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Executive coaching: A critical review and recommendations for advancing the practice.

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Abstract

Executive coaching has exploded in popularity over the past decade and has many passionate advocates, including coaches, participants who have personally benefited from coaching, and their organizational sponsors who have seen the transformational power of coaching firsthand. Yet there is still considerable debate about such fundamental issues as the definition and effectiveness of coaching, the competencies and qualifications of effective coaches, and how to match coaches and participants. This chapter examines these and other issues important to coaches, researchers, users of coaching services, and those who train coaches. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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CHAPTER 18
EXECUTIVE COACHING:
A CRITICAL REVIEW AND
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR
ADVANCING THE PRACTICE
David B. Peterson
Executive coaching has exploded in popularity over
the past decade (Brock, 2008; Grant, 2009) and has
many passionate advocates, including coaches, par-
ticipants who have personally benefited from coach-
ing, and their organizational sponsors who have
seen the transformational power of coaching first-
hand. Yet there is still considerable debate about
such fundamental issues as the definition and effec-
tiveness of coaching, the competencies and qualifi-
cations of effective coaches, and how to match
coaches and participants.1This chapter examines
these and other issues important to coaches,
researchers, users of coaching services, and those
who train coaches.
The field of executive coaching is still young
and has been populated by practitioners from
diverse backgrounds, including business, manage-
ment consulting, organization development, train-
ing, human resources, linguistics, education, sports,
and assorted psychological disciplines, including
industrial and organizational (I/O), counseling,
clinical, and social (Brock, 2008; Grant, 2007;
Liljenstrand & Nebeker, 2008; Minahan, 2006;
Walker, 2004). Two highly influential leaders in the
field of life coaching, Thomas Leonard and Laura
Whitworth, even began their careers as accountants
and financial advisors (O’Connor & Lages, 2007).
Given the varied backgrounds, experiences, and
perspectives coaches bring, it is not surprising to
see a lack of consensus about definitions, methods,
and techniques. Executive coaching is also a field in
which the practice is far ahead of relevant theory and
research (Feldman & Lankau, 2005; Fillery-Travis &
Lane, 2006; Joo, 2005). Whereas the amount of
research on coaching has grown exponentially in the
2000s (Grant, 2009), the available theory on coach-
ing is primarily adapted to coaching from other
domains, often with only superficial modifications
that do not necessarily address differences in audi-
ence, purpose, or context. As Tobias (1996) noted,
many coaching models are “simply a repackaging
of certain practices that were once subsumed under
the more general terms consulting or counseling”
(p. 87). The paucity of theory specific to coaching is
reflected in the prevalence of published material
based directly on therapeutic models (e.g., behav-
ioral, cognitive, psychodynamic, person-centered,
humanistic, gestalt) found in broad overviews such
as Palmer and Whybrow (2007), Peltier (2009),
and Stober and Grant (2006) or in models based on
principles from social psychology and learning theory
(e.g., Law, Ireland, & Hussain, 2007), positive
This work has benefited greatly from the contributions and ideas of Mary Dee Hicks, Carol Kauffman, Bob Lee, Susan Mecca, John Muros, Alexis
Shoemate, Marc Sokol, Elyse Sutherland, and Rebecca Turner. Special thanks to Sheldon Zedeck for his insightful and extremely useful feedback,
comments, and suggestions. I also express my appreciation to PDI Ninth House’s senior leadership, especially Cindy Marsh and R. J. Heckman, for
their ongoing support.
1This chapter refers to coaching participants rather than coachees, a commonly used term that characterizes executives as passive recipients of the
coach’s actions rather than as active learners and fully engaged partners in a collaborative working relationship.
11822-18_Ch18_rev2.qxd 3/30/10 3:24 PM Page 527
psychology (e.g., Biswas-Diener & Dean, 2007;
Kauffman, 2006), and even schools of philosophy
such as existentialism and phenomenology (e.g.,
Flaherty, 2005). Because many of the ideas pre-
sented in the coaching literature, including this
chapter, need further validation and research, the
closing section of this chapter addresses fundamen-
tal research questions and methodological issues for
the study of coaching.
DEFINITIONS OF EXECUTIVE COACHING
There are many definitions of coaching (Ives, 2008)
and executive coaching (Hamlin, Ellinger, & Beattie,
2008; Joo, 2005). Several authorities have even
modified their definitions over time as their perspec-
tives have evolved (Palmer & Whybrow, 2007). The
challenges of attempting to define such a broad,
diverse practice include delimiting the boundaries
relative to other fields (e.g., therapy or consulting)
and producing a definition that is specific enough to
be of practical use and yet broad enough to be inclu-
sive and representative of the diversity in the field
(D’Abate, Eddy, & Tannenbaum, 2003; Hamlin et al.,
2008; Ives, 2008; Jackson, 2005; Olson, 2008; Stern,
2004; Stewart, O’Riordan, & Palmer, 2008; Thach &
Heinselman, 1999; Walker, 2004). Two of the sim-
plest, most straightforward definitions of executive
coaching are presented by Ely et al. (in press), “a
relationship in which a client engages with a coach
in order to facilitate his or her becoming a more
effective leader” and Bluckert (2006), “the facilita-
tion of learning and development with the purpose
of improving performance and enhancing effective
action, goals achievement, and personal satisfaction”
(p. 3). Compare those to Kampa and White’s (2002)
elaborate definition:
a formal, ongoing relationship between
an individual or team having manager-
ial authority and responsibility in an
organization and a consultant who pos-
sesses knowledge of behavior change
and organizational functioning. This
relationship has the goal of creating
measurable behavior change in the indi-
vidual or collection of individuals (the
team) that results in increased individ-
ual and organizational performance and
where the relationship between individ-
ual or team and consultant facilitates
this change by or through giving direct
behaviorally based feedback, creating
opportunities for change, and demand-
ing accountability. (p. 141)
Although the former definitions may be seen as
too broad, the latter is so overspecified that many
would disagree with key points, noting that the
term executive coaching is occasionally used for
those without managerial authority, such as highly
valued individual contributors and professionals
(e.g., lawyers, physicians) and that there are experi-
enced executive coaches who do not necessarily
have knowledge of behavior change or organiza-
tional functioning, do not necessarily have the goal
of creating measurable change, would not include
“direct behaviorally based feedback” as a necessary
part of coaching, and who do not consider it appro-
priate to demand accountability. Thus, a definitive,
widely agreed-on definition of executive coaching
has been elusive. Nonetheless, it is essential to have
some type of definition to guide research, training of
coaches, and evaluation of coaching effectiveness.
