Life as an executive comes at you fast.
All at once, the powerful men and women at the top of the corporate ladder face a dizzying array of competing forces.
- How do you achieve the goals of today while keeping an eye out for the challenges of tomorrow?
- How do you reach short term financial targets while staying aligned with long term goals?
- How do you manage one set of diverse personalities on a team at home while also managing an offshore team with a entirely different culture and set of expectations?
- How do you maintain the cohesiveness necessary to achieve goals as a team while also fostering a sense of creative independence required to come up with new, innovative ideas?
- And if work responsibilities weren’t enough, how do you come home at the end of the day—sometimes worn out and exhausted—and maintain a healthy set of relationships with your family and friends?
Life as a high powered executive is a lot to take on regardless of how skilled, educated, or experienced a person is—and getting paid handsomely for your trouble isn’t always enough to offset the sheer weight of responsibility that falls on an executive’s shoulders.
This is where a certified executive coach comes in.
What is Executive Coaching?
Put simply, an executive coach seeks to uncover the psychological limitations that are preventing an executive from functioning at their highest level and slowly eliminates these mental blockages through motivational interviewing, thought refocusing, re-prioritization, and other evidence-based techniques. A highly-trained executive coach is an invaluable resource to a company whose performance largely depends on the leadership and productivity of those at the top.
If you’d like to learn how to become an executive coach, these are the four steps you’ll need to take:
1. Determine If Executive Coaching Is Right for You
2. Decide What You Want Out of an Executive Coaching Certification
3. Find an Accredited Program That Fits Your Goals
4. Choose to Become an Entrepreneur or Employee
Let’s get started!
1. Determine If Executive Coaching Is Right for You
Before jumping into this new career path, it’s best to understand the type of work you’ll be doing as an executive coach.
Perhaps the best way to understand exactly what executive coaching means is to highlight some of the most important functions an executive coach provides to his or her clients. While not nearly an exhaustive list, here are some of the primary benefits of an executive coach:
Better understanding of self
This one sounds simple, but it is also perhaps the most important of all. Having a nuanced and keen understanding of your role in a company as well as better understanding how others may perceive you within that company is the first step toward being a more effective leader. After all, your client’s value as an executive is largely determined by the responsiveness and respect they receiving from those they are in charge of leading.
An executive coach will help a client fill any perception-based “blind spots” that may have developed over time and replace them with a more complete understanding of their role within the company they work for. As a coach, you will help clients determine how their work style, manner of speaking, and habits of communication are positively and negatively impacting those around them, and help them better match their communication techniques with the unique set of personalities they are leading.
Better understanding of others
While important to someone in a leadership role, understanding yourself isn’t enough to be an effective leader; you must also understand those you’re in charge of leading.
Some clients you will encounter only seem to know how to work at 100 miles per hour, and they–often without thinking–expect all the employees on their team to match their frenetic pace. On the other hand, some executives prefer a more cerebral, focused approach, which may come off to some fast-paced employees as disengaged or uninspiring. Both of these situations can lead to tensions in the workplace–tensions that an executive is wise to resolve before tension becomes conflict.
Understanding those around you doesn’t just have to do with work ethic or pace. Other sensitive topics like diverse cultural backgrounds, diverse family situations, differing sets of skills and experiences, gender-related issues, and others can severely hamper a team’s ability to work side by side and effectively achieve company goals.
An effective coach will help a client see those around them for who they really are and what they could be–nothing more and nothing less.
One of the major reasons why being in an executive level position is so highly sought after is because executives enjoy a higher degree of autonomy than their colleagues who fall lower in the corporate ladder. “No one to tell me what to do. Finally, I call the shots.”
The downside of this enviable position is…there’s no one to tell you what to do. You call the shots. This independence and heightened responsibility can be challenging for a lot of new executives, and it can even become a chronic issue for some seasoned executives, as well.
Instead of a boss telling them what to do, what these executives often need is someone to hold them accountable for the responsibilities they’ve got on their plate. Accountability can take many forms, including:
- The client is motivated to complete his work, but has poor time management skills
- The client habitually seeks out shortcuts in his work, leading to poor results
- The client is unaware that he is juggling too many projects at once
- The client moves from one finished project to the next without pausing to reflect on areas of improvement
- The client is pursuing more ideas than he has time to execute
- The client is procrastinating on each of his tasks, resulting in chaos as deadlines approach
- The client would simply work harder if he knew there were a coach waiting to hear his weekly progress
As simple as it may seem, providing accountability is one of the most effective tools in helping executives reach their full potential. As an executive coach, it will likely be one of the greatest tools in your skill set.
