Executive Team Coach and Individual Coach: Mutually Exclusive?


Coaching senior leadership teams is a very challenging and rewarding endeavor.  It’s not for the faint of heart or new consultant. But if you are up to the challenge and have the necessary skills, successful execution creates breakthrough experiences for individuals and teams. In order to achieve these breakthroughs with senior leadership teams, some of the typical notions around coaching need to be challenged.

For example, I’ve been involved with senior leadership teams where several different coaches were involved with different team members. The rationale is that diversity of thought and input is necessary for optimal team functioning. While diversity of thought is generally desirable,  I don’t believe multiple coaches are effective with senior leadership teams. Team members often receive conflicting advice from various coaches.  There is no underlying school of thought, common language or shared commitment to development in this approach. Individual coaching engagements by definition are meant to improve individual, not team, functioning.

The Team Coach

The role of the team coach focuses on the maximizing the effectiveness of the group as a whole. Tools and training include:

  • Purpose & vision of the leadership team
  • Rules of engagement
  • Meeting management
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Conflict resolution

The team coach may address issues between team members but only if they are negatively impacting team performance.  They do not become actively involved in the individual development of team members.

The Individual Coach

As the term implies, the role of the individual coach is to maximize the effectiveness of an identified person. Although the individual’s impact on the leadership team may be addressed, it is not the primary focus. The individual coach may assist in areas such as:

  • Communication skills
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Executive presence
  • Influence & persuasion
  • Developing people
  • Strategic thinking

Can One Coach be Both?

Given the roles of the individual and team coach are different, the million dollar question is: Can one person perform both roles? After considerable experience with both approaches, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is possible, and arguably necessary,  for one person to perform both roles for senior leadership teams to fulfill their individual and collective potential. However, there are significant caveats, cautions and boundaries to be considered.

The advantage of being the team and individual coach for senior leaders is based on competency and trust. The team must believe the coach is competent to advise them at their level. Senior leaders have seen many coaching talks, fads, gimmicks, etc. over the years. They do not want a motivational speaker to come in for a drive-by. Senior leaders must believe you understand their world and can help them navigate it.

Yet competence alone is insufficient to be a great team and individual coach. Competence must be matched with trust. The advantage of knowing each leader deeply on an individual level allows the coach to advise team members on interactions in a manner that is impossible if multiple coaches are involved with senior leadership teams.  This role is a privilege, and with that privilege comes responsibility. The coach must be able to keep conversations confidential while leveraging the knowledge of the personalities on the team. I’ve seen situations where clients test a coach by sharing information to see if it is repeated to others on the team. Some coaches pass this test, some fail. When trust is established powerful things happen. The leadership team trusts the coach because they know he/she is concerned with their individual and collective interests. The coach receives the satisfaction of helping a group of talented individuals perform at their highest levels.

Coaching senior leadership teams in this manner is a privilege that must be earned. Coaches, earn this privilege. Leaders, find coaches who are worthy of this level of trust.

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