Executive Coaching: Defining Criteria
Given the lack of definitional consensus in the field,
the following criteria are used to define executive
coaching for this chapter. Executive coaching is:
1. One-on-one, as opposed to group or team coach-
ing. Although team coaching is a useful develop-
ment tool (Diedrich, 2001; Dunlop, 2006) and
some view individual and group coaching as
roughly equivalent (e.g., Kampa & White, 2002),
the processes and outcomes of individual and
group coaching are significantly different and
worth studying separately (cf. Bloom, 1984).
Furthermore, it is not entirely clear how group
coaching differs from related practices such as
team building, group facilitation, action learning,
process consultation, and just-in-time training.
2. Relationship-based, assuming a certain level of
trust, understanding, and rapport as opposed to
primarily content-based development processes
(e.g., training, tutoring, self-guided learning).
David B. Peterson
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3. Methodology-based, drawing on specific tools and
techniques as part of a relatively structured over-
all process, as opposed to conversations with a
trusted advisor or simple feedback and advice-
giving.
4. Provided by a professional coach, as opposed
to coaching provided by a manager, peer, or
human resources (HR) professional for whom
coaching is not a primary role. In recent years,
several organizations have hired professional
coaches to work internally (Hunt & Weintraub,
2007), so distinctions between internal and
external coaches have become more ambiguous
over time.
5. Scheduled in multiple sessions over time, which
allows for follow-through and accountability, as
opposed to one or two conversations as might be
seen in multirater survey-based development
planning or brief coaching delivered as follow-up
to a leadership development program. There is
solid evidence that even short-term, focused
coaching can be effective (Luthans & Peterson,
2003; Smither, London, Flautt, Vargas, &
Kucine, 2003; Smither, London, & Reilly, 2005;
Thach, 2002), but it is not the primary focus of
this chapter.
6. Goal-oriented for both organizational and individ-
ual benefit. Executive coaching involves important
stakeholders beyond the coach and participant.
The goals, values, and expectations of both the
participant and the organization are central to
the process.
7. Customized to the person. Although this criterion
may appear obvious, there are instances in which
organizations have overreacted to what they per-
ceive to be chaotic and out-of-control coaching
activities (Sherman & Freas, 2004) by overregulat-
ing and homogenizing their coaching process. By
doing so, they lose efficiency and personalization
and thus sacrifice some of the unique value that
coaching offers (Agarwal, Angst, & Magni, 2006;
Witherspoon & White, 1996). Customization may
include aspects of the content, style, goals, and
scheduling, as well as the mix of tools and tech-
niques that are used.
8. Intended to enhance the person’s ability to learn and
develop independently (Gray, 2006; Peterson,
1996). Although this criterion is less frequently
mentioned in the literature than most of the
other criteria listed here, its inclusion empha-
sizes the developmental focus of executive
coaching and excludes approaches that foster
dependence or long-term reliance on the coach.
Executive Coaching: A Taxonomy
of Four Types of Coaches
A second way to clarify the construct of executive
coaching is to differentiate the types of coaches on
the basis of the primary ways they add value. One
approach uses a framework such as the Development
Pipeline (Hicks & Peterson, 1999), which outlines
the following five necessary and sufficient conditions
for learning:
1. Insight: The extent to which the person under-
stands which areas he or she needs to develop to
be more effective.
2. Motivation: The extent to which the person is
willing to invest the time and energy it takes to
develop specified capabilities.
3. Capabilities: The extent to which the person has
the necessary skills and knowledge.
4. Real-world practice: The extent to which the
person applies his or her skills and knowledge
at work.
5. Accountability: The extent to which the person
pays attention to and experiences meaningful
consequences for his or her development.
Using this framework, there appear to be four
major categories of people who call themselves
executive coaches, each of which adds value by
focusing on different aspects of the Development
Pipeline.
1. Feedback coaches focus chiefly on Insight, provid-
ing third-party feedback (e.g., interviews with
boss, peers, and direct reports; multirater sur-
veys) or instrument-based assessment informa-
tion (e.g., cognitive abilities tests, personality,
interest, values inventories) and helping the per-
son interpret and evaluate the information to
identify development themes. Typically feedback
coaches meet with participants for only one or
two sessions with the ultimate goal of generating
a development plan with concrete action steps.
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This category includes HR professionals who
serve as multirater feedback coaches and some
psychologists who provide assessment and con-
sultative development planning services. For
example, White and Shullman (2002) described
an intensive feedback process involving a multi-
rater survey, four to eight personality inventories
(e.g., Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Myers,
McCaulley, Quenk, & Hammer, 1998; California
Psychological Inventory, Gough & Bradley,
1996), and a minimum of 14 hour-long interviews
with the person’s boss, peers, and direct reports,
plus friends and family members. The results are
presented and reviewed over a 2-day session, from
which a development plan is generated.
2. Insight+Accountability coaches help the person
clarify goals, values, and desires, and then gener-
ate specific action steps to accomplish those
goals. Accountability is provided when the coach
follows up on progress in each subsequent meet-
ing. Many life coaches operate in this style, and
the preferred mode of weekly conversations is
an excellent way to help people make progress
by setting clear short-term goals and then fol-
lowing up to debrief what is working and what
is getting in the way of progress (Creane, 2006).
Whitmore (2002) described the GROW model
(GROW is an acronym for Goal setting, Reality
checking, Options for action, and What is to be
done; Alexander, 2006; Passmore, 2007b;
Whitmore, 2002), a popular tool of many life
coaches, as focused on increasing the participant’s
awareness and responsibility (i.e., Insight and
Accountability). Coaches who provide follow-up
coaching for leadership development and train-
ing programs fit this category as well by helping
people solidify the lessons they learned, define
action steps, and then stay on track by reviewing
their progress periodically over the subsequent
few months (Hernez-Broome, 2005).
3. Content coaches are experts in particular skills
and knowledge areas that executives often need
to know. They focus on the Capabilities segment
of the Development Pipeline. Examples include
presentation and communication coaches, aca-
demics and authors who are experts in a particular
topic, and former executives who have significant
business experience. Zeus and Skiffington (2000)
used the term business coaching for this category
as a way to differentiate content-oriented coach-
ing from process-oriented executive coaching. By
most definitions, mentoring fits into this category
of content coaching (e.g., “a more experienced
individual willing to share their knowledge with
someone less experienced,” Clutterbuck, 1991,
reported in Passmore, 2007c, p. 12). Similarly,
consultants and professionals who serve as
trusted advisors because of their expertise in
business or management issues (Maister, Green,
& Galford, 2001; Nadler, 2005; Sheth & Sobel,
2000) would also be content coaches. Although
content coaches may use a variety of techniques,
such as teaching, skill building, behavioral
rehearsal, role-plays, consultative problem solv-
ing, and offering feedback and advice, they are all
primarily focused on increasing the person’s
skills and knowledge.