Rebuilding lost confidence
It happens all the time: an executive feeling the weight of her responsibilities may come to think that she’s failed herself, her team, and her company as a whole. But upon taking a step back, what may just be a temporary setback has been morphed into a larger, more insidious mental hurdle–exactly the kind of self-imposed limitation that an executive coach is meant to slay.
Some losses of confidence, like the one mentioned above, are self-imposed. Others are brought on by real, palpable failures at the workplace that can shake someone’s sense of self-worth. In either case, an executive coach serves as an objective observer who weighs the good just as strongly as the bad (a client’s work experience is bound to have plenty more examples of the former than the latter). Sometimes clients–yes, even high-flying executives at the top of large companies–can use an unbiased reminder of all the value they’ve brought to a company and how their company is better tomorrow with them on the team than without them.
Clarifying and strengthening goals
In the whirlwind of an executive’s day to day responsibilities, it’s all to easy sometimes to forget the big picture–to “lose the forest for the trees,” as is often stated. Sometimes just getting to Friday afternoon with all your ducks in a row can seem like a near-impossible task, so how is an executive supposed to maintain a clear vision of the future and what he or she envisions it looking like in an ideal world? The art of formulating and keeping long term goals–and finding the time and mental space to work toward them–can be a job all unto itself. And a skilled executive coach is the perfect person to help a professional clear mental clutter and refocus on the big picture.
If the set of challenges described above are aligned with your interests and even your innate strengths as a coach, a career as an executive coach is probably a fruitful endeavor for you to pursue.
2. Decide What You Want Out of an Executive Coaching Certification
Because the coaching industry isn’t federally regulated like, say, the financial or medical fields are, in theory you could put up a website, design some business cards, and call yourself an executive coach as early as tomorrow morning. Literally anyone can call themselves a professional coach and recruit clients however they see fit.
The problem with this approach is that even though the coaching industry is unregulated, the type of clients you’ll be looking to recruit will almost certainly expect you to have some kind of training under your belt–especially large companies who are savvy enough to recognize a skilled coach when they see one.
To put it simply: in order to be competitive in this field, you’ll need to get certified.
Before comparing all the various certification programs out there, it’s helpful to know in advance what factors you’ll be comparing and how much they matter to you. Let’s take a look at some of the most important ways that coach certification programs differ.
If you’re going to be paying a certification program thousands of dollars to certify you as a coach, you want to be sure that the program itself is well-respected, rigorous, and follows a set of agreed-upon principles in training it’s students. In other words, you want the certificate to actually mean something.
Luckily, the International Coach Federation (ICF) has pushed the coaching industry forward by laying out a set of principles and ethical guidelines that coaches the world over aspire to adhere to. The ICF is by far the most trusted governing body in all of coaching, and you’ll want to be sure that the coach training program you choose is ICF accredited, either as an Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) or as Approved Coaching Specific Training Hours (ACSTH).
Choosing a certification program that is approved by the ICF will ensure that you are being taught the most effective and up-to-date material available. Most training programs with ICF accreditation will proudly display the ICF logo on their websites. If you are unsure if a program is ICF accredited or not, make sure to call the program and confirm before enrolling.
While all ICF-accredited coach training programs must follow the same basic principles, the way these programs teach this information can vary greatly, and each method has different positives and negatives that you’ll need to weigh before deciding which program best fits your lifestyle, budget, and personality.
The three main delivery methods that coach training programs use are:
- Online Classes
- Face to Face Training
- Mixed Delivery
Online classes are just as you’d expect, with a healthy mix of real-time instruction and self-guided course materials. Face to face training can be conducted on a one-on-one basis or (more commonly) in small groups. They often include mentor coaches who train you in the art of coaching clients while also critiquing your own coaching skills and offering constructive advice on how to get your message across in the most effective way possible.
Most programs are Mixed Delivery, offering the bulk of their instruction as online courses with a smaller face-to-face component added in for students who prefer this style of learning.
