4 Different Approaches to Executive Coaching

March 24, 2012  |   Executive Coaching Blog   |     |   0 Comment

For those looking to find an Executive Coach the number of approaches to Executive Coaching can be confusing.



In order to provide some clarity on the subject this article explains some of the differences and common aspects of the most popular approaches to Executive Coaching. As a result you should be able to determine how well a particular approach might fit your own needs and personal preferences.



How many Approaches to Executive Coaching Are There?


In a 2007 survey of qualified Executive Coaches by Palmer and Whybrow more than 28 different approaches to coaching were found. No wonder people can find it confusing!  Here we explain four of the most common approaches used by the coaches in the survey. These explanations have been deliberately written in away that they can be understood by Executive Coaching Clients and those considering Executive Coaching. For those wanting more detail on any particular approach, there are a wealth of coaching books and articles on each type.


In essence each of the approaches to coaching differ in the way an issue or topic is addressed and then solved.



Person Centred Executive Coaching


This form of Executive Coaching has at its heart the principle that the Client is fully able to find the solution to their own problem. The role of the Executive Coach is purely to facilitate the Client in becoming more aware of their own thoughts and feelings on a topic through a strong working relationship.


In this form of coaching the Executive Coach is likely to adopt a non directive style. This means they will follow the Client’s train of thought and feelings. The Coach will use questions to elevate the Client’s awareness of a topic or situation. In this type of Executive Coaching it is not appropriate for the Coach to use coaching tools and techniques. The Coach is there to facilitate the Client’s awareness, not to offer their own ideas, suggestions or own favourite coaching tools.


This form of Executive Coaching can be challenging. At times it can feel unstructured for those that like a clear structure. It works well for those able and willing to take the time to be self-reflective to better understand their thinking and feelings. Like all the other forms of coaching described here Person Centred coaching has been shown to produce good results for clients.


Cognitive Behavioural Executive Coaching


In this approach to Executive Coaching the relationship between Coach and Client is important, but it is more of a collaborative partnership where the Coach takes a more active role than in Person Centred coaching. The underlying assumption in this type of coaching is that we are all prone to errors in the way we think about things. Our thinking influences the way we feel about things, which in turn results in a particular type of behaviour, or perspective on a topic. So for example one person may see the other attendees at a meeting as antagonistic and aggressive. Whereas someone else could see the same attendees as honest, open and offering constructive criticism.  It is each individual’s thinking that creates their personal perspective, which may of course be right or wrong.


In cognitive behavioural Executive Coaching the Coach and Client work together on the thinking that leads to particular feelings and resultant behaviour. They will look for the evidence for the way a Client thinks about a situation. When this work is complete the Coach and Client will look at ways of trying out new thinking and behaviours to see how these work.  There are a variety of models that cognitive behavioural coaches use to help a client review the links between thinking, feelings and resultant behaviours. Clients will often have work to do between coaching sessions. This might include trying out a new behaviour, or reading a particular book on a topic related to the coaching.


This is a very effective form of Executive Coaching best suited for those that prefer a collaborative approach to coaching. It tends to be fairly structured so is likely to appeal to those that like a clear structure.



Gestalt Executive Coaching


Although purists would disagree Gestalt Coaching could be described as having elements of both person centred and cognitive behavioural coaching. Its closest relative however is person centred coaching.


Like person centred coaching, Gestalt Executive Coaching is likely to be non directive. The Executive Coach will follow the Client’s flow of conversation and not make suggestions or interventions. Gestalt Coaching is focused on raising the Client’s awareness of their thinking, emotions and physiological state. A key concept is to explore topics in the present, rather than to analyse and rationalise an event in the past. For example a client may want to discuss what happened in a difficult meeting with their boss. A Gestalt Coach will ask the client to work with the situation in the present. This might be done by a hallmark of Gestalt coaching which is the use of ‘experiments’. The Coach may suggest that the client creates an ‘experiment’ by re-living the event in the session. This could be by asking the client to speak to their boss in an empty chair opposite them. The Client would then be asked to be the boss and examine how the boss thinks and feels about the conversation. The Coach and Client would then review what happened during the experiment to see what can be learned. This type of process can prove extremely illuminating for a Client.


It is the use of these types of experiments (always in agreement with the Client) that causes the comment about some similarities with cognitive behavioural coaching. The key difference being that Clients try out new behaviours in a live environment in cognitive behavioural coaching.



Gestalt Executive Coaching works well for those prepared to reflect on their feelings and work with their Coach in creating experiments which bring past events into the present. It is particularly helpful for Clients who tend to over analyse and rationalise situations. Gestalt Coaching can offer a whole different way of looking at things.



Solution-Focused Executive Coaching


In this type of Executive Coaching the underlying philosophy is that it is more helpful to the Client to focus on their strengths than it is to analyse their weaknesses. In this sense it could be described as having a similar outlook to positive psychology.


Solution-Focused coaching concentrates on the achievement of the Client’s future goal. The Executive Coach encourages the Client to work with their strengths, skills, knowledge and experience to construct a solution to their problem or situation. The focus always being on the future rather than the analysis of what went wrong in the past. This might be described as a ‘glass half full rather than half empty’ approach to Executive Coaching.


This type of coaching works well with clients who have committed to a particular goal and want to work in a practical way with their strengths.



Integrative Coaching


The approaches to Executive Coaching described here have been represented as a specific way of supporting a Client. However in reality many Coaches will use elements from a variety of coaching approaches in order to offer the best way of enabling a client to achieve the coaching objectives. However based on the descriptions in this article you will have some understanding of what any particular approach may entail and how well it may suit you.


In order to enhance your understanding of Executive Coaching further you may also want to read our companion article on The Common Aspects of Executive Coaching.


Tony Goddard Consulting


In our Executive Coaching Company we offer an integrative approach to coaching. We believe that this offers our Clients the most effective way of achieving their executive coaching goals.






Keywords; Executive Coaching, Executive Coach, Executive Coaching Client, Person Centred Coaching, Gestalt Executive Coaching, Solution-Focused Executive Coaching, Cognitive Behavioural Executive Coaching




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