Is There a Difference Between Executive and Leadership Coaching?

Not really. The impact of executive and leadership are focused in the same direction, which is in the development or refinement of the leader in the context of their work, direct reports and or work environment. How this is achieved may slightly differ. In executive coaching, an executive is usually a health care leader who has risen in the ranks, can have various levels of direct and indirect reports and focused toward moving the various parts of the organization forward through vision, mission and enhancing strategic skills. However, all leaders may not be “executives.” Leaders can be all throughout the organization, both in formal and informal positions that are adding value to the advancement of the organization.

Executive coaching is a subset of leadership “development” coaching and the term has been used interchangeably as in executive leadership (development) coaching. The emphasis is around executive development. This type of refinement of the leader is based upon position, experience and capabilities in the organization relative to impact, context and strategic direction. LEAD executive and leadership coaching assists with the refinement of high potential leaders who feel stuck in their career or vision, supporting leaders in the skills and competencies in effectively leading, gaining perspective, refining interactions with team members and enhancing developmental growth needs of the leader. The dimensions and areas of coaching is truly vast and customized to achieve in the areas the leader most wishes to improve, which might include recognizing blind spots, derailers and weaknesses.

Both executive and leadership coaching are action-oriented, goal-directed and supportive of the physician-leader in addressing key issues in the organization while simultaneously developing the leader.  Qualitative and quantitative feedback measures may be incorporated into understanding the essential areas for refinement.  This would involve eliciting from the leaders direct reports their views of the leader’s performance, impact and interpersonal style around behaviors the leader should ‘continue to do’, ‘stop doing’ and ‘areas of growth.’ These types of measures provide a foundation for the leader to gain insight into behaviors from more of a team and external stakeholders (others) perspective. The leader chooses the individuals, who will provide feedback on the leader. If it is a qualitative 360 the leader will design with the LEAD coach questions to be used in the collection of perspectives.

It is called 360 feedback because the focus is on receiving information from a number of people who know the leader, which is then compiled into a report for the leader to review with the executive leadership coach. Whether it is qualitative or quantitative feedback the leader receives, both can be helpful if the right type of collection of information is utilized for the leader to receive important and helpful information from a combination of direct report, peers/colleagues and superior(s).

Whether you lean toward leadership or executive coaching, the similarities outweigh the differences. If you are looking to refine your skill set, gain understanding of potential blind spots, potential personal and career derailers, or take your leadership to the next level, LEAD coaching is a marvelous way to embark on a journey of self-discovery and skill refinement that can take your skills to the next level. It is truly worth the consideration and investment in your future.


For more information please visit the Duke Professional and Personal Development Program (PPDP) and Leadership and Enhancement Development (LEAD) Coaching and Consulting Services website or contact Program Director Judith Holder at Judith.Holder@duke.edu or (919) 286-1244.

Articles are written by experienced executive, leadership, performance, communication, interpersonal, wellness and life coaches with behavioral health backgrounds and training in social and emotional intelligence, work-related stress and life span development.