While some students might naturally prefer to incorporate some face-to-face coaching as part of their training, there is one significant downside to this program feature, which brings us to our next factor to consider:
Price for coach training certification can vary widely, from under $100 to $15,000 and sometimes even more. As you may have inferred from the previous section on delivery method, programs that incorporate a face-to-face element will cost significantly more than programs that are exclusively online. This makes sense, as face-to-face training requires training facilities to accommodate students and a whole host of logistical details that the training program must take care of. Not to mention, you’ll probably have to incur some travel costs to get yourself to the training facility–sometimes even airfare and lodging, neither of which will be paid for by the program.
If you’ve got the money to spend, you’ve got options. But if you’re trying to get the most bang for your buck, an ICF-accredited online training program is probably going to be your best option.
Maybe you’re a single 20-something making a good living working in the city and you’ve got plenty of time to transition to a new career. Or perhaps you’re a 30-something mother of 3 who is in between careers and would like to hit the ground running as soon as possible. As you might imagine, the timeline and sense of urgency for these two individuals couldn’t be more different, and it’s up to you to decide how quickly you need to complete your certification.
Most programs are typically completed in 7 to 12 months, and the time to completion will also largely depend on your pace and availability.
3. Find an Accredited Program That Fits Your Goals
Now that you’ve got a good sense of how to properly compare your options, it’s your job to find a program that checks all your boxes. Those “boxes” will be different for everyone depending on your particular set of circumstances.
We know…it can be overwhelming to sift through all the different programs out there and compare all of them on every factor that is important to you. To help you get started, we’ve narrowed that list to three programs that we consider to be the best executive coach certification programs on the market. Each of these respected programs is ICF-accredited and has a long track record of excellence.
Let’s start with our favorite program of all.
Coach Training Alliance (CTA)
The Organizational Coaching program offered by Coach Training Alliance (CTA) is one of the most respected executive coaching programs out there and the one we find ourselves recommending to most students. It offers unparalleled value and will fully equip students to attract high value clients in their own practice.
Classes are completed through live conference calls and a max of 12 students are admitted per class, creating the perfect environment for methodical instruction as well as serendipitous learning and individual attention. Calls take place once a week and are 90 minutes each.
You can expect class time to proceed according to the following breakdown:
- 50% Live Coaching
- 40% Discussion
- 10% Presentation
Coursework covered during live calls are supplemented with self-guided material that you will complete throughout the week. The class can be completed in approximately 3 months.
Best of all, having a minimum of two paying clients is a requirement for graduation, which illustrates how serious CTA is about helping students make the transition into full-fledged coaches.
Click here to learn more about the Organizational Coaching program at CTA.
Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC)
Another excellent coach training program with a dedicated executive coaching specialization is offered by iPEC. Founded in 1999 by Master Certified Coach Bruce Schneider, iPEC is one of the most respected names in the coaching industry.
As part of iPEC’s comprehensive Coach Training Program, you will also earn your ELI-MP (Energy Leadership Index™ Master Practitioner), as well as your COR.E Dynamics Specialist Certification, which will position you as a Certified Professional Coach and will enable to you coach just about anyone regarding any issue they are facing.
For those seeking an executive coaching focus as part of their training, iPEC offers an entire library of resources centered around executive coaching that you will immediately gain access to after you enroll.
To top it off, iPEC reports that 85% of students have paying clients by the time they finish the program.
The program takes between 7 to 9 months to complete, is delivered through online teleconferencing as well as in-person training, and costs $11,950 in total.
Georgetown University’s Executive Certificate in Leadership Coaching
For those looking for a more traditional university setting with real classrooms and face-to-face instruction, Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies offers an intensive, 8-month course in Leadership Coaching.
In order to earn your certification through this program, students must complete the following eight courses, all taken right on the Georgetown University campus:
- Leadership Coaching as an Organization Intervention
- Coaching to Create Breakthroughs: Defining and Practicing Elements of the Coaching Relationship
- Flow of Coaching
- Coaching to Stage Development and Leadership Presence
- Coaching Teams and Groups
- Coaching Integration Seminar: Leveraging Your Learning and Moving Forward
- Ethics in Coaching
- Coaching Practicum
Each course spans three full days, Wednesday through Friday, and the course concludes with a Final Assessment, which includes a written exam, oral exam, and final paper. This program is ideal for (preferably East Coast) students who prefer all their instruction be done in-person. As mentioned, programs of this nature are significantly more expensive, with this particular program coming in at $13,995, not including textbooks, travel, or any necessary accommodations.
4. Choose to Become an Entrepreneur or Employee
Once you’ve chosen your ideal executive coach training program, it’s time to make one of the most important decisions of your coaching career: will you put your skills to use as an entrepreneur or as an employee?