4. Development-process coaches are experts in the
process of learning and the psychology of human
behavior (e.g., interpersonal and group dynamics,
personality, adult development, motivation, orga-
nizational behavior). Their coaching is oriented
to helping people enhance any and all aspects of
the Development Pipeline. Coaches in this cate-
gory often have backgrounds in psychology or
other behavioral sciences, extensive consulting
experience, and significant life experience deal-
ing with people and their development. Some
coaches in the other categories move toward this
type of coaching as they gain experience in han-
dling a wider and wider range of client issues.
Development-process coaches may follow a rela-
tively consistent, sequential process that system-
atically addresses each element of the Pipeline
(e.g., starting with feedback or assessment to
enhance insight, followed by development planning
and contracting to tap into motivation, problem-
solving discussions and skill building to build
capabilities, action planning and transfer tech-
niques to facilitate real-world practice, and con-
cluding with specific follow-up review and
debrief to activate accountability), or they may
take a constraint-based approach (Goldratt &
Cox, 1992) that begins where the person has the
David B. Peterson
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greatest immediate need, then moves to the
next greatest constraint, then the next, and so
on (Peterson, 2006). For example, the coach may
work briefly on insight, move to capabilities, then
back to insight, then to accountability as each in
turn is identified as the chief barrier to progress.
Executive Coaching: Comparison to
Mentoring, Consulting, and Therapy
A third way to clarify the construct of executive
coaching is to differentiate it from related practices,
such as mentoring, consulting, and therapy.
However, similar to the challenges in defining coach-
ing, these fields overlap, and no clear consensus has
emerged on the distinctive differentiators. For exam-
ple, some authors differentiate coaching from therapy
by stating that coaching focuses on the present and
future and that therapy focuses on the past and pres-
ent (Hart, Blattner, & Leipsic, 2001; Kauffman &
Coutu, 2009). Yet brief therapy (Miller, Hubble, &
Duncan, 1996) and cognitive–behavioral methods
(Dobson, 1988; Hollon & Beck, 2004) focus just as
much on the future as coaching does, and some
psychodynamically oriented coaches (e.g., Kilburg,
2000, 2004b) may focus on the person’s history as
well as the present and future. The lines are still
blurred on this dimension.
Coaching and mentoring. The classic distinction
is that mentors are people “older, wiser, more
experienced, higher in status and formal position”
(Bokeno, 2009, p. 6) who share their knowledge
and perspective with a less experienced person,
whereas coaches play a more facilitative and less of
an expert role (Renard, 2005). However, there are
clearly coaches who bring a great deal of expertise
and share that with clients (e.g., content coaches),
just as there are mentors who take a more Socratic
approach. Although the discussion continues in an
attempt to differentiate mentoring and coaching
(Bokeno, 2009; D’Abate et al., 2003), several authors
have suggested that mentoring has changed signifi-
cantly in the past decade (Clutterbuck, 2008) or
that there is so much overlap, it is difficult to clearly
differentiate the two (Passmore, 2007c; Zeus &
Skiffington, 2000). Given that there are counter-
examples for virtually every distinction that has
been drawn—for example, senior executives in
some organizations are being mentored on new uses
of technology by much younger employees—the
solution may be to cease trying to differentiate the
two terms and instead to define clearly an appropri-
ate solution based on the development need and
then refer to the intervention by whichever term is
preferred (see also chap. 17, this volume).
Coaching and consulting. There are many paral-
lels between the techniques of coaching and con-
sulting, especially in regard to Schein’s process
consultation (Lambrechts, Grieten, Bouwen, &
Corthouts, 2009; Schein, 1999, 2000). Schein
(2003) talked about the critical importance of
beginning with the relationship rather than with an
assessment or technique and then working in part-
nership to equip the person to be more effective in
addressing his or her own needs. From his perspec-
tive, an executive coach is essentially a process con-
sultant to an individual. Although it is common to
say that consultants provide answers, solutions, and
expert advice and coaches do not (e.g., Kauffman &
Coutu, 2009), both coaches and consultants seem to
cover the entire spectrum of content versus process.
Schein’s distinction between expertise-based consulta-
tion and process consultation parallels the distinction
between content coaches and development-process
coaches. Thus, it may be difficult to differentiate
clearly executive coaching and consultation at an
individual level (Tobias, 1996). The major distinction
appears to be that coaches are primarily concerned
with helping people increase their capabilities and
change their own behavior to enhance performance
and that consultants focus on helping people solve a
specific problem, which may not necessarily require
learning new skills or changing one’s own behavior.
Coaching and therapy. Of all the comparisons
examined in this section, isolating the differences
between therapy and coaching is the most important
because of the ethical, legal, and professional obliga-
tions of therapists and counselors and the largely
unregulated arena of coaching. One complication in
this comparison is that many coaches have back-
grounds in counseling, clinical psychology, and
psychodynamic or other therapeutic traditions and
have brought their models with them into coaching.
Therapists have also contributed a great deal to the
professional literature on coaching and frequently
Executive Coaching
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suggest that the majority of principles, models, tools,
and research findings from therapy are applicable to
executive coaching. Nonetheless, the substantial dif-
ferences in audience, purpose, context, and provider
need to be systematically examined to see what might
realistically transfer and what might be inappropriate
or irrelevant (Thomas, 2006). So it is also important
to compare and contrast coaching and therapy to
increase our understanding of when and how theories
and research might transfer between the two fields and
when and how they need to be adapted or disregarded.
Similarities between coaching and therapy include
such elements as the importance of the relationship
and the active engagement of the client, many of the
core skills involved (e.g., listening, questioning, clari-
fying, feedback, goal setting), and the overarching
purpose of assisting the people’s development and
enhancing their well-being (Bachkirova, 2007). Any
comparison of coaching and therapy must acknowl-
edge that each field is quite diverse in itself (Bono,
Purvanova, Towler, & Peterson, 2009; Kiesler, 1966)
and that there is clearly some degree of overlap
between the two (Bachkirova & Cox, 2005; Jopling,
2007). Similarities between coaching and therapy
include the importance of the relationship and the
active engagement of the client, many of the core
skills involved (e.g., listening, questioning, clarifying,
feedback, goal setting), and the overarching purpose
of assisting the person’s development and enhancing
his or her well-being (Bachkirova, 2007). Key differ-
ences between the two are described in the following
paragraphs.
