Differences (and Similarities) Between Executive and Leadership Coaching

executive coaching vs leadership coaching
January 27, 2022
Table of Contents

One of the fastest growing industries globally, the coaching industry is expected to reach a staggering $20 billion market size in 2022! In particular, as per the International Coaching Federation (ICF), the trend for specialized coaching will heavily influence the growth trajectory of the coaching segment. Experts reckon that there will be an increased demand, from top organizations as well as individuals, for professional expertise in niche areas. 

Some of the most sought-after type of coaching, especially in the corporate world, is leadership and executive coaching. At the first look, one may ask aren’t they both the same, just with different names? The answer is both yes and no! 

Yes, leadership coaching is often referred to as a subset of executive coaching and yes there is a significant overlap in terms of what the work implies, but no, they are not exactly the same. When you delve a bit deeper it becomes clearer that there is a (subtle) difference between executive coaching vs leadership coaching

With the kind of demand that executive and leadership coaching command in the current corporate world, it is obvious that organizations are offering executive leadership coaching to their present and potential decision-makers – with the intent to not just reinforce trust in their value to the company but also as a perk and investment for the continued & future success of the organization.  

In the corporate sector, top leaders, executives, managers – no matter the years of experience, skill or knowledge – all benefit from personalized performance enhancing coaching. Executive coaching and leadership coaching both focus on honing existing skill sets, developing newer capabilities, empowering individuals towards self-governed, meaningful change, and improve personal & professional connections, all with the final aim of delivering measurable results to the organization by empowering leaders to lead better. 

Read on and find out the differences (and similarities) between executive coaching and leadership coaching.

What is Executive Coaching? 

Executive coaching (executive leadership coaching) is centered on enabling key individuals in an organization, the movers & shakers and top management, to upgrade themselves into better, more efficient and effective leaders by guiding them on a journey of self-discovery and self-awareness. Executive coaching is aimed primarily at helping the CEOs, CFOs, Presidents, MDs (essentially those who occupy top positions in their fields) discover latent talents, develop new capacities that align with current know-hows, improve personal, professional and social communications, promote firmer and clearer decision-making process, to eventually deliver meaningful, transformative, high-performance output for themselves and the organization. 

In cases where the client is a top-ranking official possessing critical knowledge and accountabilities, it is necessary that the coaching environment is discreet, safe and trustworthy so that the client feels comfortable disclosing their deeper insights and thoughts. In these instances, executive coaching is often in the form of one-on-one sessions where the details of the session are not disclosed even to the organization that is sponsoring those coaching sessions. 

In addition to the decision makers/senior executives of a company, executive coaching is also offered to individuals who show great potential as highly effective future leaders or those employees who display strong aspirations to get ahead and climb up the ladder of success to key positions. 

Most leading companies view executive coaching as a long-term investment that will give the organization a distinct advantage over competitors in the market while delivering higher ROI not just in terms of profit but also employee satisfaction. 

a. What is the objective of executive coaching? 

Senior executives often manage large scale operations that include high levels of responsibility – leading a sizable group, extracting peak performance from the team, delivering impactful outputs, and more. This is a stressful job where the leader needs to juggle multiple tasks, such as devising sound strategies, implementing plans into actions, ensuring revenue generation that aligns with expected profit margins, and produce quantifiable results that benefit the company as well as individuals. 

The purpose of executive coaching/executive leadership coaching for individuals who have already proven themselves as outstanding performers is to

  • unlock unknown aptitudes that will help them get an edge professionally
  • prepare them for long/short-term as well as unforeseen challenges to maintain advantage against their immediate competitors
  • cultivate uncluttered, smart, strategic thought-process 
  • provide inspiring leadership that motivates the workforce to be more productive
  • offer a solid support system and sound guidance to executives during their professional development 

b. Who benefits from executive coaching? 

As mentioned earlier, executive coaching is mainly aimed at the top-rung leaders or the C-suite decision -makers such as CEOs, CFOs, Presidents, VPs, Senior Directors etc. 

What is Leadership Coaching?

Leadership coaching is often referred to as a subset or part of executive coaching but with a slight difference. Where executive coaching is solely focused on upgrading the top-tier management into better & effective leaders, leadership coaching is offered to any professional – team lead, department head, junior manager, etc., – who directly manage and are responsible for ensuring that their teams achieve their goals as planned. 

Leadership coaching is more focused on tapping into the ingenuity of these managers, enabling them to be inspiring leaders for their group, helping them re-organize their work processes, become more empathetic & compassionate towards their team, assess and set objectives that can motivate team members to produce high performance results, curtail conflict, and foster team spirit to accomplish larger goals. 

