What is executive coaching?

What is executive coaching?

There is no universally accepted definition of coaching. Virtually all coaching schools and researchers have their own or differ slightly from each other.
The most widespread coaching organization, the USA-based International Coach Federation (ICF), with 30,000 members and a presence in almost 140 countries, defines coaching as partnering with clients in a creative and challenging process that inspires them to maximize their personal potential and professional (see ICF ).
A view of coaching supports most definitions as a collaborative relationship between coach and coachee to achieve professional or personal development results that the coachee values.
Typically, coaching objectives are established to help individuals: (1) identify desired results; (2) set specific goals; (3) increase motivation by identifying strengths and building self-efficacy; (4) identify resources and formulate specific action plans; (5) monitor and evaluate progress toward goals; (6) modify action plans based on feedback ( Spence & Grant, 2007) mentioned in (Mosteo Chagoyen, 2015).

Origins of coaching

Doctor Leticia Mosteo, in her doctoral thesis, identifies the epistemological bases of coaching: positive psychology, humanism and lifelong learning (LLL) and constructivism (Mosteo Chagoyen, 2015).
Positive psychology focuses on understanding how positive emotions work. Positive aspects such as creativity, emotional intelligence, humour, wisdom, happiness, resilience, etc., positively affect human beings. Renowned researchers, such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, identify a situation full of ecstasy, called flow (Flow theory), consisting of an optimal state of intrinsic motivation in which the person is immersed in what they are doing (Csikszentmihalyi, 2009 ).
Humanism and lifelong learning approach development, considering that learning is an act based on internal motivation to achieve one's full potential. Carl Rogers, probably the most influential psychotherapist in history, focuses on the person “ Person-Centered Approach ” (PCA) compared to other Freudian or social psychological approaches. Defends the preferential use of empathy to achieve the communication process with the client. Rogers postulates that we cannot teach another person directly. Hence, the educator or learning facilitator must create the initial climate, communicate trust, clarify and motivate with congruence and authenticity. Rogers calls this "empathic understanding" (see Wikipedia ).
Constructivism is oriented towards the psychology of personality and education. It is based on the fact that knowledge consists of a psychological and social process that constructs reality, and the consequence is that human behaviour is not only mediated but determined by said process (Munné, 1999).

Coaching schools

Currently, there are three main schools of coaching: the American school, with a very pragmatic and results-oriented approach. The European school is committed to unlocking the potential of every person, and the Chilean school or ontological school is more interventionist and transformative.

The American School

The North American School was founded by Thomas Leonard, also the founder of the International Coach Federation (ICF). For Leonard, the coachee, far from being emotionally unstable, is a normal person who, thanks to an alter ego that acts as a fronton, can order his ideas to achieve great results.
The coaching style of the American school is, therefore, provocative, questioning the client's statements to force him to reflect. In this case, the coach is a catalyst who, without judging, focuses on what is important so that the coachee can explore new options.
The American approach focuses on results, on what is important, is based on facts, is objective and pragmatic, believes in the existence of personal options, in the capacity for action, accepts change and considers internal motivation as the driving force.
His method is clear, concise, simple, neutral, agile and customer-focused.

The European School

The European school, for its part, influenced by humanistic psychology, prioritizes client development (versus results). It facilitates awareness, self-acceptance and the development of self-confidence.
The GROW model, attributed to Graham Alexander, Alan Fine, and Sir John Whitmore, is the clearest reference to this method. It begins with the definition of the goal ( Goal ), the description of the present situation ( Reality ), the identification of obstacles ( Obstacles ) and options ( Options ) and the action plan ( Way Forward) (see Wikipedia ).
Fact-oriented questions in the reality phase allow for awareness and the assumption of responsibility. In the action plan, others oriented to what, how, when, when, who, etc., facilitate its definition.

The Ontological School

Ontology means " the study of being ". This word is formed through the Greek terms οντος, ontos, which means being, entity, and λóγος, logos, which means study, science, or theory. Ontology is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of being, existence, and reality.
The term ontological coaching is due to Dr. Rafael Echeverría, founding partner and President of Newfield Consulting, a management consulting and training company (see https://www.newfieldconsulting.com). Echeverría proposes this name in his book The Ontology of Language (Echeverría, 1994). He maintains that ontological coaching inherits its name as it is a practice that arises from the discourse of language ontology. It is inspired by an interpretation of the human phenomenon offered by language ontology. It is also because transformational learning experiences are achieved. Based on these, life is interpreted and responded to differently (see YouTube ).
By changing how we see the world, ontological coaching allows us to solve previously unsolvable problems, relate to others differently and act accordingly.


The three schools are very different in approach, objectives and method, and precisely in that difference lies the richness of coaching. They are not exclusive but complementary, and choosing one coach or another will depend largely on the problem at the time.


  • Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience (Nachdr.). New York: Harper [and] Row.
  • Echeverría, R. (1994). The Ontology of Language. Santiago: Dolmen Ediciones.
  • Mosteo Chagoyen, LP (2015). Executive Coaching: An Exploration of The What, How and Who of Coaching Practices from a Cognitive-Emotional and CrossCultural Perspective. Ramon Llull University, Barcelona.
  • Munné, F. (1999). Constructivism, constructionism and complexity: the weakness of criticism in constructional psychology. Journal of Social Psychology, 14(2–3), 131–144. https://doi.org/10.1174/021347499760259903
  • Spence, GB, & Grant, AM (2007). Professional and peer life coaching and the enhancement of goal striving and well-being: An exploratory study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2(3), 185–194. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760701228896
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