Leadership Coaching for CEOs: Yes. Even The Best Can Be Better

Leadership Coaching for CEOs: Helping The Best Leaders Get Even Better
by SkylineG

Leadership Coaching for CEOs: Helping The Best Leaders Get Even Better

In today's fast-paced, ultra-connected, overstimulated post-covid business world, CEOs now more than ever face challenges that require them to be outstanding leaders.

CEOs are responsible for setting the vision, direction & strategy of their organizations. As the top executives that drive their organizations, they have to make crucial decisions, manage complex relationships & navigate their businesses through constant change and uncertainty. This requires that leaders are constantly and consistently growing, learning, and pushing themselves to evolve their leadership abilities. The most effective way to do this is through the right leadership coach.

Whether you're an HR Manager looking into coaching for your CEO or C Suite Executives, or a CEO considering an investment into your own skillset, read on for the ultimate executive coaching guide to help you understand the leadership development opportunities available for today's CEO.

What is CEO Coaching?

CEO coaching is one-on-one coaching that takes a consistent, measurable data-driven approach to accelerating leadership performance.

CEO-level leadership coaching is similar to leadership coaching for other executives which entails leaders working with an experienced leadership coach to identify their own unique strengths & weaknesses, identify clear and measurable coaching goals, and develop actionable strategies to overcome their weaknesses or accelerate existing strengths, to meet and exceed personal and organizational performance goals.

CEO Executive coaching is the most effective way for all leaders and even the most experienced CEOs to accelerate their leadership development, leadership skills, and rapidly adapt to changing circumstances.

Does a CEO Need a Coach?

No. Not every CEO needs a coach. Can every CEO benefit from having the right coach? Yes. The right leadership coach at the right time can act as a catalyst whether a leader is struggling or is amazing. To meet their maximum potential, CEOs do need a coach. CEO Coaches act as a CEO's sounding board, test assumptions, and act as an objective guide to help them navigate complex situations.

The Need for CEO Coaching

CEOs lead in rapidly changing environments that can be volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, and as any current or former CEO will tell you - CEOs may not have all the answers. The right executive coach can act as a powerful ally.

Coaching business leaders can help them to develop a growth mindset, embrace change, and lead their organizations through difficult times with certainty.

Visionary Thinking

A CEO must have a clear and inspiring vision of where the company is headed. This vision should be based on a deep understanding of the company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. For example, the founder and CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, has a clear vision of creating a sustainable future and revolutionizing the transportation industry with electric cars and renewable energy. His vision has guided the company's growth and innovation.

Strategic Planning

A CEO must be able to plan for the long-term success of the company and make strategic decisions about day-to-day operations to ensure the company stays on track. This requires a deep understanding of the company's industry, market trends, and competitive landscape. For example, Apple's CEO Tim Cook has successfully led the company's strategic planning by shifting the focus from hardware sales to services and subscription-based revenue. This shift has helped Apple maintain its competitive edge and increase its revenue.

Effective Communication

A CEO must be able to communicate clearly and effectively with employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders. This includes being able to convey the company's vision, goals, and strategies in a compelling way. For example, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been praised for his effective communication skills, which have helped to unify the company's diverse workforce and drive innovation.

Strong Decision-making Skills

A CEO must be able to make quick and effective decisions based on incomplete information. They should also be willing to take calculated risks when necessary. For example, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is known for his willingness to take risks, such as investing in new technologies like artificial intelligence and voice assistants, which have helped to transform the company and drive growth.


A CEO must be able to adapt to changing circumstances and adjust the company's strategy as needed. This requires being able to anticipate and respond to market changes, customer needs, and emerging technologies. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson quickly adapted the company's strategy to focus on digital ordering and contactless pickup, which helped to maintain customer engagement and revenue.

Emotional Intelligence

A CEO must have a high degree of emotional intelligence to be able to understand and manage their own emotions and those of others. This includes being able to build strong relationships with employees, customers, and partners, and being able to navigate complex interpersonal dynamics. For example, Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, is known for her ability to build strong relationships with employees and foster a culture of collaboration and innovation.

Team Building

A CEO must be able to build and lead a high-performing team. This requires being able to identify and recruit top talent, create a culture of collaboration and accountability, and provide ongoing feedback and development opportunities. For example, Google CEO Sundar Pichai has been praised for his ability to build and motivate a talented workforce that is dedicated to innovation and growth.

