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With the rise in popularity of executive coaching, you may ask yourself, “Why would I want a coach? What can a coach do for me? Athletes have coaches and that seems customary but how is it customary for an executive to have a coach? How is it different from or similar to the athletic coach?”

How often do you find yourself in a situation at work where you wish you had someone to run things by? How could you have benefitted by having someone to help you navigate challenging terrain, something as simple as building an agenda for a board meeting or as difficult as having a challenging conversation with an employee?

Coaching has its roots in tutoring and has been a part of sports since the 1800’s. In its simplest form, the traditional coach is defined as “a person who gives advice.” The beginning of most definitions of a coach is “a person who teaches or trains…” A new definition of coaching is emerging with the rising popularity of professional life, health, and executive coaches.  What executive coaches do is similar in many respects to what sports coaches do, and it also differs in precise and important ways.

This is part one of an eight-part series, comparing and contrasting my experience as a skiing coach to my experience as an executive coach.

When athletes perform, they are having fun, competing, and hoping to perform efficiently and at the top of their game.  They are inspired, focused, and motivated. Sports coaches are teachers with students. Sports coaches tell their students how to do what they do, listen and support their students in creating goals and action steps that will help them win. They provide advice and direction, telling their students what to do and how to do it. Sports coaches often have mastered a sport to some degree, usually to a higher level than that of their students, in order to effectively coach the student.

When executives are in their working mode, leading people, keeping up on issues, finding resources for their business and finding better, more efficient ways to do more of what they do, they also are inspired, focused, and motivated. Executive coaches listen, encourage their clients to create their goals and action steps and support change, based on what the clients wish to achieve. Executive coaches don’t tell or advise. Instead of collaborative involvement to set the goals with or for the clients, executive coaches give clients the space to be the sole decision-makers, free from direction. Executive coaches don’t provide the answers. Instead, they ask open-ended questions, prompting their clients to discover the answers for themselves. Executive coaches listen to understand and to determine which questions to ask next. The goal is to provoke more thoughts on subjects identified by the executives. Executive coaches partner with clients so the clients can explore, move past obstacles, strategize, plan their own actions, and create change they have defined and chosen themselves. Executive coaches do not have to be the content experts. Executives hold the answers for themselves, and the coaches’ job is to bring the answers that already exist in the minds of their clients to the surface.

This first blog highlights an important difference in the relationship between an executive coach and the sports coach. In Part Two of this series you’ll learn more about the coaching relationships experienced in sports coaching and executive coaching.

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