Do Executive Coaches need Executive Experience to Successfully Coach Executives?!

by Kathy Poehnert, MEd, Psych; PCC, Executive CoachChoosing an Executive Coach

This question comes up often enough for me as an executive coach that I thought it worthwhile to look into this issue a bit deeper.

The usual answers as to why Executive Coaches should have Executive experience are that the Coach will then:

  •  understand better what the client is experiencing
  • have a better handle on corporate culture
  • “get” corporate jargon without having it explained

Seems to make sense, but let’s take a second look…  Here is an alternative view:

Coaches don’t need to understand the particulars of the industry in which their client is engaged, or the level (job title) at which they are operating.

  • Sounds insensitive, but is really just the opposite: as coaches, we see everyone as whole, creative and resourceful, and understand the essence of human experience in any setting.  The particulars of our client’s individual experience are what we are after, and we can only get that from our client.  In addition, our job is not about solving the details of a client’s day to day issues, but rather, looking for their thought patterns and how they think.  A smart coach can pick those up without the nitty gritty details of a client’s quarterly report numbers.

When working with a coach with experience outside of your industry, the advantage is that the coach is coming into the relationship with a very open, unbiased, and fresh perspective, with no previous baggage.  This allows him/her to have more “clarity of distance”, or “detached involvement” as we refer to this in the profession.

Curiosity is one of the greatest tools of a coach, and it is the place from which we always want to direct our questions.  Without a lot of prior knowledge cluttering or biasing our minds, we are much freer to come from an unbiased place.

  • This is important in understanding industry jargon.  All Executive coaches have a basic understanding of corporate jargon, but can use their curiosity to understand more fully the industry-specific “speak”.
  • Often when I client is sharing industry particulars with a coach, the client gains an insight about something that perhaps they had not thought of before, but become aware of during the explanation.
  • Every corporate culture is different and sometimes it becomes so ingrained in the client’s life that they may not recognize its impact on their goals, happiness or productivity.  The unbiased coach, however, is able to help them to gain some objectivity and explore their interactions in a safe, supportive environment.

There often appears to be a limiting belief that to truly help another we must be able to “walk in their shoes”.    If we had a broken leg, would we only go to a doctor who had also broken his/her leg?   If we were having marital difficulties, would we only seek out a professional who had had marital difficulties?   Probably not.

In both these cases, we want to seek out the best possible professional to do the job and help us to reach our goals.  We want to find an individual who is empathetic to our feelings and experiences and can help us move forward.   That is exactly what a coach does.

So…next time you are considering working with a coach: consider first WHO they are as a coach, a person, an individual, a professional…  and put less emphasis on WHAT they have done within a given profession.  While coaches will all have areas they have more/less experience in, and even preferences of what they like to coach on, a truly good coach can effectively coach anyone, anytime, anywhere!!!

See HERE for more things to consider when working with an Executive Coach.