Companies who invest in leadership coaching often experience an overall increase in employee satisfaction, productivity, and profit margins as well as reduction in employee attrition. Employees generally tend to look at company-sponsored leadership coaching as a bonus and a mark of trust in their talent from the organization; it is also seen as their company considering them to be valued assets. This feeling of goodwill can go a long way in motivating employees to not seek career advancements elsewhere and motivate them to give their best.  

Leadership coaching that delivers long-lasting benefits to the individual as well as the organization happens usually as a mix of one-on-one and group sessions.  

a. What is the objective of leadership coaching? 

A good leader is one who can get the best out of their employees by setting a prime example themselves. Open & honest communication, ability to truly listen, assess & resolve their team members’ challenges, aspirations & visions and steer them towards realizing their maximum potential are all excellent qualities that a leader must possess. 

The objective of leadership coaching is mainly to 

  • Promote compassionate leadership
  • Enable the leader to be an inspiration and motivation for their team members 
  • Help the leader understand the strengths & limitations of the team, individually and as a unit
  • Encourage the leader to adopt novel methods & techniques that aid in problem-solving and minimizing conflict
  • Encourage the leader to evaluate and assign targets and set accountability for completion 
  • Help the manager/executive identify individuals with potential for natural leadership skills and groom them for leadership positions
  • Aid the leader in recognizing ambition and talent in their group and reward them appropriately to avoid high employee attrition 

b. Who benefits from leadership coaching? 

Any individual who is already, or is preparing to step into, a leadership role such as – junior & mid-level managers, team leads, senior executives, HR executives, and even C-suite management – will benefit from leadership coaching

Importance of Coaching for Leaders 

While the role of a leader holds power, influence and numerous perks, it is also fraught with burden of responsibilities, expectations to always deliver the best, stress brought upon by a multitude of demands as well as loneliness due to the sheer fact that there is no (or little) room for more at the very top of the corporate pyramid. 

An executive coach or leadership coach can provide an excellent, and much required professional collaboration as well as quiet guidance to navigate the daily operations and challenges of corporate management. Executive or leadership coaches can quietly observe the leader in their working environment, their interactions with colleagues and subordinates to gain valuable understanding of their leadership styles and provide quality feedback on the aspects that work and areas that can be improved upon. 

The confidential and secure nature of the coach-client relationship means that the executives can freely and trustingly open up about their challenges, aspirations and goals in front of the coach.

Similarly, executive or leadership coaches can help their clients explore latent skills and help them assess their strengths & limitations, take actionable steps to achieve goals, and become more effective, inspirational leaders who can coax top-notch performance from themselves as well as their employees. As the individual performance of a top executive is closely linked to the fortunes of the company, any positive output for themselves will usually mean an increase in ROI for the organization as well. 

To Conclude

The ICF describes coaching as collaborating with a client in a thought-provoking, creative process that maximizes the client’s professional as well as personal potential. To that effect, both leadership and executive coaching provide personalized performance coaching and work towards improving leadership qualities of clients by upgrading, developing and improving their individual skill sets, aiding in clarity of thinking and decision-making, providing motivation and guidance to employees and delivering productive results to the company, through a collaborative process.

The difference, as stated above, is in the position, scale of responsibilities, and expected output that indicates whether an individual is better suited for executive coaching or leadership coaching. 


1. Is leadership coaching the same as executive coaching? 

Leadership coaching is a part of executive coaching with similarities but also subtle differences. Leadership coaching is aimed more at mid-junior level managers/leads who have or are going to step into leadership roles. Leadership coaching helps these individuals understand the demands of leading a group of individuals, develop their own management skills, improve their inter-personal skills to resolve/reduce conflicts as well as to identify and groom potential leaders. 

Whereas executive coaching is all about engaging with the topmost C-suite executives, who are excellent performers themselves but may require professional input to stay abreast in the competitive market, polish some of their dusty skills and grasp new ones to stay relevant in the competitive, often cut-throat corporate world.

An executive coach offers solid guidance to these premier executives to help overcome any stagnation, lack of motivation that may set in after being in the business for long. Guiding them on a new journey of self-discovery that reveals hitherto unknown facets of their personality and capacities, and helping them with clarity on thought and actions to become better, more inspiring leaders who at can motivate their teams to produce greater outputs are all part of the job description of an executive coach. 

About Simply.Coach

Simply.Coach is an enterprise-grade coaching software designed to be used by individual coaches and coaching businesses. Trusted by ICF-accredited and EMCC-credentialed coaches worldwide, Simply.Coach is on a mission to elevate the experience and process of coaching with technology-led tools and solutions.  

About the author

An avid reader with love for books on history, sci-fi and popular fiction, Pallavi is a gifted content writer. She is also a keen listener of Indian semi & classical music. Currently, she juggles her duties of being a full-time mom with part-time content writing.

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