The purpose of coaching is to increase work perfor-
mance, enhance leadership potential, and accelerate
development of successful performers. The purpose
of therapy is to address a goal that is typically stated as
a problem, often related to mood, affect, or personal
relationships, that are rarely presenting issues in
coaching. Regardless of the coach’s approach, there
is almost always an expectation of behavioral change
to enhance performance at work, whereas in some
cases, a therapist is likely to accept a change in affect
as sufficient. Meinke, Friedman, Krapu, Kramer, and
Salinger (2004) illustrated some of the differences in
the types of issues addressed by recommending that
coaches refer their clients to a mental health profes-
sional when they notice symptoms including feelings
of helplessness, hopelessness, or despair; significant
changes in appetite; inability to sleep; strong feelings
of guilt; increased irritability or outbursts of anger;
substance abuse; and thoughts of death or suicide.
The participants for executive coaching are drawn
from managerial populations and tend to score higher
on measures of intelligence, assertiveness, extra-
version, adjustment, and well-being than the general
population (S. L. Davis & Barnett, 2009; Hughes,
Ginnett, & Curphy, 2008). The client base in therapy
is much broader, drawing from the entire general
population. There is some debate on whether leaders
are actually more well adjusted than members of the
general population. Some authors argue that many
therapy clients are in fact well adjusted—merely
seeking help for coping with loss or other types of
short-term needs—and that some leaders and coach-
ing clients are not (Bluckert, 2006; Hogan & Hogan,
2001; Nelson & Hogan, 2009). Berglas (2002) took
the relatively extreme position that all coaching
clients should be assessed before beginning coaching
to identify when there are significant psychological
problems requiring treatment.
The providers in coaching are relatively diverse.
They come from backgrounds including manage-
ment, consulting, training, teaching, sales, psychol-
ogy, and other helping professions (Grant, 2007),
and they may or may not have any formal training in
relevant areas such coaching, psychology, or ethics.
Although therapists also come from diverse back-
grounds and disciplines, they tend to have some for-
mal education in psychology, ethics, and specific
therapeutic techniques and skills.
The stakeholders in coaching include the coach,
participant, and the organization (which is generally
paying for the coaching), the latter often repre-
sented by the person’s boss and HR professional.
Thus, there is essentially a dual accountability
(Spinelli, 2008). In therapy, there are rarely more
than two explicit stakeholders, the therapist and the
client, although others may care deeply about the
outcome, and the therapist has a relatively clear sin-
gle accountability to the individual.2The nature of
David B. Peterson
532
2To some extent even this distinction is changing because many therapists no longer work in the private practice model. They work in medical institutions
or primary care settings in which their organization monitors costs, customer satisfaction, and patient outcomes, thus becoming an important stakeholder.
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the various stakeholder roles and expectations leads
to significantly different boundaries for confidential-
ity as well (Hart et al., 2001).
The relationship between the coach and
participant is characterized as more egalitarian,
whereas the therapist–client relationship is more
hierarchical, and the patient may be more vulnera-
ble (Hart et al., 2001; Spinelli, 2008). Therapists
in general have greater training and experience
in identifying and working in the moment with
relationship-related issues such as transference
and countertransference, which many executive
coaches are not aware of (Frisch & Lee, 2009;
Spinelli, 2008).
COACHING COMPETENCIES
The challenges in defining coaching extend to
identifying the competencies of an effective coach
(Ferrar, 2004). Quite a few authors have offered their
perspectives on coaching competencies (e.g., Ahern,
2003; Auerbach, 2006; Bluckert, 2006; Brotman,
Liberi, & Wasylyshyn, 1998; Hawkins & Smith, 2006;
Homan & Miller, 2008; Poteet & Kudisch, 2007),
but there is virtually no empirical validation of any
specific competencies. This section discusses two
competency models.
A Comparison of Two Models
The two competency models discussed here were
chosen because they are among the few developed
by established coaching organizations through
extensive reviews of the literature and in close
consultation with coaching experts and because
the contrast between the two highlights some of
the challenges in such a task.
Executive Coaching Forum model. The Executive
Coaching Forum (ECF, 2008) model begins with a
summary of the value of competency models for
four important stakeholders:
organizations that hire coaches to provide coach-
ing services to their employees,
executives who are choosing a coach,
coaches planning their own development, and
designers of training programs and curricula for
executive coaches.
It is important to include a fifth audience—
coaching researchers—because none of the cur-
rently available competency models have been
empirically validated. In fact, although there is
significant convergence among experts on a core
set of coaching competencies (e.g., active listening
and communication skills, assessment and feed-
back skills, integrity, empathy), there is no research
demonstrating that these competencies actually
differentiate effective and ineffective performance
in coaches. The authors of the ECF model are
well aware of this and explicitly note the tentative
and preliminary nature of their model, a rarity in
this arena.
The ECF competency model is organized into
three major sections, each with lists and descrip-
tions of both basic and advanced competencies. The
first section, coaching competencies, provides one of
the most comprehensive descriptions of the various
types of knowledge critical to successful coaching:
psychological knowledge, including an under-
standing of personality, motivation, learning and
behavior change, adult developmental theories,
stress management, emotional intelligence, and
social psychology;
business acumen, including an understanding of
basic business practices and financial concepts,
management principles and processes, and HR
management;
organizational knowledge, including an under-
standing of organizational structures and func-
tions, organizational design, organizational
culture, team effectiveness, leadership models,
systems theory, consulting theory and practices,
business ethics, and leadership development; and
coaching knowledge, including an understanding
of executive coaching models and theories,
coaching competencies, specific coaching prac-
tices (e.g., managing confidentiality, assessment,
goal setting), various roles of a coach, coaching
research, and developing oneself as a coach.
The ECF’s second section surveys in consider-
able detail the specific tasks and skills required for
six phases of the coaching process (i.e., building and
maintaining relationships, contracting, assessment,
development planning, facilitating development and
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change, ending formal coaching and transitioning
to long-term development). Finally, it lists nine
categories of general attributes and abilities: mature
self-confidence, positive energy, assertiveness, inter-
personal sensitivity, openness and flexibility, goal
orientation, partnering and influence, continuous
learning and development, integrity.
