On Becoming an Executive Coach

Dear Coach Alan,

I work in an HR department for a large bank.  I have a master’s degree in communication and am active in local HR organizations. In my work, I have had some experience coaching middle managers. My career goal is to become an executive coach. How do I get started?


Thank you for your question. I will honor your request to remain anonymous. Becoming an executive coach requires two areas of competence.

First, it requires you to be knowledgeable in the areas you will be coaching. Since you are in the banking industry, I will use this as an example of how you can advance your career. In banking, you will need to learn about the issues that your coachees face. This will guide you on how to ask questions to help your coachee structure and resolve the tension that will move him or her to change.  Secondly, other competencies relate to the process of coaching. These include, but not exclusively, an understanding of motivation, leadership, change, and communication. Personal attributes that are important for any coach are emotional intelligence, listening skills, intuition, and the ability to empathize with the coachee.

Working in human resources in a large bank will give you an opportunity to engage with many levels of management. It will serve you well to get to know the challenges of these executives.  These challenges include leadership, business strategies, the legal environment of banking, and the different business models within banking, as well as the organizational structure, internal politics, and financial products and services offered by your bank. This knowledge will provide the background you will need to understand the challenges your coachees face in their quest for goal attainment.

Your academic preparation is a good background for coaching. You probably have the conceptual skills you will need to be a coach. In order to learn the behavioral skills needed in coaching, you should enroll in a coaching program. In my book, Executive Coaching and the Process of Change, I wrote about becoming a coach. In it, I reviewed several programs that you should consider. If you are fortunate enough to live in a community that offers a recognized program in executive coaching, you should think about enrolling. Be sure to examine the program and the success of its graduates before committing to it. There are also a number of online programs, and they vary in effectiveness. There are reviews of these programs that offer insights about their efficacy. Coaching certification programs require many hours of supervised coaching.  This will help you to develop and practice your coaching skills. Dozens of books have been published on executive coaching. You should become a student of coaching and read about the profession you want to enter. Finally, search out a coaching peer group in your community.  If there isn’t one, talk with like-minded colleagues and start one.

Most potential coaching customers/clients want their executive coaches to be experienced. You will need to create a strategy to develop and practice executive coaching. This can be done within your current organization or by looking for opportunities in another organization that offers you the opportunity to coach. With a solid understanding of the coaching process and many hours of organizational experience in coaching, you will be well on your way to launching your career as an executive coach.

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