There is no simple pathway to becoming an executive coach. Unlike other professions, there is no degree program or widely accepted certification process that qualifies a candidate to be an executive coach. I will answer the question of how to become an executive coach in three parts. In this blog, I will demonstrate why it is important that executive coaches understand business. In my next blog, I will identify some of the behavioral skills needed to be a coach. Finally, I will identify several programs that help the aspiring coach to acquire and perfect coaching skills.
I believe executive coaches need to understand business at multiple levels. I will use my own experience as a case in point. The experience of having studied, taught, consulted, and started several businesses has been invaluable in my journey to becoming an executive coach. I gained knowledge in the areas of leadership, strategy, operations, financial analysis, and organizations. My experience with organizations included heavy and light manufacturing, a variety of service organizations, not-for-profit organizations, starts-ups, family businesses, financial services, distribution, and medical delivery. I worked with most functional areas of businesses from early entry jobs to the CEO. I also believe that teaching organizational behavior, entrepreneurship, and leadership solidified my knowledge, allowing me to articulate what I had experienced within a larger body of research and theory. But this is just one person’s journey. Many executives, particularly those who had multifunctional responsibilities, may have sufficient business knowledge to coach. Certainly, former CEOs have an edge in understanding the role of the top executive.
Let’s examine why an executive coach needs to understand business. The majority of the issues that the coachee brings to coaching sessions are business related. Therefore, it is important that both the coach and coachee speak the same language–the language of business. Most executives want practical, results-oriented, efficient, and customized coaching. They are comfortable with a coach who speaks their language rather than one who is primarily theoretical, abstract, and didactic.
Related to using a common business language is establishing credibility. Having a business background adds tremendous credibility to the coach and the coaching relationship. Remember, the goal of coaching is to help the coachee find ways to improve his or her performance. Familiarity with the business issues that the coachee faces will greatly enhance credibility, which, in turn, will facilitate change.
As I have stated many times, coaching is a process. It requires that a coach know how to identify gaps, create tension, move the coachee toward important goals, and find ways of sustaining the change. Much of this is done through asking questions that help the coachee to actively pursue ways to improve. Knowing which questions to ask cannot be prepared in advance; they cannot be scripted. Coaches act on clues the coachee offers and integrates these clues into a hypothesis that leads to deeper questions. Understanding the business issues that challenge the coachee is central to asking relevant questions of him or her.
To summarize, the first task of a coach is to establish rapport with the coachee. Knowing the language of business will strengthen credibility, trust, and acceptance. Understanding business will help the coach ask relevant questions that will guide the coachee in changing and improving performance.