Business Coaching vs. Executive Coaching: Which type should you specialize in?


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By: Corry Robertson, PCC

Man choosing between Business Coaching and Executive Coaching

There’s never a time in a great leader’s career when they don’t want guidance. Whether they’re eager to improve their leadership skills, increase their employee engagement, or achieve better business performance, as a professional coach, you can help them get there.

Some leaders begin their search for a coach using the term “business coach”, and others prefer to search for and hire an “executive coach”. So what’s the difference between these two types of coaches

Perhaps you’ve been talking to other coaches as you pursue your own credentials. Coach A calls themselves a “leadership coach.” Coach B offers “business coaching.” Coach C says they offer group coaching and team training. Which specialty is right for you? Are there any measurable differences among these coaching styles?

In short, no. 

The reason for that is that a professional coach can coach on any topic BUT a consultant needs subject matter expertise. So when we discuss the differences between coaching styles, the reality is that coaching is coaching, plain and simple. But when a professional coach adds consulting as an additional service to their practice, they can specialize in a particular area.

As a professional coach, selecting an area of expertise is one way to differentiate yourself from others in the field. And that will depend on your subject matter expertise outside of your coaching qualifications. If you offer professional coaching and subject matter expertise, you are offering coaching and consulting services.

Read on to learn the differences between executive coaching, business coaching and leadership coaching.

Coach talking to coworkers

What is the difference between business coaching and executive coaching? 

Business coaching is a huge sub-specialty of coaching and can be divided into many topics such as manager coaching, team coaching, organizational culture, executive coaching and it can be a part of leadership training. Business coaching is a particular type of coaching, and executive coaching is a subset of business coaching. 

Business coaching is generally done by coaches who have a special interest in business planning, organizational development, interpersonal dynamics in the workplace, and performance, although a subject matter expertise is not necessary to be a coach (but coach-specific training is!).  

A trained business coach helps their clients identify gaps and blind spots that hold them back from their business objectives. Often, they form a close relationship with their clients, empowering them to overcome the challenges of entrepreneurship.

It’s common for a business coach to offer additional support as a business consultant or advisor. (Note: Don’t confuse coaching with consulting!)

Executive coaching focuses more on personal development. Executive coaches help their clients gain self-awareness, clarify their values so that they can set goals, achieve their objectives and act as an external sounding board for them to unlock their potential.

While entrepreneurs and small business owners may benefit from executive coaching, executive coaches are often hired to help executives in existing organizations. Executive coaches offer both personal development (e.g working on better communication skills, leadership mindset) and team management techniques. 

What is the difference between executive coaching and leadership coaching?

Leadership coaching is for leaders or any level of manager who wishes to cultivate leadership characteristics. Leadership coaching can help new and experienced executives develop their team management skills. This type of coaching is even more geared toward personal development, with the emphasis being on the leader’s developmental priorities such as values, persuasion, or team-building. Leadership coaches also work with aspiring managers and supervisors who are being groomed to take on more responsibility.

Leadership coaches may coach groups of people or teams within an organization, and they may work one-to-one coaching managers or high potential employees. Ideally for the organization, the coach will work with the team at large as well as with each individual.

By contrast, executive coaches may serve as more of an external sounding board, giving executives an outside perspective and integrating strategic business guidance. Executive coaches also provide specialized guidance to VPs, CEOs, and leaders who face challenges at the top of their organization, and they can also help to promote the overall well-being of the individual.

man standingon dotted line choosing a new path

Misconceptions about Business and Executive Coaching

Some people assume that business coaching is “life coaching for entrepreneurs” or that business coaching simply teaches people how to run a business. In actuality, a business coach accelerates their client’s success by helping them gain self-awareness and become more effective leaders, both personally and professionally.  

Business coaching isn’t just for new owners or startup founders, either. Even those who have been running an enterprise for a long time may seek coaching when pivoting their industry or expanding their business. As a business coach, you’re essentially your client’s thinking partner as they navigate new aspects of their business.

Similarly, leadership or executive coaching is not just for new leaders. There’s also a common myth that executives only need coaching to fix behavioural issues. Not at all! Anyone stepping into a new role can benefit from leadership coaching and mindset development. Also, coaching is helpful for managers and executives troubleshooting through day-to-day interpersonal issues, moving into new departments, expanding their responsibilities, or seeking to streamline their team management.

It’s important to note that executive or leadership coaching is geared toward helping clients find their own solutions. A coach is not a consultant or a mentor, but instead a strategic thinking partner to accelerate success.

Which is right for me: Business Coaching or Executive Coaching?

The beauty of coaching is that it facilitates the development of each person’s unique skills and builds on values. Therefore, the specific term you use to describe your own coaching practice is up to you, depending on your own personal experience and comfort level.

If you have a lot of experience in business development, you may wish to coach aspiring entrepreneurs. Perhaps you’re passionate about productivity and can help new business owners strike a work-life balance.

Coaches who also have training in other leadership modalities such as communication, emotional intelligence, or team-building (to name a few) can offer leadership development programs combined with coaching. This is a very effective combination and an especially lucrative field as many firms are hiring leadership coaches to optimize their in-house talent. 

If your area of expertise revolves around purpose, vision, mission, and mindset, you could help executives forge a stronger company culture. If you excel at high-level strategy and management, your coaching mixed in with consulting will be instrumental to your client’s organization’s growth.

At the end of the day, as a certified professional coach, coaching is coaching. Your area of specialty will depend largely on your background and whether you’d prefer to coach small business owners, corporate leaders, or C-level executives – and what topic areas you’d like to focus on.

If you’re eager to help executives level up their communication skills and achieve a leadership mindset, we’d love to help you become a Certified Leadership Coach. Book a call with us to discuss your options for coach-specific training with our Coaching Academy for Leaders.


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Corry Robertson

Sought-after coaching culture expert, Corry Robertson has been helping leaders uplevel employee retention and performance for over 20 years.

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