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Executive vs. Leadership vs. Business Coaching – The Differences

  • POSTED ON APRIL 10, 2023
close-up of two people discussing the differences between coaching types

In recent years, the coaching industry has expanded in a myriad of ways. There has been a steady increase in experienced executives and HR professionals turning to coaching as a career. To boost their expertise, many have gone on to get certified with coaching training organizations like the Co-Active Training Institute (CTI). This has created a robust marketplace of highly skilled coaches with a variety of industry knowledge to meet most business needs.

At the same time, workplaces have changed drastically over recent years. Global marketplace disruptions, digital innovations, changes to workplace cultures and team dynamics, and people leaving the workforce have put enormous pressure on executive leaders. All this has created a demand for trained and experienced coaches to provide them with support.

When selecting a coach, it’s important that executives understand what their coaching needs are, as there are many types of coaches and coaching programs, each with their own particular aims and benefits.

What Is Coaching?

The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as: “a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.”

Coaching, as a competency, can be applied to develop executives, emerging leaders, and businesses.

Executive Coaching

Being an executive can be a lonely experience. It can also bring upon heightened levels of stress as the health of their organization ultimately rests upon its executives. Executive coaches provide numerous benefits to both newly promoted and seasoned executives. Coaches provide a sounding board for executives when they don’t have anyone else they can bounce ideas off in confidence. Coaches can be a source of motivation by reconnecting executives to their vision, sense of purpose, and core values. Coaches can help executives design structures to boost their productivity and aid in their ability to focus, make decisions, manage stress, lead teams, and make time for other important aspects of their lives. Coaches can also bring to light sabotaging behaviors or limiting beliefs that may be hindering executives’ performance and ability to connect and inspire their people.

Leadership Coaching

As companies grow, so does their need for highly skilled and competent leaders to manage their operations and teams. Leadership coaching often focuses on emerging managers, directors, and executives. The aim is to create a sense of awareness to become more effective or impactful when enrolling, motivating, delegating, and holding their teams accountable. Leadership coaches may focus on communication, teamwork, accountability, trust building, and managing change and conflict.

Business Coaching

Some organizations may be lacking in broader business knowledge or experience. Business coaches may specialize by industry, type of business (e.g., profit vs non-profit), or business life-stage (e.g., early-stage start-up). The primary focus of a business coach is to understand the business’s overall needs in order to improve its performance and sustainable growth. Business coaches often look at vision and strategy, revenue models, organizational structures, business processes, technologies, human resources, and marketing. Business coaches also support the co-creation of action plans that hold executives accountable for their results.

Any organization may have a combination of these needs. So it’s important for executives and HR leaders to be clear on what their particular needs are and where to invest in coaching for the greatest impact. This clarity will help them find coaches with the right skills, accreditations, and experience for their business.

Charles Sue-Wah-Sing
Written By

Charles Sue-Wah-Sing

I am a certified Co-Active leadership and life coach. I’m also on the faculty with CTI. I have over 30 years of experience in leading teams on a variety of innovative initiatives. And I’m passionate about culture, music and an advocate for social change. You can find me online at

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