Executive Insider

A Changing Nature of Executive Coaching

Executive coaching is a journey of self-discovery; the coach enables the individual to see themselves in a new light. It is the root of behavior-based coaching; it focuses on performance, the choices, and the actions the individual makes. The results can be both transactional as well as transformative. There is a caveat, however.

The results are measurable, but the coach is one step removed. 

However, it is practical to frame executive coaching in two different avenues. Transactional coaching is rooted in process—the how of what we do. Transformative coaching is anchored in discovery—learning the why of what we do. So let’s take them one at a time.

Change on the outside

Transaction coaching focuses on improving a skill. Michelle Tillis Lederman, executive coach and author of The Connector’s Advantage, says: “When there is a specific objective to accomplish such as, change an industry, get a new job,” transactional coaching is appropriate. 

Evelyn Rodstein, an executive coach with a background as a senior corporate executive, says, “The best coaching uses transactional skills as the foundation upon which to build the coachee’s transformational change into a leader performing at a whole new level.”

For example, a coach may discuss ways to become a better listener or avoid interrupting others. Listening is essential to effective leadership, so learning to do it better is valuable. In addition, listening forms the basis of connection. From that connection flows an ability to engage another’s interests as well as their aspirations. 

Change from within

Transformational coaching addresses behavior. Tillis Lederman says, “This is when we are seeking to make inner changes to how we think or act. Something is holding us back or not working for us, and we want to uncover the behaviors that are getting in the way.” 

Our perceptions of people are based upon their actions. Therefore, self-awareness is critical to personal growth and development. By gathering feedback from colleagues, the coach can present a picture of how they are viewed in the workplace. Using feedback can enable the individual to understand how their behavior affects others negatively or positively.

Fundamental to executive coaching, however, is the desire to change. No teaching or no feedback will change another. Instead, they must want to change and do the work necessary to make positive changes that facilitate more significant levels of engagement, performance, and self-understanding.

Transactional and transformational change

Many coaches mix both styles of coaching. Dean Miles, president of Bridgepoint Coaching & Strategy, says, “This idea of being either transactional or transformative I find to be limiting. If the goal is to motivate an unmotivated individual merely, you may need to acknowledge the limited amount of effort available. If, however, you have a motivated individual who needs inspiration with limitless effort available. Then use both in parallel.” 

Miles continues, “As an executive coach, and I must choose which path to journey I would take the client down the path of why (transformative). If there is a high willingness and the client needs to start fast, I feel confident to take a shortcut straight to the how (transactional).”

Rodstein also believes that transactional and transformational coaching can go hand in hand. She relates the story of a senior leader who was promoted to the C-suite. Early in his role, her client needed to learn to present to the board and negotiate with the CEO. Those skills are transactional. As the coaching progressed, Rodstein helped her client see himself in a new light to gain the confidence necessary for his expanded management role. That coaching is transformational.

“The best coaching helps the leader develop the transactional skill set to manage and deliver stellar business results,” says Rodstein.  “The best coaching also allows the coachee to expand his mindset, identity, and authenticity. It takes both to run a world-class business.”


Written by John Baldoni.

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John Baldoni
John Baldoni is a member of 100 coaches and leadership keynote presenter. He has been recognized as a top 20 leadership expert by Global Gurus, a list he has been on since 2007. He is also ranked as a Global 100 Leader and Top 50 Leadership Expert by Inc.com. John is the author of 15 books, including Grace Notes: Leading in an Upside-Down World, GRACE: A Leader's Guide to a Better Us, MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership, Lead With Purpose, and the Leader's Pocket Guide. I speak throughout North America and Europe. I have written more than 800 leadership columns for a variety of online publications including CBS MoneyWatch, Harvard Business Review and Forbes.


John Baldoni is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.