5 Myths of Executive Coaching and the Truth Behind Them

Executive coaching is about recognizing the strengths of existing and ascending leaders and maximizing their personal and professional potential.

Executive coaching is not what it used to be…and that’s a good thing.

Gone are the days when coaching was reserved for “executives in trouble,” those leaders who needed a drastic intervention to pull them up from a downward spiral.

Today, executive coaching is about recognizing the strengths of existing and ascending leaders and maximizing their personal and professional potential.

Over the last couple of decades, the field of executive coaching has grown significantly. The International Coaching Federation estimates that there are 53,300 practicing executive coaches worldwide, up from 47,500 in 2011.

However, despite that growth, misconceptions regarding coaching still linger. Here are five of the most common myths regarding executive coaching, and the reality behind them.

Myth #1: Coaches should have similar backgrounds to their clients in order to offer the best advice. For example, some people may assume that an investment banker should be coached by someone with an investment banking background.

Reality: While it is sometimes helpful for coaches to have similar backgrounds to those they are coaching, it is important to understand that coaching is not mentoring, and specific industry experience is not a requirement. When the career paths of a coach and a client are too similar, it actually can be counterproductive. What is important is ensuring that a coach has enough relevant experience to understand the context in which the client is operating. That said, a coach must always be vigilant in respecting the boundaries between acting as a coach versus acting as a mentor or advisor. Executive coaches don’t give advice. Rather, they help clients to identify their own path forward. The goal is to help them understand themselves and those around them so they can apply their strengths in a way that yields the best results. It’s not about telling them what to do.

Myth #2: Anyone who has tips or advice to share can be a coach. We occasionally are approached by people who are interested in becoming a coach “because my friends tell me I give good advice.”

Reality: While the intention might be noble, simply calling yourself a coach does not make you one. Professional coaching requires a deep skill set and knowledge base. An executive coach should have a formal degree and/or recognized coaching certification from a credible institution. These can include graduate degrees from universities with coaching specializations, or experience and training approved by a credentialing body such as the International Coaching Federation. The formal education and training of a professional executive coach ensures that coaches are well-versed in multiple coaching methodologies, have a solid foundation in methods of practice, and adhere to a strong code of ethics. Coaching today is a highly skilled occupation staffed by passionate professionals.

Myth #3: My coach will tell me what to do. The role of a coach is to specifically tell the person being coached how to proceed based on the coach’s own experiences.

Reality: Coaches don’t tell their clients what to do. That’s the opposite of coaching. Coaches start from the assumption that the client (who usually already has had a successful career) is smart and resourceful. A coach helps them identify the strategies that will work best for them in their particular context. It’s not about telling them what to do; it’s about helping them close the gap between what they are capable of, how they are currently performing, and what they aspire to.

Myth #4: Coaching is only for underperformers. Coaching is all about fixing someone who is broken or clearly failing in his or her role. It’s a last-ditch effort when nothing else has worked.

Reality: Coaching, when done right, involves helping people build self-awareness and understand their strengths and blind spots, and supporting them in achieving their full potential. Many organizations now include coaching as an integral part of their professional development programs. Coaching today is about proactively supporting and investing in promising leaders, not fixing the “bad apples.”

Myth #5: My coach will “fix me.” A coach will make everything better and clearly lay out the best path forward for my career.

Reality: Coaches don’t fix people. Rather, they provide dedicated time and space for reflection, as well as the tools to enable their clients to find their own authentic path toward achieving their goals. Coaches provide the support, structure, and encouragement to help their clients create the sustainable changes that lead to long-term success.

As you can see, executive coaching has come a long way. While some myths persist, for those who embrace the reality of what executive coaching is today, the opportunities for them to be their best selves professionally, and personally, have never been better.

Bob Biglin is CEO of The Center for Advanced Emotional Intelligence, the first firm in the world to mine the neuroscience of emotionalintelligence for its applications to business.

Bob Biglin
Bob Biglin is CEO of The Center for Advanced Emotional Intelligence, an executive coaching and organizational consulting firm that works with senior leaders to enhance their leadership capability and build thriving, sustainable organizations.