Would Leadership Coaching Be Your Ideal Encore Career?

It’s not for everyone, but here are six steps to consider if you are thinking of capping your chief executive career as a coach.

June 19 2012 by Andrew Neitlich


Once you sell your company, retire, or get tired of corporate life, leadership coaching could be an excellent way for you to continue to share your wisdom and experiences.

The field continues to grow. Manchester, Inc., a Jacksonville, Florida, career management consulting firm has reported that about six out of ten organizations currently offer coaching, or other developmental counseling, to their managers and executives. According to a survey by the Hay Group, an international human-resources consultancy, up to 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies use executive coaches, and that number is projected to grow.

One reason that coaching continues to grow is because it gets results. According to the International Coach Federation’s Global Coaching Client Study, the median return on investment in coaching for business purposes is seven times the investment.

Interviews with former C-level executive who became coaches revealed six common reasons why they became coaches.

One: Launch an entrepreneurial venture based on a gap in the market. Michael Frisina left was in the C-suite of a major healthcare system, and saw the need to bring leadership coaching to healthcare leaders. Frisina states, “Partnering with the American Hospital Association and teaching at various national meetings along with promoting my book, Influential Leadership, created the opportunity for my transition to one-on-one executive coaching.”

Two: Take the next step in a natural culmination of a rich career and ongoing growth. Tim Trela has been a C-level executive in a multi-billion dollar industrial company, and then shifted to coaching other executives. He shared, “The course to coaching seems decidedly non-linear. Viewed from the current state as a practicing coach, it almost seems like destiny. In a way, rich career experiences, both good and bad, coupled with style changes from autocratic to collegial have set the stage for an advisory role.”

Three: Build on a passion for helping others develop and be successful. Many executives have coached people their whole careers. They feel so passionate about developing others that they want to do it full time. Tony Galvez shares, “As a General Manager and Vice Chair of my industry association, I enjoyed helping people, and coaching proved to be the perfect vehicle for this passion. The satisfaction of seeing how people’s lives are being transformed through coaching is awesome.” Likewise, after he built up his technology company, Jason Goldberg shifted to coaching. He states, “I found myself getting bored because my true fulfillment came from the development of people. I wanted to do this over and over again with new groups and new challenges, and this was not feasible leading a single organization. I discovered that coaching was what I loved.”

Four: Escape burn out and lack of fulfillment. Many coaches leave their corporate roles for coaching after burning out in the corporate environment. April Stercula went back and forth from corporate leadership to academia and back to an executive role in a major corporation. She shares, “It didn’t take me long to remember why I had left corporate America the first time, so I am now back on my own as an executive coach and very satisfied with my career choice.”

Five: Build on one’s great experiences with mentors and coaches, and help others in the same way. For instance, David Nettina credits a number of mentors who helped make “the job I needed to do infinitely easier to achieve than when I met challenges alone.” Now he takes his own C-level experiences with “unexpected situations and one-of-a-kind market conditions to help reduce the increasing stress of folks in leadership positions.” Likewise, Kenneth Carlson was provided an executive coach when he was in senior leadership at ADP. “I knew pretty quickly that the work that she was doing with me was what I wanted to do with my own life/career.”

Six: Enjoy a more flexible lifestyle, one with more control. Patrick Lynch left a 25-year career in the consumer packaged goods industry for coaching. “I had grown tired and frustrated with the lack of control in my career,” he explains. “I wanted to go into a venture where my efforts along will determine my future and fortune.” Similarly, Cameron Herold left his COO position with a company he helped to build to $126 million in sales, partly because “it gave me back my free time.”

If you are thinking about the next step in your career, and the above points resonate with you, you may find success and fulfillment developing others as an executive-level leadership coach.

Six Steps for Getting into Coaching

Those interviewed for this article offered the following advice based on their experiences transitioning into coaching:

  1. Learn how to coach. Coaching is not about telling or lecturing. There are specific skills required to be an effective coach. If you join a coach training program, join one that is practical; many out there teach fluff to people who should not be coaches.
  2. Get focused. Choose a specific target market that you will help as a coach, and craft a compelling solution and marketing message for that market’s top challenges.
  3. Be prepared for some executives to balk at the idea of coaching. Thanks to many “lightweight” coaches and the fact the many executives are reluctant to admit they could use a coach, it is sometimes easier to position yourself as a solution provider than a coach.
  4. Be patient, because building your practice will take time. As executive coach David Nettina advises, “Have plenty of financial runway; this is going to take far longer than you think to make work.”
  5. Build on your current network of contacts. A top advantage of coaching as a business is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money on marketing. Referrals from your current power base will give you a greater return than any other form of business development.
  6. Choose the best business model for you as a coach. Coaching is a flexible profession, and you can develop your own unique model. For instance, many C-level executives have a hybrid approach in which they can serve as coach, consultant, facilitator, and even interim executive. Similarly, once you develop a coaching framework, you can turn that into books, information products, seminars, and licensed programs. It is up to your aspirations, vision, and unique style.