Both options are equally valid, equally enjoyable, and equally lucrative, and the key to deciding which to choose is understanding yourself as deeply as possible.
For most people, it should be pretty clear what type of work they’d like to do. If you’re unsure, however, ask yourself the following questions to help you decide which path is right for you.
What Does “Freedom” Mean to You?
You might think of the word “freedom” and immediately think “entrepreneur.”
The truth is, owning your own business offers a greater amount of creative freedom at work, but being an employee will likely lead to greater amounts of freedom outside of work—namely, time to do other things.
Starting a business is fun, it’s exhilarating, it’s a dream come true for many—it’s also extremely difficult and time consuming. If you start your own business, you can forget about a steady 9-to-5 schedule where you’re free to leave your work at work once the clock hits 5:00. It’s practically impossible to start a thriving business working regular hours, as the sheer amount of work required to get your business off the ground will quite literally consume all of you—at least for the first few months, and possible years.
To some, this complete immersion is just what they’re after. To others who place significant value on their work-life balance and would hate for their careers to interfere with plans outside of work, it can create tension, to say the least.
We all want freedom; the question is where we most want to exercise it.
How Many Hats Do You Want to Wear?
As an employee, you wear one hat: executive coach. It’s the hat you feel best in, and the hat you enjoy wearing the most. It’s the hat you’ve been trained to wear.
If you’re the kind of person who loves coaching more than anything else and don’t wish to be bothered with any of the nitty gritty details that make a business run smoothly, perhaps becoming an employee is the best step forward for you–at least for now. From Day 1 upon getting hired, you’ll have the opportunity to be fully focused on what you do best: coach.
As a business owner, you’ll be wearing the accountant hat, the marketer hat, the customer service hat, the secretary hat, and even the janitor hat. And oh, you’ll be wearing the executive coach hat as well.
It’s a lot.
Especially in the first few years of owning your coaching practice, you may feel like more time is spent running your business than actually coaching. If you’ve owned a business before, this will come at no surprise to you. If this is your first experience as an entrepreneur, it can come as a bit of a shock.
“Sky Is the Limit” Or “Smooth Sailing”?
With the average executive coach in America earning over $140,000 a year, a career in this field is bound to be quite lucrative regardless of whether you become an entrepreneur or employee. However, the path to big profits can vary greatly depending on which direction you choose.
From a salary standpoint, you’ll likely have greater peace of mind as an employee as well. Regardless of how many people you coach, you’ll collect your paycheck at the end of the week. And as the years progress and you move into more valuable positions and companies, you’ll gradually see your pay increase as well.
Turning a profit as a business owner is a bit trickier. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “feast or famine,” that neatly summarizes how lucrative owning your own coaching practice can be, especially early on. Some months will feel like you’re on top of the world, and other months you might struggle breaking even–or worse.
Not everyone can handle the unpredictable lifestyle of an entrepreneur–mentally, emotionally, and financially. But, if you can survive the first few years and establish yourself as an authority in your field, the sky truly is the limit. The most successful executive coaches can easily earn upwards of a quarter-million dollars a year, and sometimes much, much more. A salaried employee would be hard-pressed to come anywhere near that.
Like most things in life, it’s a trade-off. Are you willing to trade consistency and peace of mind for greater profit potential? These are the questions to ask yourself before diving into a career as an executive coach.
A Final Note
Regardless of which path you choose–entrepreneurship or employee–keep in mind that no decision is absolutely final. Plenty of coaches who own their own practice started off as employees. In fact, some coaches would even recommend this formula in order to “learn the ropes” before fully committing to owning your business.
Likewise, plenty of coaches who tried their hand at entrepreneurship decided that the added hassle just wasn’t worth the reward. And adding “Owner and CEO” of your own coaching practice can add tremendous value to your resume for a future employer.
Choose your path with confidence and remember that you’re always in control of your future as a coach.
To recap, our recommended executive coaching certification programs are, in order:
Regardless of which program you choose, a career as an executive coach will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make in your career. Few professions are able to combine purpose, profit, and real-world applicability as well as executive coaching, and the impact you have on your clients will provide immediate, actionable change to the companies they work for. Far greater than dollars and cents, your influence will help executives lead their companies with a greater sense of purpose and balance, which reverberates all the way down a company’s ranks.
There has never been a better time to become an executive coach. Begin your journey with confidence and earn the career you know you deserve.