Executive coaching vs. becoming a Vistage Chair: Which one’s the better fit?
Many retired and retiring leaders seek an encore career. A common goal is to apply a wealth of experience in the business realm while escaping the toss-and-turn-all-night pressures of the C-suite.
Executive coaching often appeals. Research that role and you’ll quickly come across Vistage, the world’s largest executive coaching organization, and its specialized position: the Vistage Chair.
What’s the difference between an executive coach and a Vistage Chair? Most importantly, how can you determine which option will lead to your next chapter? Let’s explore.
What is an executive coach?
It’s easy to ask Google, Siri, or Alexa this question and gain some guidance. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, for example, deems executive coaching to be an “inquiry-based approach [to improving] performance by helping individuals to develop and sustain new perspectives, attitudes, skills and behaviors.”
Asking questions and effecting change. Sounds like therapy. But what does it mean in practice?
Niels Lameijer, a certified executive and corporate coach, describes the purpose behind one-on-one coaching interactions with clients.
“You’re helping them get to the next level, whatever that means to them,” he says. “As a coach, you’re helping them provide their own answers. You connect dots that they cannot necessarily connect on their own.”
What is a Vistage Chair?
Hundreds of Vistage Chairs around the world are trained to apply a unique model for professional and personal development.
One-to-one coaching is part of the Vistage equation. However, the foundation, according to Bob Moore, who has been with Vistage for nearly 14 years, is the peer advisory group.
This is a group of “12-to-16 peers who don’t have your job but are in your shoes. To get a perspective from them, that’s everything,” he says.
In fact, it was the addition of the peer advisory group component that inspired Lameijer to transition from stand-alone executive coaching to Vistage.
“It combined two things I love, facilitating and coaching,” he said.
He finds that Vistage suits his talents and also benefits the executives he serves. “I’m good at coaching. I’m really good at asking questions. What I don’t have is the decades of business and life experience the group provides.”
Marty Stowe, who began his Vistage journey in 2019, explains that the role of a Vistage Chair expands on the concept of an executive coach. “A Vistage Chair is here to create relationships, not only between themselves and the individual member but also among the group.”
The power of peers
Organizing and facilitating a Vistage peer advisory group, in addition to providing one-to-one coaching for every member, is more complex and time consuming. Why put in the extra effort?
According to Stowe, a Vistage peer advisory group is “a very special forum, almost magical. A Vistage Chair forms a pack of wolves. You know the saying, the strength of the wolf is the pack, the strength of the pack is the wolf. We’re stronger together than we are individually.”
The peer advisory group also reduces the need to be a subject matter expert on everything. “The members of the group are a whole lot smarter than I am, individually and collectively,” says Moore. “I let the group do the heavy lifting. My job is more as a guide.”
Lameijer agrees. “My work is to create a safe environment where my members can talk about whatever is top of mind, whether that’s struggles with their children, whether that’s a direct report or a financing issue, whether that’s the war going on in Ukraine or social unrest and racism in the United States. We create a platform to talk about that, to learn from that, and to become better human beings.”
Stowe points out an unexpected advantage of the Vistage model — an increased ability to speak the truth. Because tough-to-hear feedback comes from multiple directions in a peer advisory group meeting, he argues, Vistage Chairs don’t need to worry as much about chasing clients off.
“An executive coach will accept that’s where you’re going and try to help you along the way. In Vistage, we’ll tell you when you’re on the wrong train,” he said.
Lameijer, who in addition to serving as an executive coach and Vistage Chair now trains Vistage Chairs from across the country, offers insights on making the right choice.
1. Do you need to have the answers?
“If you’re somebody who likes to solve things, that’s great. But Chairing is probably not the right role for you because we’re very much leaning on the group to offer solutions, not the Chair.”
2. Do you prefer a proven model?
“When you work with Vistage, you’re tapping into a system. If you stick with the system, there’s a good chance of being successful.”
3. How important is complete independence?
“If you’re an executive coach, you can be out on your own and do it your way.” Being part of Vistage, on the other hand, “comes with some rules and expectations. There’s not as much room for ‘I’m going to do it my way’ because we know that some ways don’t work.”
4. Can you accept feedback?
A retired business owner or CEO is usually accustomed to leading and directing, Lameijer observes, so Vistage can represent a big change. “Now they’re going to be coached and get feedback from people who have done this successfully. Not everybody can handle that.”
Lameijer himself has charted a career trajectory from coaching to Vistage by focusing on his Why. “The reason I get out of bed in the morning is to create a safe space for people to step in and be their full self. Whether that’s in one-on-one conversation or a group setting, that doesn’t change.”
This should come as welcome news for retiring executives with similar motivations. Most will find that coaching, serving as a Vistage Chair, or combining these and other roles enables them to realize their purpose and make a difference in the lives of leaders and the companies, families, and communities that depend on them.