Can you coach an executive without ever holding an executive position?

How do you coach what you’ve never been?

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Leadership Coaching

Recently, I have been interviewing coaches and leadership development specialists for my LinkedIn and YouTube audiences. It’s been going swimmingly, and the insight each person brings is wholly unique.

The question that comes up in my own mind is, “Can you be an executive coach without ever holding the position of ‘Executive’ yourself?”

I posed this question – which contributed to the depth of this article – to my LinkedIn audience and the results were FANTASTIC.

I think the answer is, “absolutely probably,” but most think, “absolutely, yes.” 

Let’s dig a little here.

What is your coaching perspective?

On one hand, I see the idea that someone who doesn’t know the life of an executive (board meetings, shareholder maintenance, revenue goals, legal compliance, etc.) would struggle to connect on a level another executive would. That seems obvious. The language doesn’t have to be taught, they are already fluent. I liken it to the idea that you wouldn’t take fitness advice from someone who was never an athlete or bodybuilder, or from someone who is currently out of shape.

man and woman facing each other

Think about this: how many professional athletes are trained in both mental resilience and physical strength by those who were never professional athletes themselves? Likely ALL of them. Is it likely that the strength and conditioning coach for the Lakers can’t get their athletes into peak performance shape because they didn’t play pro ball? No, it ain’t.

On the other hand, coaching anybody is ultimately dealing with people. Executives are (mostly) human and thus can be reasoned with, convinced, persuaded, and nurtured just like the next person. The fact that you haven’t sat in their seat might provoke initial resistance, but it shouldn’t be a complete roadblock to an open conversation.

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Consider the value of someone who is coming from a completely objective viewpoint. They aren’t jaded by internal struggles, mind games, personality conflicts, etc., and they can usually see these issues for what they truly are, not what they are imagined to be. This outsider perspective makes sense to address blind spots egos protect us from seeing.

Mentor vs. Coach vs. Consultant

The definition of coaching is muddled. Do you call yourself a coach to be purposely vague? What about “consultant” or “mentor?” Do these roles have purportedly different outcomes? Well, it turns out they do, and I am thankful for my LinkedIn family providing insight here.

Coaches provide a perspective shift and try to help the client find insight within themselves. They also provide motivation once that insight is gained, and they keep the client on the righteous path towards those goals.

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Mentors provide specific guidance stemming from their own past experience in that role. For example, a CEO might become a mentor to a younger VP in order to prep them for eventual C-level leadership. This is that “taking you under my wings” mentorship that we hear about so often. Startup founders are especially keen to get a mentor from a successful founder to help navigate that tumultuous lifestyle.

Consultants are usually fixers, doers, and straight-shooters. They are paid to solve problems and are not there to blow smoke or be anybody’s friend. Their reputation, and thus their career well-being, is based on getting you results. You hire a consultant to tell you what to do and a strategy for accomplishing it. It’s typically a less emotional-centric approach due to budget, timeline, efficiency, and outcome.

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Executive Coaching via Personal Development

Oftentimes, my clients are coming to me in a time of profound introspection, usually due to a career change and the inevitable question of “Am I in the right career?” Any of these people could be executives, but they are coming to me for personal development coaching, that will ultimately bleed into the professional aspects of their life. 

The insights I provide, along with actionable tasks, can be used in both relationships with family members and relationships with bosses or subordinates. Whether or not you are working with someone to develop their Extraverted Feeling (Fe) or Introverted Sensing (Si), the lessons work cross-functionally (cringe) in either arena.

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A coach must bring a certain level of credibility to the table. This credibility could be in a different field, but the results need to be there. Recommendations, referrals, and testimonials are the way to achieve this by building a huge stockpile of social credit. Review for some services could translate to others.  For example, if you have been successful in helping clients, in say, writing their LinkedIn profile, it’s likely you would be seen as someone who could also help with resume writing and job hunting.

MBTI for Coaches

The personality type of a typical executive (ESTJ, ENTJ, ISTJ, INTJ) might not be assisted by that of a similar type. As many know, there is a mindset of, “This is what worked for me when I was running ABC corp; this is the way to do it,” type coaching that exists more often than not. The stubbornness and ego protection mindset can set in when dealing with that of a similar Type.

Instead, knowing the Type of the executive gives a coach the roadmap to help them succeed. This is the only way to state it succinctly. If I, the coach, know my client is an ESTJ, then I can lay out a plan to help them build parts of themselves that are likely overlooked. 

For example, an INTJ like myself might likely be extraordinarily underdeveloped in their “Memory” function, which is Introverted Sensing (Si). Being underdeveloped in Memory can cause them to repeat mistakes, neglect what’s worked before, and have poor recollection of things that they  “should” easily remember. 

Another stereotypical trait that can lead to an INTJ’s undoing is that of “Harmony,” otherwise known as Extraverted Feeling (Fe). Being underdeveloped with Harmony can lead to blunt remarks, social awkwardness, misunderstanding subtle interpersonal cues, and telling bad jokes.

man in black and white suit holding a microphone

It’s not enough to say, “You need to be a better communicator… here’ s my invoice.” Each Type has specific styles of communication that can be trained to be altered or modified for certain situations and encounters. 

The superpower that is MBTI addresses communication challenges in a real, tangible, way.

Conclusion

Coaching is about people. It is about identifying specific patterns and energies with somebody — for better or worse.  — This could be communication, perceiving data, making judgments, activating memory, or being harmonious. Coaching explores how to wield these better or how to be more aware of the unique talents that one possesses. 

Specifically having direct past experience in the position of an Executive might be necessary in niche cases, but oftentimes the real and tangible benefit comes from understanding people, asking the right questions, having no chips on your shoulder, staying objective (and then pivoting to subjective when it feels right), and keeping motivation high throughout the process.

I use MBTI as my framework for understanding my clients and then coaching them to success. 

Thus far, I have not been let down.

To book me for MBTI consultations–find my Calendly on the sidebar or here!

For more of my content, you know where to find me:

  1. Youtube
  2. LinkedIn
  3. Blog
  4. Etsy
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