Leadership vs. Life Coaching

What’s a “leadership coach,” and how is that different from a “life coach,” an “executive coach,” or other people who use the label “coach”?  Many of the features underlying the different types of coaching are similar.  For example:

  • Fundamental structure of periodic 1-on-1 interactions over a span of time;
  • Creation of a safe space for the client to explore possibilities;
  • Use of assessment tools to increase self-awareness; and
  • Exercise of core coaching competencies such as active listening, powerful questions, and direct communication.

We see ourselves as leadership coaches for clients who also have lives.  We focus our work within the context of our clients’ organizational, professional, and vocational environments.  We have found the role of leadership coach hits the “sweet spot” for clients who want to ground the coaching relationship in workplace outcomes while also remaining open to exploration of the congruence of their work and life priorities.

For example, leadership coaching might explore questions like these:

  • What’s working well for you on the job, and what isn’t?
  • What feedback have you received about your professional talents and passions?
  • What patterns of thought serve you well as you pursue deep change?
  • Where do you want to go next, professionally?
  • How do your career goals fit with your personal goals and commitments?

A life coach, by contrast, might focus on overall life satisfaction or fulfillment, for which your professional challenges may form one part.  Executive coaches would concentrate on your role as a senior manager or top leader, with emphasis on the mindsets and skillsets that equip executives for success.  Leadership coaching can serve executives as well as mid-career, emerging leaders, and it can incorporate work-life interests when they are part of the client’s goals.

You may also encounter people who use the verb “coaching” to describe 1-on-1 conversations about workplace issues such as discrete skill-building, meeting sales targets, or responding to performance feedback.  “Coaching” has become a common verb in job descriptions for supervisors, managers, and human resources specialists as well.  People who use the verb “coaching” in that context may provide valuable professional assistance to peers and subordinates, but you should check to see what they mean when they say “coaching.”  For example, they may or may not receive formal coach training, hold coaching credentials, or adhere to professional standards of confidentiality and ethics.