Worldwide Association of Business Coaching
model. The Worldwide Association of Business
Coaching’s (WABC, 2007) competency model is
divided into three sections:
self-management: knowing oneself and self-
mastery, including self-regulation, integrity,
adaptability, emphasizing excellence, initiative,
and creativity and innovation;
core coaching skill base, including contracting,
developing the relationship, communicating
and promoting client understanding, facilitating
the personal transformation, and professional
development; and
business and leadership coaching capabilities,
including systems thinking, understanding orga-
nizational behavior, aligning coaching with busi-
ness needs, assessment, respecting diversity and
multicultural issues, being a role model, and
managing one’s own coaching business.
Compared with the ECF model, the WABC
model is less detailed regarding the specific types
of knowledge required. However, it places much
greater emphasis on the coach’s self-awareness and
self-management and, in general, reflects a more
humanistic, constructivist philosophical bent.
Although research is needed to validate the ele-
ments included, both models may still serve as
educational guides for those seeking to understand
the vast domain of potentially important coaching
skills and knowledge.
Competence in Coaching: Easy to Be
Good, Hard to Be Great?
Given the large number of new coaches entering the
field (Grant & Cavanagh, 2004; Hamlin et al., 2008;
Liljenstrand & Nebeker, 2008) and that there are vir-
tually no barriers to entry, there are significant reasons
to be concerned about coaches’ qualifications and the
quality of coaching that is being delivered (Grant &
Cavanagh, 2007; Platt, 2008; Sherman & Freas, 2004;
Thomas, 2006). In fact, it is not difficult to find people
with barely more than a weekend’s study who have
launched their own coaching business. Some organi-
zations have responded by seeking only certified
coaches. Unfortunately, there are no generally
accepted standards for certification, and coaches can
receive certification simply on the basis of attending a
2-day program. As Wellner (2006) noted, “Anyone,
with any amount of experience, can crown himself
coach and start offering advice. Hairstylists face more
stringent licensing procedures” (p. 88).
However, for a surprisingly large number of rea-
sons, it is fairly easy to become a reasonably effective
coach, especially for anyone with a solid base of
intelligence, maturity, emotional intelligence, and
basic social and communication skills (Bluckert,
2006; Peterson, 2009). People from a variety of back-
grounds, such as HR, training, consulting, manage-
ment, and education, have often already acquired
skills and knowledge that readily transfer to coach-
ing. Consider the following activities, all of which
potentially contribute to the effectiveness of coach-
ing, and yet require virtually no coaching experience
or training:
offering an external, independent, objective
perspective;
creating space and time for reflection (Burke
& Linley, 2007);
identifying development goals and preparing
an action plan;
sharing ideas, tips, tools, and models;
facilitating an accepting, positive, supportive,
encouraging relationship (O’Broin & Palmer,
2007; Uhl-Bien, 2003; in the therapeutic litera-
ture, the relationship is often seen as one of the
primary factors contributing to positive out-
comes; Bachelor & Horvath, 1999; Horvath &
Bedi, 2002; Lambert & Barley, 2002);
providing follow-up conversations that foster a
sense of accountability, especially if the person
makes a commitment to the coach to pursue a
specific action (Goldsmith & Morgan, 2004); and
simply asking the person what would be helpful
and responding accordingly.
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Add to this set of activities the following, which
require minimal experience or training and are also
likely to contribute to positive outcomes in coaching:
asking questions that challenge assumptions and
help reframe issues;
offering feedback and advice, including third-
party feedback from interviews or multirater
surveys (Levenson, 2009);
spaced practice and repetition; and
using simple coaching formulas such as the
GROW model, a basic and popular framework
for coaching conversations.
Finally, one of the most significant reasons that
it is relatively easy to be a good coach—and yet one
that is virtually never mentioned in the literature—
is that coaches get multiple tries. That is, if their first
attempt to be helpful on a particular issue is not
effective, they can offer a second and even a third
option. Coaches have the advantage of being able to
gauge the person’s reaction through verbal and non-
verbal cues and respond in real time with a more
suitable effort. The coach’s ability to read the per-
son’s reactions and respond with new alternatives
affords a significant opportunity to produce power-
ful results.
Although it appears to be relatively easy to be a
reasonably competent coach, for a number of reasons
it is extremely difficult to become an expert at coach-
ing, not the least of which is the diverse range of
skills and knowledge evident in the extensive lists of
coaching competencies just summarized. The dis-
tinction here between reasonably competent and
expert coaching parallels the work on what is
required to develop expertise and world-class
performance (Colvin, 2008; Ericsson, 2006).
One of the major reasons that it is difficult to
become a great coach is that the coaching process
unfolds over a relatively long period of time, and
feedback on outcomes is slow and distal. Any imme-
diate feedback is likely to be related to satisfaction
or specific substeps in the process, not to the ulti-
mate objectives of coaching. Because coaching is a
complex, elaborate process, it is difficult to identify
causal connections between specific actions and the
final outcome, especially given all the other things
that might take place concurrently in a coaching
participant’s life. Thus, it is difficult for coaches to
discover whether what they are doing is truly effec-
tive, which makes it easy to maintain their belief
system about what works and simply to continue
doing what they have always done. In fact, when
coaching is not successful, it is often easy for
coaches to place responsibility for the failure on the
participant or external circumstances—especially
because they see that their approach has generally
been successful in the past—rather than examine
what they could have done differently.
The research on developing great expertise
for complex tasks such as chess, musical perfor-
mance, and medical diagnosis suggests that at
least 10,000 hours of practice are required (Colvin,
2008). The term practice refers here to either engag-
ing in the actual task with the specific intention of
improving one’s performance or to rehearsing spe-
cific, isolated elements of the activity in a different
setting. Both types of practice require feedback of
some kind to evaluate success. The two can be com-
bined, such as when a coach practices various ways
to deliver a difficult feedback message in advance of
a coaching session, reflecting on which might best
accomplish the desired effect, and then tries out the
selected message in an actual coaching session,
observing the person’s response and directly asking
the participant for feedback on his or her reactions
to that message.
In addition to the sheer number of hours, Ericsson
(2006) pointed out the need for specific, deliberate
practice. Deliberate practice is significantly different
from merely engaging in an activity (Colvin, 2008).
