Life Coaching vs Executive Coaching for physicians: Is there a difference?

in Physician Coaching Insights

I am often asked if there is a difference between “life coaching” vs “executive coaching” for physicians.  You may be wondering yourself, particularly if you are thinking about developing yourself as a coach for physicians. I certainly pondered that question when I started coaching.  Indeed, after completing my “life coach” training many years ago,  I subsequently trained with the Graduate School of Corporate Coaching.

After coaching doctors for over 20 years–both front line clinicians and physician executives– and then leading the Physician Coaching Institute for the past 14 years, here is how I explain “life coaching” vs “executive coaching.”

  1. Whether on the front line of clinical care or in an executive role, physicians all experience a common set of “life” issues they bring to coaching.   The coaching topics range from managing stress, grappling with tense relationships, hoping to avoid burnout, striving for well-being, and aspiring to achieve career fulfillment.  The overlap is pretty big.

  2. Each group of physicians may initially seek coaching for different reasons, but an experienced Certified Physician Development Coach™ will support both groups with a full range of coaching competencies  plus a comprehensive set of coaching tools and structures.  Bottom line, coaching either group requires a comprehensive, holistic approach.

  3. Taking a holistic approach is critical to addressing even the issues one might categorize as “executive.”   For example, in my experience the #1 coaching issue that physician executives work on is relationship management. Coaching assists them in developing emotional intelligence, managing themselves and their teams, and managing their communication.  Therefore we have to take a coaching “deep dive” into the whole person to facilitate self-awareness that leads to leadership growth and breakthroughs.

  4. Physician executives may benefit from additional coaching frameworks and  tools if the coaching will venture into areas of leadership and business strategy. However, the maxim in coaching is “we coach the person, not the situation.”  A coach might offer an additional framework, but the coaching process focuses on the client executing in their unique leadership situation, leveraging their personal strengths, and overcoming their self-limiting beliefs.

  5. I have always appreciated the words of Warren Bennis in his book, Becoming a Leader“To become a leader (executive) is to become who you really are.”  That is the crux of executive coaching: facilitating awareness of your client’s personal strengths and the emergence of their authentic self.  It turns out, that is the crux of life coaching as well.

Francine Gaillour, MD, MBA, FAAPL, PCC is Executive Director of the Physician Coaching Institute