About once a week, I receive an email from someone who says, “I want to become an executive coach. Can I take you out for coffee and pick your brain?”
My journey to becoming an executive coach wasn’t a straight line or maybe even a traditional way of getting there. I didn’t set out at the beginning of my career saying, “I want to be an executive coach.”
What I realized at some point along the way, at a pivotal moment in my career, was that I wanted to make a greater difference. I wanted to do something meaningful with the 40+ hours of my work week, something that could positively impact people.
Coaching in general is a noble profession. Coaches have the ability to influence positive change in others’ lives, whether their coaching focus is on life, business , agile or leadership (executive) coaching.
And that’s powerful.
For some, it’s about starting a different profession after a long, more traditional career. For others, it’s about stepping into a profession where there’s real meaning. I spoke with a former CEO client of mine who is considering becoming an executive coach. For him, it’s a second career where he has the opportunity to give back after 30 years of executive and leadership experience.
As I mentioned before, I don’t think there’s only one path to getting into executive coaching. You may come from a business background, the psychology field or even from academia.
Regardless of your background, however, I believe there are crucial assets needed to successfully transition into an executive coaching role. I call them the three “Es” and they are what helped me on my journey to becoming an executive coach.
Experience: Be an Executive First OR Have a Unique Knowledge Set
It’s challenging to be an executive coach if you haven’t ever been an executive. After all, how can you empathize with the experiences of an executive in today’s corporate America if you’ve never been in corporate America? Or, how can you coach and advise people on leading others if you haven’t led others first? It’s certainly possible, however, and there are some very powerful examples of people who have made the transition very successfully. But, those people typically have a unique skill or knowledge set that executives would value. Take Marshall Goldsmith, for example. He came to executive coaching after completing a PhD and teaching executives at Loyola and Dartmouth. He brings expertise on behavioral change and 360 profiles that are extremely valuable to executives.
The main point is that the experience you bring to the table has to be relevant and valuable to the leaders and executives you are coaching or you won’t have credibility when working with them.
What experience do you need to become a credible executive coach?
Education: Get Some Coaching Credentials
There are almost no barriers to entry into coaching these days. If you’ve followed my posts, you’ve read about all of the people I’ve met who call themselves coaches (the psychic, the bookkeeper, the admin—all turned coaches—and, most recently, the high school teacher who wants to be a coach). Anyone can label themselves a coach, but you can always tell a good coach from an inexperienced one in the way they approach each engagement and client. For example, a seasoned coach will come to the table with methodologies, thought leadership, tools and resources that can drive behavior and perception change. To become a successful executive coach, you have to educate yourself and develop a new skill set around coaching. Many former leaders already have some level of coaching experience because they’ve coached others in the workplace. But, the education component I’m referencing here is a more professional standard of coaching, where you learn and apply specific coaching methodologies and build coaching muscles that you may never have previously developed or flexed in the typical workplace.
The main governing body in the coaching industry is the International Coach Federation (ICF). You should seek out resources and education opportunities to get certified as a coach. And, if executive coaching is of special interest to you, make sure you find a learning track that specifically addresses executive coaching. You can expect to pay about $10K – $30K to get your executive coaching credentials. That’s in addition to 120+ hours of training, 500+ hours of actual coaching, time with a mentor coach, and more.
What education do you need to become a credible executive coach?
Edge: Find Your Unique Niche
Coaching is a growing industry. That’s good as it is being more widely accepted as a legitimate intervention to help leaders become more effective in the workplace. The downside is that there are more coaches in the industry which means you have to find your unique way of standing out from the crowd.
How are you different? What will set you apart from all of the other executive coaches in your area? What specific skills, knowledge and abilities do you bring to the table that make you unique, special and different?
To successfully transition into executive coaching, you have to find (or create) your edge.
For me, I realized that in most coaching engagements there were three key ingredients missing:
- Most coaches don’t measure behavior change (and executive coaching is usually about helping a leader make change).
- Most coaches don’t create the right amount of transparency and accountability through online action planning to support behavior change.
- Most coaches don’t have efficient processes to make their coaching engagements run smoothly. They still use email, require their clients to download and upload word documents, rely on paper-based processes, and require multiple passwords to access resources.
My edge came from developing Coachmetrix: an online system that fully optimizes the coaching process so that both the coach and coachee can have a better, more meaningful and measurable coaching experience.
What will your edge be as an executive coach—how will you set yourself apart?
Still interested in becoming an executive coach?
So if you want to be an executive coach, do some research before you make the leap.
If you still think the field is a good fit for you, figure out how to get the experience you need to establish credibility. Get the coaching education you need to transition your existing skill set (or develop a new one!), and determine your unique edge that will set you apart in this growing field.
And, consider using Coachmetrix as a platform to run your engagements:)