Deliberate practice requires conscious attention to
improving performance, continuous feedback, and
frequent repetition with the opportunity to self-
correct and try alternate variations (Colvin, 2008;
Ericsson, 2006). Colvin further pointed out that
deliberate practice requires significant effort and
“isn’t much fun” (2008, p. 71). Given that coaching
is a complex activity with a long cycle time to evalu-
ate final outcomes, it is plausible that it would take
more than 10,000 hours to develop world-class
expertise.
Finally, certain parts of the coaching process are
easier and more seductive than others, and some
coaches never develop their capabilities beyond
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those facets. For example, asking powerful ques-
tions, generating insight, and sharing advice are rel-
atively easy, quick, and tangible activities. When
they are perceived as useful, the coach gets credit
immediately. In contrast, facilitating real-world
practice and ensuring on-the-job application of new
behaviors is relatively slow, tedious, and difficult.
The participant has to do the majority of the work,
and success is rarely directly attributable to the
coach. Yet it is absolutely necessary for real change
and results. So coaches may gravitate toward the rel-
atively easy, more rewarding aspects of coaching in
which they are seen as directly adding value rather
than persist in the more difficult and less immedi-
ately rewarding tasks of ensuring that people stick
with their learning and make progress when it is
slow and tedious.
THE COACHING PROCESS
Many authors describe a sequence of steps or stages
in the coaching process. Bluckert’s (2006) six-stage
process is representative: (a) engagement and con-
tracting, (b) assessment and feedback, (c) creating the
coaching agenda, (d) structuring the coaching inter-
vention, (e) delivering the coaching, and (f) review
and evaluation. Although recognizing the value of
this type of depiction in providing structure and
clarity to coaches and participants, stepwise descrip-
tions of the coaching process generally fail to capture
important elements. First, building a relationship
of trust and understanding is essential to the entire
coaching engagement. Although it is not made
explicit in his coaching process, Bluckert (2006)
elsewhere emphasized the fundamental importance
of the relationship and offered useful insights into
establishing and maintaining the working alliance.
Ghods (2009) noted that despite the prevalence in
the coaching literature of discussions regarding the
importance of the relationship, few models specify
it clearly. Second, step models generally leave the
actual delivery of coaching (Step 5 in Bluckert’s
model) unspecified. Because this is where the major-
ity of the time is spent and the real learning occurs,
it leaves the impression that coaching is a black box
and raises questions about what is really taking place.
Third, such models portray coaching as relatively
mechanical and linear, with little tailoring to the
individual. In reality, coaching is fluid, constantly
evolving, and different for each person. Finally, the
broader context is often absent from step models.
Although it may be assumed, there is no mention of
helping participants apply what they learn in the
coaching conversation back in the workplace envi-
ronment. Step models overemphasize the clear,
tactical aspects of the engagement and coaching
sessions, leave the less tangible elements unspeci-
fied, and ignore the wide variability in what coach-
ing actually looks like in practice.
The Society for Organizational Learning’s (n.d.)
process offers a distinctly different perspective, espe-
cially in terms of referencing the coaching relation-
ship and the broader context: (a) Enter the coaching
relationship, (b) establish and commit to or renew
the coaching relationship, (c) clarify aspirations and
current reality, (d) set goals for development in a sys-
tems context, (e) support learning in action, (f) coach
to full potential, (g) create sustainable results, and
(h) exit the coaching relationship. In addition to
expanding the description of the actual coaching,
the Society includes three activities labeled recursive
elements because they occur throughout the coach-
ing process: partnered reflection for learning and
results (debriefing what has been learned and action
steps), generative conversations (raising awareness,
exploring assumptions), and community of practice
(sharing learning with other coaches and with the
organization about what has been learned about
coaching and about the organization).
Kilburg’s (2000) process model references five
components of coaching interventions, thus avoid-
ing the notion of discrete steps. His components are
(a) developing an intervention agreement, (b) build-
ing a coaching relationship, (c) creating and manag-
ing expectations of coaching success, (d) providing
an experience of behavioral mastery or cognitive
control over the problems and issues, and (e) evalu-
ating and attributing coaching success or failure in
each session. His description of the fourth compo-
nent illuminates the delivery of coaching, and he
included a detailed list of specific coaching tech-
niques in his framework. It should be noted as well
that Kilburg’s (2000, 2001, 2002) work is perhaps
the best example of addressing the complexities at
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every level of the coaching process—the psycho-
dynamics of the participant, the psychology of the
learning process, the dynamics of the coaching
relationship, and the intricate realities of the
organizational context.
Another approach to the coaching process
addresses constraints and challenges to the partici-
pant’s learning as they are identified rather than
following a predetermined set of steps. Such
constraint-based approaches lead to a customized and
differentiated coaching process for each participant.
Peterson and Hicks (1996; Peterson, 2006), for
example, specified six critical issues for the coach
to address as needed: the coaching relationship,
insight, motivation, capabilities, real-world practice,
and accountability. Participants who enter coaching
with a clear sense of their learning objectives may
require minimal or no assessment. Conversely, par-
ticipants who wish to accelerate their career progress
but are uncertain exactly what they need to do so
might engage in a comprehensive leadership assess-
ment. This conceptual framework and customized
approach has the advantage of efficiency, allowing
coaches to focus their attention on what will make
the biggest impact and helping participants learn
more in a shorter time. It is not, however, a proce-
dural outline and thus can be more difficult to learn
and more challenging to explain to participants and
their sponsors.
It is evident from the variety of approaches out-
lined here that there is no simple answer to how to
define the coaching process. Each framework along
this spectrum, from relatively linear step models to
customized, contextual models, has strengths and
weaknesses, and coaches are encouraged to explore
multiple models and borrow from them to develop
their own perspective.
SIX DIMENSIONS FOR EXAMINING
EXECUTIVE COACHING
As a framework for an in-depth examination of
executive coaching, this chapter considers six
dimensions that are core to the coaching process:
the coaching relationship plus the five necessary and
sufficient conditions for systematic development—
insight, motivation, capabilities, real-world practice,
and accountability—proposed by Hicks and Peterson
(1999; Peterson, 2006).
