Coaching Myths: Surely coaching is only for executives?

by Chris Johnson

Myth: Surely coaching is only for executives?


We are going to put our stall out early on this one. Coaching is definitely not just for executives. According to the International Coaching Federation’s research, the average age of a coachee is between 35-44. In our work, we see four main groups of people receiving coaching:


Senior departmental leaders
High potentials


Let’s explore why these groups receive more coaching, the benefits to them and how we can go about broadening who has access to coaching.


Lonely at the top


Directors, and members of the C-Suite, are the first group that regularly receive coaching. Responsibility for driving the company forward means they are often seeking an edge, a sparring partner or different perspective to deliver that extra 1%. Being at the apex of their company means that the 1% can be multiplied throughout the organisation as they impact people and processes.


Less often spoken about is the loneliness of being in the top spot. Even at a time when demonstrations of vulnerability and humility are increasingly desirable leadership traits, finding a thought partner can be difficult. Many executives wrestle with the same concerns and issues as everyone else – ‘imposter syndrome’, low confidence, self-criticism; they just have more polished coping strategies. Who do you confide in if you’re at the top of your business? What methods help you explore the options open to you? How do you mitigate decision anxiety on choices that have no 100% right answer?


Coaching can help progress in the aforementioned areas. Less well recognised is that many coaches have strong business backgrounds, have had senior roles in organisations and act as facilitator and trainers. The coach’s skillset gives access to an extensive range of tools, techniques and diagnostic instruments opening up the possibility of ‘business coaching’ (a more subtle blend of pure coaching and business mentoring). When coupled with the confidentiality that is the backbone of a coaching relationship, it creates a unique space for openness, exploration and momentum.

Senior departmental leaders

Conduits for change


Departmental leaders are often the ones tasked with bringing new initiatives and enabler projects to life in the workplace. They carry the responsibility of being the engine room. They are conduits for change. It is rare for any team to universally agree, and this is no different for a team of senior departmental leaders. For a chosen strategy there will always be those that are for it, against it and those that are ambivalent.


‘Coach the person, not the topic.’


Working with a coach can allow these leaders to process their concerns, find points of interest in a strategy and explore how they can use their strengths to move forward. This is often referred to as ‘coaching the person, not the topic’.


Imagine two departmental leaders are requested to communicate a new strategy to their teams. Asking each person to conduct a ‘state of the nation’ address may be motivating to one and demotivating to the other. It may also not account for the circumstances the leader’s team finds itself in, or their natural strengths. Coaching’s power is its ability to help find a solution, or blend of solutions, that you feel committed to. We may see one leader doing conversational team workshops and the other doing a team address plus question and answer session. Both options achieve the goal whilst being considerate to the leader’s style and team. The benefit of coaching is providing tailored support to help drive change in a way that is motivating for our leader.

High potentials

Investing for the future


Our 3rd group that regularly receive coaching are the high potentials. Sometimes these are existing staff who have been earmarked for senior roles: or new starters in the organisation. One of the original motivations for setting up Caboo was to support younger, emerging leaders.


In the 2019 Deloitte Global Millennial Survey, 49% of those surveys said they “would, if they had a choice, quit their current jobs in the next two years.” “About a quarter of those saying they would leave within two years reported leaving an employer in the past 24 months.” The top 3 reasons given were:


  1. Dissatisfied with pay/financial rewards
  2. Not enough opportunities to advance
  3. Lack of learning and development opportunities


Working with a coach can help high potentials tackle all of these reasons.


  • Coaching is a very personal investment in learning and development
  • A coachee’s goals can directly address the topic of career progression
  • Advancement normally delivers greater financial rewards


Critically, coaching increases personal awareness and responsibility, putting the onus on the coachee to act, versus feeling like they are being done too. It is well documented how often millennials and Gen Zs move in their careers. What is not often acknowledged is how common it is for coachees to want to talk about whether their company is right for them. People get to explore, without judgement, their aspirations and whether their company is able to match them.


  • Someone struggling with their manager – coaching can help them have that conversation
  • Head turned by another company – coaching can help you fully explore the benefits of staying
  • Determined to leave – coaching can help you make the jump


Each outcome is a potential win for your organisation. Repairing a poor manager relationship. Renewed motivation when your employee acknowledges what their company gives them. Even when someone leaves it provides the opportunity for a more motivated individual to take that spot. Zappo’s try to promote turnover by inducing people to leave with financial rewards at the end of each year. Their rationale – if someone would prefer the reward for leaving we’re ultimately better off with someone else.


Mould breakers


Our first 3 groups all tend to sit within organisational coaching programmes: our individual coachees break that mould. They come from all areas of society for an array of different reasons – the entrepreneur wanting to develop their business, the student looking for direction, the twenty-something wanting to find their place in the world, the person seeking to break their routine and increase their fulfilment, the individual wanting to transition their career, the manager desiring greater work-life balance, the soon to be retired wanted a positive post-work experience, someone struggling to process the emotions they are experiencing.


Normally a friend or colleague has referred them, or suggested they work with a coach. What is particularly inspiring is that they have a deep yearning for something different. Sometimes this is very clear: sometimes the coaching process helps them define it. The motivation to take charge of their life is high and they are willing to invest their own money to move forward and make a change.


This unique group of individuals shows how impactful coaching can be across a myriad of scenarios and that is the challenge for the coaching industry. How do you communicate the benefits of coaching and look past the obvious audiences.

What do these groups have in common?



A desire for transition. To move to a new place or state. This maybe a specific development goal, a hard business result or an improvement in personal well-being. This is achieved by taking action, developing new awareness or a combination of both. Coachees that maximise their experience consistently design and re-design their coaching relationship, develop their self-awareness both inside and outside the sessions and positively influence the outcomes they desire.


So is coaching just for executives? No. The challenge for the coaching community is to maintain the dialogue about professional coaching. What it is. What it isn’t. Who can benefit and how it can be applied effectively. At its best coaching is a life-changing partnership for almost anyone.

Are you ready to experience coaching for yourself?

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