Deciphering the Difference Between Executive Coaching and Leadership Coaching

In the dynamic landscape of professional development, coaching has emerged as a pivotal instrument for honing leadership skills and fostering organisational growth — and for good reason

Perhaps the two most common coaching approaches employed by businesses are executive coaching and leadership coaching. However, despite the two terms often being used interchangeably, they are distinct methods catering to different aspects of leadership development. 

Here, we unravel the intricacies that set executive coaching and leadership coaching apart, as well as offering insights into when and how to deploy each for maximum impact. We’ll also demonstrate how and why the coaches Sanctus can be the ones to lead these efforts.

What is executive coaching?

Executive coaching is a specialised form of coaching tailored towards top-level executives, typically those in C-suite positions or senior management roles. 

The primary focus of executive coaching is to assist these leaders in navigating the complex organisational challenges involved in such roles, as well as refining decision-making processes and enhancing overall leadership effectiveness. It therefore serves as a targeted intervention, delving deep into the specific challenges faced by high-ranking executives. 

Executive coaches collaborate closely with individuals holding strategic responsibilities to elevate their leadership style, vision, and impact on the organisation’s performance. By addressing the unique demands of their roles, executive coaching aims to propel these leaders toward steering their companies through the complexities of the business landscape. It’s little wonder that 87% of businesses agree that executive coaching has a high return on investment (ROI).

What is leadership coaching?

Leadership coaching adopts a more inclusive approach, encompassing a broader range of roles and responsibilities within a business. It targets leaders at various levels, including middle managers, project leads, and resource managers. 

The overarching goal of leadership coaching is to enhance fundamental leadership skills such as communication, team collaboration, conflict resolution, and adaptability. It provides support to leaders in optimising their personal effectiveness within their specific roles, fostering growth at multiple organisational tiers.

Leadership coaching acknowledges that effective leadership is not confined to the upper echelons of a company. Instead, it recognises the need to cultivate leadership capabilities at all levels, creating a more resilient and adaptive organisational culture. All in all, this kind of coaching has a ROI of 5.7 times the initial investment, with 77% of HR professionals believing it to be an effective way of improving leadership skills.

So: what is the difference between executive and leadership coaching?

Let’s explore some of the main differences between executive and leadership coaching in greater depth. 

Scope and focus

The scope and focus of executive coaching differ significantly from leadership coaching. The former often adopts a more strategic perspective, addressing high-level business challenges, change management, and long-term leadership development. This approach aims to align the executive’s personal growth with a company’s overarching goals, contributing to a sustainable and robust leadership framework.

On the other hand, while leadership coaching also has a strategic component, it tends to be more tactical in nature. It concentrates on developing skills that are immediately applicable to a leader’s day-to-day responsibilities, fostering an environment of continuous improvement and adaptability within the organisation.

Target audience

As previously highlighted, executive coaching targets senior executives with strategic responsibilities. In contrast, leadership coaching has a broader target audience, including mid-level managers and emerging leaders who are in the process of developing their leadership capabilities. This inclusivity makes leadership coaching a versatile tool for nurturing leadership potential across various organisational levels.

The choice between executive coaching and leadership coaching depends on the specific needs and aspirations of the individual, as well as the business context in which they operate. Organisations must carefully assess the developmental requirements of their leaders to determine the most suitable coaching approach.

Depth vs. breadth

Executive coaching is known to delve deep into leadership behaviours, personality traits, and strategic thinking. The personalised nature of executive coaching allows for an in-depth exploration of the executive’s strengths and areas for improvement. This targeted approach aims to bring about transformative changes in the executive’s leadership style, ultimately influencing the company’s trajectory.

In contrast, leadership coaching takes a more comprehensive approach, focusing on a wider array of skills and competencies that leaders need to succeed across different organisational contexts. While it may not go as deep into individual nuances as executive coaching, leadership coaching provides a broader skill set, equipping leaders to navigate a variety of challenges encountered in their roles.

Organisational impact

Both executive coaching and leadership coaching yield positive outcomes for businesses, but the nature of their impact differs. Executive coaching often has a more profound effect on a company’s overall direction and culture due to its targeted focus on high-level decision-makers. The transformative changes experienced by executives through coaching can permeate throughout the organisation, influencing its strategic direction and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

On the other hand, leadership coaching contributes to creating a cohesive and capable leadership team that drives innovation and productivity at various levels. While the impact may be distributed across the company, leadership coaching plays a crucial role in shaping the collective effectiveness of the leadership group, ensuring a well-rounded and adaptable organisational culture.

Customisation vs. universality

Executive coaching engagements are often highly customised to the specific needs of the individual executive and the business. The one-on-one nature of executive coaching allows for a deep understanding of the executive’s unique challenges, aspirations, and business context. This customisation ensures that the coaching intervention is precisely tailored to address the executive’s specific developmental needs, maximising the impact of the coaching relationship.

In contrast, leadership coaching frameworks can be tailored as well, but they often involve a more standardised approach. This universality arises from the diverse range of leaders involved in leadership coaching, each with their own set of challenges and aspirations. Standardised frameworks allow for scalability and efficiency, ensuring that leadership coaching can be deployed across various levels while still addressing common leadership competencies.

How Sanctus can help with coaching

Sanctus can transform your team’s leadership capabilities with our dedicated 1-2-1 drop-in and leadership development coaching sessions. Here, our coaches extend their guidance beyond technical proficiency, focusing on refining both personal and professional skills your employees need to lead teams at all levels — no matter if they’re an executive, a line manager, or in between.  

Through collaboration with our coaches, your staff can refine the interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and communication abilities needed to be highly successful leaders. Upon enrollment, participants will unearth leadership strengths they may have been aware of, while working on specific areas targeted for their development.

Empower your workforce not only during working hours but beyond with our leadership coaching — contact us to make an enquiry or to learn more.