The Coaching Relationship
The coaching relationship refers to the extent to
which the working alliance or partnership between
the coach and participant is characterized by trust,
acceptance, understanding, open, honest communi-
cation, and other interpersonal factors that support
learning and development. To date there has been
little research on the coaching relationship (O’Broin
& Palmer, 2007), although a great deal has been writ-
ten by practitioners based on their experience and
extrapolation from research on the working alliance in
therapeutic relationships (e.g., Bachelor & Horvath,
1999; Lambert & Barley, 2002). The majority of
research actually conducted on the relationship in
executive coaching is based on interviews or surveys
of participants, who consistently report that trust
and a positive working relationship are among the
most important, if not the single most important, ele-
ments of effective coaching (Baron & Morin, 2009;
Bush, 2005; Creane, 2006; Dembkowski, Eldridge, &
Hunter, 2006; Gyllensten & Palmer, 2007; Hall et al.,
1999; Luebbe, 2005; Wales, 2003; Wasylyshyn,
2003). Trudeau (2004), using a modified Delphi
technique, including an extensive review of the
coaching literature and interviews with subject
matter experts, identified establishing a coaching
relationship as the first phase of eight critical com-
ponents of coaching. Alvey and Barclay (2007)
found that clear expectations about confidentiality
and a nonjudgmental attitude from the coach
enhance trust and therefore strengthen the coaching
relationship. Additional evidence for the importance
of the relationship is provided by analysis of the
causes of premature termination or other break-
downs of the coaching process, which include
inadequate trust and lack of chemistry (Dembkowski
et al., 2006; Marshall, 2006; Noer, 2000). Thompson
et al. (2008) reported that, in their survey of users
of coaching, the number one reason that coaching
engagements fail (81% of the time) is a mismatch
between coach and participant. They do not specify
the exact nature of the mismatch, but the other
items on their list (e.g., coach’s lack of expertise)
imply that it is due to a mismatch on elements of the
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relationship, such as lack of chemistry or poor
personality fit.
There are at least three ways in which the coaching
relationship is important in coaching. First, having a
relationship of trust and open communication in a
safe, supportive environment in which the person
feels accepted and understood is a prerequisite for
most types of coaching. Participants must trust
coaches sufficiently to engage with them; openly
share their development needs, personal weaknesses,
and concerns; and take risks and try new things
(Wales, 2003). The coach needs to listen attentively
and demonstrate understanding and acceptance of
what matters to the person. These two aspects of the
relationship—trust and understanding—need to be
established quickly (Gyllensten & Palmer, 2007) and
will then tend to deepen over time as the two work
together. However, coaches need to be sensitive to
maintaining the level of trust because it can still be
disrupted through negligence or a careless act.
Therefore, coaches need to monitor and assess the
quality of the working relationship throughout the
engagement. It is possible that the nature of the
relationship may evolve over time in other ways.
Prochaska and Norcross (2001) suggested that the
working relationship needs to adapt to the person’s
needs at each of the six stages of change outlined in
the transtheoretical model of change: precontempla-
tion, contemplation, preparation, action, mainte-
nance, and termination (Prochaska & DiClemente,
1984). Similarly, Grant (2006) discussed the greater
need for the coach to focus on support, encourage-
ment, and motivation early in the process, to engage
the person fully and increase the likelihood of sus-
taining commitment to achieving the desired out-
comes. Although a basic level of trust and rapport is
necessary for all coaching, it is likely that greater
levels of trust and a stronger working relationship
are necessary, for example, when the person has had
negative experiences with past coaches, does not
trust his or her manager, is skeptical of the coaching
process, does not see the need for coaching, is work-
ing in a politically charged organizational environ-
ment, or the boundaries of confidentiality and
communication are not clear.
The second way the coaching relationship is
important is that it may serve as a tool that the coach
uses to facilitate certain aspects of the change process.
For example, the coach may intentionally act more
challenging and skeptical or more warm and support-
ive at times, or he or she may use self-disclosure as
an explicit way to illustrate an important principle.
Depending on the development needs of the partici-
pant, the coach might use aspects of the relationship
to role model appropriate behaviors for the person,
such as conveying empathy, listening nonjudgmen-
tally, or expressing appreciation.
Third, the coaching relationship itself may be a
vehicle of change for at least some participants. A
number of coaches have argued that the relationship
is actually the most significant factor in effective
coaching (e.g., Kemp 2008a, 2008b; McKenna &
Davis, 2009), largely on the basis of analogy to ther-
apeutic findings. The therapy research on the work-
ing relationship was nicely summed up by Highlen
and Hill (1984), who concluded that “clients have
always consistently attributed success in therapy to
relationship factors, whereas therapists have associ-
ated outcome success with their techniques and
skill” (p. 360). This perception is not surprising but
may be misleading. At a minimum, the relationship
is the most tangible and significant thing that partic-
ipants experience. They may in fact interpret the
coach’s techniques as aspects of the relationship
itself. For example, a coach who offers carefully
timed, well-structured feedback or a provocative
question might be perceived as either supportive
and helpful or as challenging and confrontational,
which the participant perceives as a direct aspect of
their relationship and its degree of trust, openness,
honesty, and acceptance.
McKenna and Davis (2009) argued that coaches
should expect to find the same balance of active
ingredients in coaching as Asay and Lambert (1999)
summarized for therapy: 40% of therapeutic change
is attributable to factors in the client or outside the
therapeutic setting; 30% to the relationship itself;
15% results from expectancy, hope, and placebo
effects; and only 15% appears to result from the
techniques and actions of the therapist. However,
McKenna and Davis, along with others who take this
position, did little to justify that the audience, needs,
and conditions of coaching are similar enough to
warrant this conclusion. In contrast, it might be
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argued that the research on training outcomes (e.g.,
Lawton-Smith & Cox, 2007; MacKie, 2007) or action
learning (e.g., Carson & Marquardt, 2004)—in
which the audience and purpose and many of the
techniques are quite similar to coaching—are a more
appropriate comparison than therapy, which appears
similar to coaching on the surface but differs more
fundamentally on audience and purpose. At best, one
might reasonably conclude that the coaching relation-
ship itself might be a more relevant factor in coaching
contexts that resemble therapy (e.g., addressing anger
management, aggression, or personal values) and
less of a factor in contexts that resemble training
(e.g., addressing strategic thinking or learning other
management skills). Palmer (2007) also argued
against the primacy of the relationship as the causal
mechanism of coaching’s effectiveness, pointing out
that many of the techniques used in coaching are
effective even when a coach is not involved. Using a
randomized experimental design, Grbcic and Palmer
(2006) found statistically significant improve-
ment in the group using self-coaching with specific
cognitive–behavioral techniques and no improvement
in the control group.
As necessary as the relationship is as a condition
for doing the work of coaching, it is unlikely that it is
a sufficient condition for effecting significant leader-
ship development. This does not necessarily conflict
with client reports that the relationship is the most
important element of the coaching process. It is quite
possible that participants would not recognize the
specific techniques or methodology that a coach is
using and may in fact experience and interpret cer-
tain techniques as aspects of the relationship. For
example, coaches who thoughtfully explore partici-
pants’ motivations, goals, and values might be per-
ceived as simply being interested in them, caring
about them, and helping them.