Navigate Change

Change can be disruptive & challenging but it's a constant in business.

Even the most successful CEOs can benefit from having a leadership coach to help them navigate change more effectively. CEO leadership coaching can help CEOs navigate change by providing them with tools for:

  • Better decision making
  • Managing resistance
  • Communicating effectively
  • Lead their organization through uncertainty

CEOs who can confidently navigate & lead their organizations through change are more likely to succeed.

When Should a CEO Consider a Leadership Coach?

At Skyline G we believe that leaders aren't born, but made, and that any time is a good time for coaching & development. However, there are some specific events that can indicate it may be time to consider some coaching sessions.

When a CEO is facing any challenge that may be hindering their effectiveness as a leader, or the common challenges below, a CEO may want to consider coaching:

1) Transitioning into a New Role

In a transition time is of the essence.

If a CEO is transitioning into a new role a good executive coach can help ensure a faster, more successful transition. A CEO coach can give you the edge you need to hit the ground running and confidently navigate the transition while further improving on the necessary skills to thrive in your new role.

2) Facing a Significant Challenge

If a CEO is managing through significant challenges & crises, a coach can help the CEO lead the organization through crises faster.

The transition from former to new CEO, managing stakeholders' expectations, dealing with employees' resistance to change, navigating office politics, and succession planning are all common, significant challenges.

3) Feeling Stuck or Stagnant

If a CEO feels they are lacking progress or perhaps their leadership style isn't effective, a coach can help identify areas with growth potential & provide technical feedback on strategies to measure progress and how to overcome obstacles.

4) Seeking to Enhance Leadership Skills

Continued leadership growth is essential. If a CEO wants to improve in tough areas of leadership like communication, & emotional intelligence they may want to consider a coach to help them develop those skills and become a more effective leader.

5) Upon Receiving Feedback that Suggests Improvement is Needed

If a CEO is receiving feedback from stakeholders suggesting improvement is needed, they may want to take honest feedback & consider coaching to help them address the feedback & develop strategies for improvement.

A leadership coach can provide support, guidance deeper insights & strategies to help a CEO overcome obstacles in the way of achieving the suggested improvement.

CEO Coaching Action Plan Sample

The CEO coaching process begins with establishing a baseline of the leader's current state from both a skill perspective and also looking holistically at the CEO's career, professional history, and opportunities and challenges they are facing. The current state analysis may include assessments such as a 360to gather feedback from peers, the board, customers, and direct reports. Other assessments might look at personality traits and how those traits support or hinder their performance.

What Specifically Does a CEO Coach Do?

A CEO coach will work directly with CEOs to identify specific measurable objectives and work with the CEO over a six-month or more time period to learn, apply, and master new behaviors that enable the achievement of the established objectives.

A sample executive coaching plan might look something like this:

Step 1 - Assess current state - strengths, opportunities for development solve challenges, and priorities.

Step 2 - Identify coaching goals and associated metrics.

Step 3 - Confirm coaching objectives with key constituents including the board, peers, and HR partner (if applicable).

Step 4 - Regularly meet with the coach to discuss challenges, and success, and gain insight from the coach to apply new behaviors and skills.

Step 5 - Measure the effectiveness of the coaching process through a post-coaching engagement assessment.

Step 6 - Report coaching engagement successes and metrics.

Successful CEOs Who've Used Leadership Coaches

There's ample research & evidence to support the effectiveness of leadership coaching for CEOs. Here are a few examples of successful CEOs who advocate their coaching relationship:

Bill Gates - as a tech pioneer, co-founder of Microsoft & one of the most successful CEOs in history, Bill Gates knows a thing or two about leadership. He's been vocal about how his experience with leadership coaching shaped him into a better leader & improved his skills.

Eric Schmidt - with over a decade at the helm of Google, Eric Schmidt is hailed as one of the most accomplished CEOs in tech. If you ask him his secret to success? Leadership coaching. He credits his coaching experience as a vital part in shaping him into a better CEO & reaching the accolades he's achieved.

Steve Jobs - the visionary co-founder and CEO of Apple, which set an unparalleled standard of success. With a distinctive leadership style, he inspired and challenged those around him. Can you imagine coaching Steve Jobs? Surreal.

