Executive coaching and mentoring - something for you?

An executive coach/mentor might provide you valauble company


To be a top leader is often much courted, however when it comes to the real difficult situations, we can feel a bit like “Nils All Alone”. Even though, we may keep ourselves fit via hyped conferences, network groups and social media, it is my experience that all top leaders need to be a little, although not all alone with the difficult decisions. We can all from time to time need a confidential space to dare jump into the deep water of leadership and really move on.



In some cases, it is about issues that we for confidentially reasons cannot share with anyone. Or issues, that we to avoid losing face, are hesitant to expose our lack of knowledge about. Though, I guess that we all sometimes need to relinquish the reins, think high and wild, ask the dumb questions and get the right answers from someone who have tried it before, maybe in another industry, or who can help oneself to figure out the right answers.

It can also be healthy to get challenged, whether we are in control of the right priorities, have made the necessary but difficult deselections, and stay on track to get things completed. Or maybe, we need to develop our personal management and leadership style. Need for someone, who can provide what we cannot get from our otherwise good chairman, boss, colleagues, network or our partner at home. Like “Nils All Alone”, life is after all better, when you have someone you can play with.

Executive coaching

It could for example be an executive coach and mentor, who could act as the top leader’s invisible hand on the steering wheel – a confidant person, who does not “disturb” the top leader’s image, but acts behind the curtains. During my years as CEO for TDC Mobile I used external coaching myself, a coach for management and one for leadership, as the two roles are so different - management which is about dry numbers and cool facts, and leadership about people and emotions. Together, all three of us ensured the right balance between my management and leadership efforts that might otherwise be hard to find time for in a busy day, where it was usually the dry figures speaking.

Fortunately, facts on the subject are now also available. Executive Coach Barometer 2016 (AS3 Executive) has focused on Danish private and public leaders’ use of executive coaching. The study shows that as many as 61% of the 106 top leaders who responded have used an external coach within the past two years. All leaders have, one way or the other, a boss, however all leaders do not enjoy the luxury of an external coach, who released from the power structure objectively can receive and creatively play back, with nothing at stake - so, why not more?

Of the 39% who had not used an executive coach almost half said that they did not see the need for it – maybe not yet? Some leaders were yet scouting for the right coach (7%) and another 7% said that they were not familiar with the opportunities.

Therefore, I have grasped my pen to share my take on considerations you can walk through, if you are thinking about onboarding your own coach.

Off the shelf or tailor-made

Should you go for off the shelf solutions or a sparring process tailored to your concrete needs based on either coaching, mentoring or a mix of both. But hey listen, is it possible to do both at the same time? Professionals often claim that coaching and mentoring are disciplines which need to be kept strictly separated.

My short version of the difference between coaching and mentoring is that a coach trains you to find the answers and solutions yourself, whereas a mentor educates you with his experience based answers and solutions. Actually, theExecutive Coach Barometer 2016 (AS3 Executive) shows that the top leaders mix the concepts when they express their “coaching” expectations, those being sparring (77%), advisory (50%) and preferably by a person with own experience (81%) and knowledge (77%) of the issue in question. So, they do ask for both.

As an executive advisor I have good experiences tailoring sessions, and acting as coach and mentor at the same time. However, it requires that you know the methods well, and clear alignment of expectations up front, primarily focusing on the expected benefit, secondarily whether it’s the one or the other method.

New human or better results

Dear child many names, or perhaps in fact different children the same name. The confusion is widespread, as a lot has been said and written about coaching and mentoring, both personal- and job-related. Coaching and mentoring in my context are probably what I would call "business coaching and mentoring". It’s not a predefined and psychologically-based development program from A to B, where you will come out as a new and whole human at the end of your journey – although it can definitely have a good purpose of its own. It’s, however, shorter or longer programs, which in one way or another will prepare you to perform better in your job – the fact that you might also become happier with life is just a positive side effect.

As a matter of fact, the Executive Coach Barometer 2016 (AS3 Executive) also shows that almost two thirds of the top leaders do not emphasize that their coach has a professional psychological education, but on the other hand, for example own top leader experience (81%) and the ability to provide feedback (88%).


The coaching process is characterized by a coach and coachee relationship - i.e. "training". Covers typically a concrete and short term task, which needs to be exercised or resolved in a new way through both professional and personal skills development.The coach asks structured questions with a view to let yourself find the answers and solutions. Objectives are mutually defined, and the coach takes responsibility for the process and you take responsibility for your own development and output. 

You could for example use coaching to prepare for a strategy- or kickoff meeting, or for the difficult employee conversation, the difficult board meeting, or help solving the Gordian knot, which have puzzled you for too long. Considering the dynamics and demand for quick adjustments characterizing the top leaders’ everyday life, an executive coach and mentor might just be your short cut to accelerating your change initiatives.


The mentoring process is characterized by a mentor and mentee relationship - i.e. "education". Covers typically a longer term professional and personal competence development objective. In contrast to a coaching process it is yourself as mentee who sets the objectives and takes responsibility for the process and output. You ask the questions yourself, and your mentor provides advice, inspiration and share experiences. 

You could for example use mentoring to grow wiser during start-up in a new position or company. Or supporting your longer-term business and personal performance development. When you have succeeded to build a strong mentor relationship, it can of course also be short-termed, when you just need a quick answer – a bit like calling a friend in “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”.

Regularly meetings and home work

Both types of processes could typically cover one-to-one meetings of 1-3 hours’ duration. Coaching on-off as needed, whereas mentoring is a longer-term relation - maybe even for your whole career. Valuable output requires mutual preparation, supplemented by your own home work in between meetings. Despite all sorts of digital communication platforms like Skype and interactive on-line programs, it’s my experience that the fastest and best results are achieved with physical meetings in undisturbed surroundings. The Executive Coach Barometer 2016 (AS3 Executive) also points out that about 80% only to some extent or lower find digital executive coaching suitable. Thus, reserve and prioritize the time in your busy calendar – it’s not left-handed work.

Benefits which can quickly demonstrate value for money

Put up your own success criteria and judge whether it’s worth both your time and money spent, e.g. measured by:

  • New inspiration and proven methods
  • Faster identification of your top priorities and concrete action plans
  • Speedy development of your personal management and leadership style
  • Higher employee engagement and faster execution
  • Increased accuracy in meeting both personal and business objectives

Executive coaching and mentoring is more than just a favor of a friend or network. An executive coach and mentor provides his time and valuable experience, and it has a cost – however it does not have to cost you a fortune. Look for someone, who will not tie you to a longer-term and costly course, but rather a pay-as-you-go model, so you can try your way out per your own success criteria.


I can only encourage you to dare engage an executive coach/mentor, many have done it before you, and with success. As said, I have tried it on my own body as CEO, and found it was nice to have an extra pair of invisible hands on the steering wheel.


As active coach/mentor today, it is a pleasure to see the synergy which can arise, and how the "high and wild thinking" or "the immersion in growing wiser" eventually can be brought at eye-level and executed successfully by the leader him- or herself.


Good luck with your own considerations, and happy hunting for a coach/mentor matching you perfectly.


Mads Middelboe

Executive Advisor & CEO

Leadmore ®


Illustrations from: Sigsgaard and Ungermann, "Nils All Alone", Oxford University Press 1947.

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