The first use of the word “coach” in English occurred in the 1500s to refer to a kind of carriage. “Hence,” say Witherspoon and White, “the root meaning of the verb to coach is to convey a valued person from where he or she was to where he or she wants to be.” Coaching is a process that helps executives learn, grow, and change. Although what coaching involves depends on the specific executive and situation, executive coaching falls into four categories:

Coaching for Skills

Coaching for Performance

Coaching for Development

Coaching for the Executive’s Agenda

Coaching For Skills is learning focused on a person’s current task or project. This coaching is usually needed for short term and the coaching goals tend to be clear and specific. Settings well suited for this coaching role are to support:

> Learning on the job (e.g., before or after a first board meeting presentation).

> Traditional classroom training.

> Changes in job roles and/or responsibilities.

Coaching For Performance is learning focused on a person’s current job. Typically, the executive feels the need to function more effectively at work, or to address performance issues. For executives having difficulty, the challenge is to correct problem behaviors before they jeopardize productivity or derail a career. This type of coaching is usually seen as appropriate for the short or intermediate term although there may be less consensus within the organization about the need for performance coaching. And because this type of coaching can feel more threatening to some executives than skills coaching, it tends to involve more time. This coaching role is best used to:

> Clarify performance goals.

> Orient and support newly appointed executives.

> Increase confidence and commitment after a career setback.

> Deal with blind spots that detract from otherwise outstanding performance.

Coaching For Development is learning focused on a person’s future job. Typically, the executive needs to prepare for a career move, often as part of succession planning discussions. Coaching for development tends to involve a deeper focus on executive development and personal growth. The coaching sessions here typically focus on development for a future job by helping an executive discover strengths and weaknesses, and to determine where growth is needed.

Since an executive’s agenda is often broad and evolving, Coaching For The Executive’s Agenda tends to involve learning in the largest sense. Often the executive desires a confidant to offer insight, perspective, and constructive feedback on ideas and experiences. The format for this coaching is ongoing, and coaching sessions evolve in response to the executive’s agenda. Frequently, this type of coaching is used to support change management by preparing an executive to successfully implement a change initiative, or to expand options when creative suggestions could improve the chances for sound decisions. The coach often acts as a sounding board and offers feedback and suggestions to enhance the executive’s ideas.