Meg Whitman - as a former eBay CEO and current Quibi CEO, Meg Whitman knows a thing or two about successful leadership. And according to her, leadership coaching played a pivotal role in her journey to becoming a better CEO.

Even the most successful CEOs and company leaders can benefit from good leadership coaching. Just be open to coaching and seek out coaches who can actually help achieve goals.

Performance Data & ROI of CEO Coaches

Leadership coaching has been found to have a positive return on investment (ROI) for both individuals and organizations. Research conducted by the International Coach Federation (ICF) in 2019 found that coaching resulted in a median ROI of 3.44 times the initial investment.

Additionally, a study published in the International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring in 2015 found that the ROI of coaching was 7 times the initial investment. The study involved 21 leaders who received coaching over a six-month period, and the results were based on a combination of self-reported and organizational data.

Another study published in the Harvard Business Review in 2009 examined the ROI of coaching for a large multinational corporation. The study found that coaching had an ROI of 529% for senior leaders and 788% for mid-level managers.

Overall, these studies suggest that leadership coaching can have a significant positive ROI for both individuals and organizations. However, it's worth noting that the effectiveness of individual coaching alone can depend on factors such as the coach's expertise, the coachee's commitment to the coaching process, and the organization's support for coaching initiatives.

Harvard Business Review released a study that found coaching had a significant impact on employee engagement & retention. The study looked at the impact of coaching for chief executives at a Fortune 500 company and found that coaching led to improvements in employee engagement, retention & improved business outcomes.

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the impact and ROI of leadership coaching, the studies data and research suggest coaching can be a powerful tool for improving leadership team effectiveness, employee engagement, business outcomes and can produce a positive ROI, making it a worthwhile investment.

Finding a Leadership Coach

Finding the best leadership coach may seem like an impossible task but by using the strategies below a CEO can find and identify the coach that's most right for them:

Ask for Referrals

One of the most effective ways to find a leadership coach is to ask for referrals from colleagues, an executive mentor, or professional contacts. Ideally, leaders who you admire. They may have worked with a coach in the past and potentially can recommend one with whom they've had an impactful experience with.

Research Online

There are many directories and websites that list leadership coaches. A CEO can do a search online for coaches who specialize in their industry or area of focus.

Attend Conferences or Events

Attending industry conferences or events related to leadership or their industry can be a good way to meet many executive coaches, who may be a good fit. Executive coaches attend these events to network & connect with potential clients.

Check Professional Organizations

There are several professional organizations that certify coaches, such as the International Coach Federation (ICF). A CEO can check these organizations' websites to find coaches who have met certain standards and have been certified.

Interview Potential Coaches

Once a CEO has identified potential coaches, they should interview them to ensure that they are a good fit. This can include discussing past outcomes, their coaching philosophy, experience, system & approach.

What Do CEOs Really Want from Executive Coaching?

CEOs will have different goals and expectations when it comes to their executive coaching engagements but ultimately, CEOs expect:

  • Confidentiality
  • Accountability
  • Objective feedback
  • Actionable insights
  • Strategic thinking

But perhaps most importantly:

  • Definitive and measurable personal and professional growth

CEOs want to partner with experienced coaches who provide the data-driven insights, actionable guidance & high-level support needed for them to unlock their full potential & become more impactful in their roles.

In Conclusion

For leaders in a range of companies from seed-funded start-ups to Fortune 500s and successful business owners alike, being an effective CEO is a difficult job involving an array of constantly evolving, complex topics from marketing to leading teams.

Utilizing executive coaching services specifically designed for CEOs and other high-ranking executives creates long-term positive change in leadership abilities and organizational success. By having a skilled, objective external third party and a clear plan of action, leaders are able to learn from the coach, analyze past performance, and adjust for future decisions - a great investment into both people and profits.

CEO Coaching can provide immense opportunities for CEOs interested in further developing their skills, and surpassing their goals, but ultimately a CEO's willingness to engage in coaching is key to gaining the most value out of the experience & achieving their desired outcomes.

If you're looking to supercharge either your own or your CEO & executive team's leadership abilities and want to learn more about how effective CEO coaching can help your leaders reach their highest potential, contact Skyline G today.