However not all results from all of the different types of coaching can be measured. Coaching provides so many intangible benefits that it can be challenging to measure them all. Very often organisations fall into the trap of wanting measurable outcomes from all of the activities that an executive coach performs and in truth this is not possible.


MYTH 12: Everyone is coachable

FACT: This is not true. Every executive coach would like to believe that it is true but in reality some people are more coachable than others. Executive coaching works best for executives who are open minded and are willing to change. The type of executive who benefits from coaching is the one who takes responsibility for their own development and knows that they are capable of achieving more.


MYTH 13: Executive coaching is just another name for a consulting

FACT: Consulting is more akin to advice giving and problem solving but executive coaching is about facilitating the executive in finding the answers to their problems rather than solve the problems for them. Executive coaches can act in the capacity of a consultant if their expertise is being sought by an organisation to put into operation a programme of coaching or maybe for providing advice on implementing a coaching culture within their establishment.


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About the author

Mark Buchan

Mark is an Agile Consultant and Executive Coach who specialises in working with leadership teams when they are transforming their organisation to a more Agile way of delivery.

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