Executive coaching 101

Published on
August 2, 2022
min read

Executive coaching helps you close the gap between where you are now and where you want to be as a leader. For founders, it can be an enabler of thinking and feeling at a pace that matches – and slightly exceeds – the growth of their startup. 

We’re big believers in founders getting an executive coach. But we’ve also heard from many founders and operators that the hardest part about getting started with an executive coach is knowing where to start. That’s why we teamed up with Maxine Minter, CEO of Co Lab, for an executive coaching 101.

What is executive coaching?

Executive coaching is the process of partnering with a coach to help you accelerate your growth. 

The role of an executive coach is to be a collaborator whose sole focus is on helping you develop the strategies and skills to make you more successful and help your startup accelerate through rapid growth. 

Executive coaching isn’t therapy, mentoring or consulting. It’s a partnership with an experienced professional focused on you developing your performance as a leader and executive. 

You should consider getting an executive coach when you are no longer measured by your personal output, but by the collective output of others. At this level of scale, your actions and decisions start to have compounding benefits (or costs). 

Why get an exec coach?

The world’s best executives and founding teams use executive coaches to help them accelerate their personal and professional growth. Eric Schmidt at Google, Brian Armstrong at Coinbase, Shishir Mehrotra at Coda, Justin Kan at Twitch and many others have all used executive coaches to help them accelerate their growth curve and become exceptional at what they do. 

The output of a fast-growing company increases by 100%-500% over a year. That means that the output of the CEO and the executive team also has to increase by 100%-500% that year. 

High calibre executive coaches help you navigate that development trajectory by bringing their experience training and coaching executives of similar companies, professional experience, and well-established frameworks and playbooks to a coaching and training program tailored to you. 

When is exec coaching not the right fit?

While exec coaching covers a wide range of support, it isn’t the right fit for all circumstances. 

A therapist may be a better fit if you’re suffering from a mental health event or experiencing a degree of mental distress.

If you’re looking for a purely tactical advisor to tell you how exactly to solve your problems or chase your opportunity, then exec coaching may not be the right fit. 

How do you find the right coach?

Finding the right executive coach can be difficult.

The “right coach” for you needs to take into account the stage of the company you’re building, what you’re looking to work on, your preferences on who you learn best from, and your budget and engagement needs. You’ll also want to consider:

  • Do they understand the context you’re operating in? This may be because they’ve walked in your shoes before or have supported people who have. 
  • Are they a great executive coach or just experienced and believe they know how you should do something? This is where most exec coach mis-hires happen – their advisory skill set is conflated with the coaching skill set. Coaching is focused on helping you work out the answer, not telling you how to do it.  
  • Do you feel a high degree of chemistry with your coach? This is not about their experience but the feeling you should have about your exec coach. From our experience matching 100s of founders to exec coaches, the chemistry fit is the most significant variable for success. 

The best way to find the perfect executive coach for you is to do your research and interview many coaches or work with an executive coach matchmaker or executive coach recruiter. Alternatively, you can ask your investors or peers for a recommendation. 

We've also put together a list of executive coaches recommended by AirTree founders and the startup community:

What do you work on with an executive coach?

It’s all about helping you perform better at work. Topics that are common for startup founders and CEOs to explore include:

  • How to get more out of your day and team 
  • How to make sure you’re working on the right things
  • Developing your leadership, management and feedback skills
  • Improving your ability to have difficult conversations
  • Managing the interpersonal dynamics between founders and executive teams

There are a few things you can do to get the most out of exec coaching:

  • Have a clear idea of why you’re looking to work an exec coach and what your goals for an engagement are
  • Bringing topics that you want to work on to each session
  • Joining each session with an open mind, ready to learn, grow and share openly with your coach

You won’t always be in your comfort zone, but that's when you get the most out of your exec coach. Like an athlete training in a sport, in some sessions, you’ll spend time on skills that directly apply to your day-to-day, and in others, you’ll “cross train” in topics that help sustainably lift your performance.  

What does a typical engagement with an exec coach look like?

There are three variables to the construction of an engagement. Each engagement is a combination of payment structure, pre-commitment and cadence of sessions. 

Payment structure

Engagements can be done by the hour or month, a set period or number of sessions. For example, either $750 per hour or $3,500 per month.

The price of an executive coach usually reflects their professional experience. For example, someone who has been a successful startup CEO or venture investor who is now a coach may charge $3,500-$5,000 per month. 


Engagements can be monthly agreements or upfront commitments to 3-12 months. Or you can do session by session.


The cadence that you meet with your Executive Coach can be weekly, fortnightly, monthly or ad-hoc. Your engagement can also include time outside of sessions, such as calls, texts, emails and other material review.

The ROI of exec coaching

Exec coaching can be one of the highest ROI investments you make in developing yourself and your company. 

The best way to think about your budget for exec coaching is to consider the value they may be able to deliver and divide it by 10 to get to your “no-brainer” pricing.

Let’s look at an example. You have a team of 5 with a total payroll of $750,000. Right now, 25% of everyone’s time could be used more effectively if you spent time strategically setting the team up for success. 25% of $750,000 is a potential saving of $187,500 a year. Your “no-brainer” price would be $18,750 for the year, or ~$1,500 per month. 

About Co-Lab

At Co Lab, we work with world-class operational and leadership coaches who have all previously been in c-suite roles at fast-growth companies, venture partners at leading VCs or academics at the world’s best universities, or a combination of all three. To find the right match, we start by working with you to develop your goals and create a profile to match you with suitable coaches based on your goals.

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