What’s The Difference Between Executive And Life Coaching?

As a coach trainer, I am often asked, “What’s the difference between Executive Coaching and Life Coaching?” We could broaden the question to include Leadership Coaching, Business Coaching, Wellness Coaching, and any other “Something” Coaching. The differences and the similarities might surprise you.

It’s an understandable mistake to think of Executive Coaching and Life Coaching as if they are specific, well-defined, and distinct types of coaching. They aren’t.

Coaches use the term in front of the word “Coaching” to appeal to the type of clients they hope to attract. They want to distinguish their coaching from other people’s coaching. Coaching training schools do the same thing. All these titles and terms are a lot about marketing.

Here’s why. A corporate executive is more likely to be attracted to Executive Coaching or Leadership Coaching, especially when she needs to get her Board of Directors to sign off on the expense of the engagement. An entrepreneur, on the other hand, might be more attracted to Business Coaching because that’s where he identifies his need. Someone seeking work-life balance might run away from all these “business-y” types of coaching, seeking out a Life Coach instead.

Since coaching is an unregulated field, you can call yourself Any-Kinda Coach you like.

All Coaching Has The Same Foundation

Coaching is defined by its practice and its results. Coaching is a series of intentional conversations that empower a person or group to fully live out their calling. The International Coach Federation (ICF), the world’s largest coaching association, has 11 Coaching Core Competencies that all professional coaches will practice, regardless of what they call themselves.

Take a look at these characteristics:

  • Coaches don’t talk, they listen.
  • Coaches don’t give information, they ask questions.
  • Coaches don’t offer ideas, they generate ideas from clients.
  • Coaches don’t share their story, they tap into the client’s experience.
  • Coaches don’t present solutions, they expand the client’s thinking.
  • Coaches don’t give recommendations, they empower clients to choose.

Whether you call yourself an Executive Coach or Life Coach, you’ll practice these and other coaching skills. I wrote much more about foundational coaching skills in my article, What It Really Means To Be A Coach.

What Makes A Life Coach A Life Coach

Life Coaching is so-called because the focus of the client’s needs are personal in nature. Rather than providing professional development in how to be more effective in a work role, Life Coaches often help with personal life challenges.

Top Life Coaching topics include:

  • Making significant personal changes.
  • Improving relationships.
  • Finding meaning.
  • Making important decisions.
  • Growing spiritually.
  • Becoming financially more stable.
  • Making a bigger impact on the world.
  • Reducing stress.
  • Addressing transitions in family, location, and employment.

As with most coaching, these are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s no end to the topics that come up when coaching.

Executive Coaching Has That Corporate Feel

The pressure to continuously deliver results causes leaders to ignore things that don’t lead directly to them. Because executives are talented achievers, they tend to rise on their abilities, but bump against the ceiling of those abilities as they move up in the company. All their leadership issues have more weighty consequences. Mistakes can cost millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs.

Executive coaching can be very challenging in it’s energy and pacing. The higher up a leader gets in a company, the less time and patience she has for slow processes. The Executive must respect the coach and his or her ability to deliver results.

Here in order are the top 10 coaching topics for C-Level leaders:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Interpersonal relationships, listening skills, and empathy
  3. Influence
  4. Leading during times of change
  5. Communication skills
  6. Motivation and engagement, leading with vision, and purpose
  7. Building effective teams
  8. Strategy and strategic thinking
  9. Working with uncertainty and ambiguity; decision skills
  10. Mentoring, developing internal talent, succession

It’s important to note that Life Coaches are paid about half what Executive Coaches are paid. Perhaps the biggest factor for the difference in pay is that 61% of Life Coaching clients pay for their own coaching, while only 10% of Executive Coaching clients do the same [Sherpa Survey]. When you’ve got a corporate budget, you are willing pay more.

In the end, it’s important for all coaches to be well-trained in professional coaching skills. Then, they develop coaching expertise in processes that lead to results their audience desires. Use the coaching title – Life Coach, Executive Coach, or whatever – that matches your experience and your audience.

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    Keith is an author, speaker and Professional Certified Coach. He helps on-the-go leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    • Terry Morgan

      Very clear and helpful post, Keith. Thanks for generously sharing from your experience and knowlege.

    • tola akinsulire

      very good post…gained clarity from it