Overall, it seems clear that there is a minimum
threshold of trust and rapport for a lasting and effec-
tive working relationship in coaching (MacKie, 2007).
When the relationship does not surpass that thresh-
old, participants are likely to drop out of coaching
(Thompson et al., 2008). As a result, research on the
role of the relationship in coaching is likely to show
greater effects in examining persistence or duration in
coaching, and it would be helpful to understand what
relationship related behaviors and attitudes are related
to drop out versus completion of coaching. The rela-
tionship may also be a more significant factor in
short-term coaching, in which the ability of a coach to
establish rapport and trust quickly could conceivably
have a large impact. There may be other settings, such
as distance coaching, in which the quality of the rela-
tionship makes a difference. Berry (2005) examined
the relationship in distance coaching compared with
face-to-face coaching and found a significant relation-
ship between the coach-reported quality of the rela-
tionship and coaching outcomes in distance coaching
but not in the face-to-face condition.
A wealth of practical advice is available on build-
ing trust and effective working relationships in coach-
ing (e.g., Auerbach, 2001; Bacon & Spear, 2003;
O’Connor & Lages, 2007; Peterson & Hicks, 1996;
Stober 2006; Whitworth, Kimsey-House, & Sandahl,
1998). Some useful and interesting advice is also
emerging from the relatively new fields of positive
psychology (e.g., Biswas-Diener & Dean, 2007;
Kauffman, 2006) and social neuroscience (e.g., Rock
& Page, 2009; Waring, 2008). Rock’s (2008; Rock &
Page, 2009) SCARF model outlines five domains
of human social experience—Status, Certainty,
Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness—that he
viewed as biologically wired to activate a reward or
threat response in social environments. Several of
these domains have direct implications for the
coaching relationship, although research support
for their actual impact in coaching is lacking. For
example, he suggested that the human brain often
responds automatically to advice and feedback as a
possible threat to one’s status. Coaches who position
themselves as experts, side with the participant’s
boss, and launch immediately into feedback are thus
more likely to activate this type of defensive limbic
system response, which inhibits learning. Coaches
who are accepting, positive, supportive, curious,
and actively engage the person in defining his or her
own goals are more likely to activate positive brain
responses, such as increased dopamine levels, which
are conducive to activities related to learning such
as reflection, cognitive processing, taking risks, and
persisting in challenging situations (Fredrickson,
2009). Autonomy, the sense of having choices and
control over one’s environment, can be threatened
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when people feel that they are being forced to par-
ticipate in coaching or forced to make changes they
dislike. Coaches can reduce the threat and enhance
the relationship by offering choices, enhancing self-
efficacy, and showing people where they can
increase their sense of control over their involve-
ment in coaching and at work. Relatedness—the
sense of being included or excluded from a group—
can be positively activated by behaving in accord
with the traditional Rogerian values of uncondi-
tional positive regard, acceptance, and warmth
(Rogers, 1957). Relatedness can be negatively acti-
vated simply by being around strangers, especially
strangers who belong to different groups (such as
psychologists) and who use unfamiliar jargon.
Insight
Insight refers to the extent to which people under-
stand what areas they need to develop to be more
effective. In many coaching models, there is a strong
emphasis on feedback as the primary tool for insight,
with some authors viewing feedback as a defining
aspect of coaching itself (e.g., Feldman & Lankau,
2005; Kampa & White, 2002). Such a major focus
on feedback, which is really the means to the end,
obscures the end goal itself, which is insight—clarity
about the person’s most important development
objectives. Insight about development priorities can
be obtained through a variety of methods, including
feedback from others (whether gathered firsthand,
through the coach, or a multirater survey), reflection
and self-assessment, self-monitoring and behavioral
recording, and inventories and surveys on personality,
abilities, values, or leadership style. However, optimal
insight into one’s development needs requires an
understanding and analysis of four types of informa-
tion (Peterson & Hicks, 1996): (a) knowledge of the
person’s own goals, values, and motivations; (b) how
the person perceives his or her own abilities, style, and
performance; (c) how others perceive the person (i.e.,
feedback from others); and (d) the success factors for
a given role, including what others expect from the
person. Respectively, these four elements are labeled
Goals and Values, Abilities, Perceptions, and Success
Factors (GAPS; Peterson, 2006).
It is common for many coaching engagements to
begin with feedback, or perceptions data, when in
fact the most productive place to start is by gaining
an understanding of what matters to the person—
his or her goals, values, and motivations. Although
how to work with and enhance motivation is
addressed in the next section of this chapter, finding
out what matters to people is an essential compo-
nent of insight, as well as a way to build the coach-
ing relationship. So, for a variety of reasons, coaches
often begin a coaching engagement by attending to
participants’ goals and values at several levels—what
they would like to accomplish in coaching and how
they would like to work together with the coach, as
well as life and career goals, personal aspirations,
values, and motivations. With this foundation,
coaches can connect the data from other people—
Success Factors and Perceptions—to what matters
to the person. If there is no perceived connection
between external data and the person’s Goals and
Values, the participant will tend to dismiss it either
passively by ignoring it or actively through debate
or defensiveness. Coaches can enhance the person’s
insight into his or her Goals and Values by asking
questions that encourage the person to reflect on
what matters to them and by discussing the per-
son’s choices and what values seem to be guiding
them. They can also use tools, such as interest and
values inventories or card sorts, designed to clarify
motivations.
Next, it is most helpful to examine Success
Factors data. This can begin by asking participants
what they think it takes to be successful in their
roles. Ultimately, however, Success Factors data
must come from the other key stakeholders, which
might include the boss, the boss’s boss, and other
senior executives, as well as peers, direct reports,
customers, and others. Participants can talk with
them directly, observe what they pay attention to,
and talk with others to assess what contributes to
success or failure in those roles. Other information
may also be helpful, such as what is addressed in
performance reviews, competency models, and
organizational vision, mission, and values statements.
As important as Success Factors information is, it is
surprising how often managers do not regularly com-
municate to their employees what matters in the job.
The Gallup survey of more than 80,000 employees
found that responses to the question “Do I know
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what is expected of me at work?” are the most pre-
dictive correlates of productivity and performance
(Buckingham & Coffman, 1999). Success Factors
data are by nature multidimensional, representing
a variety of different perspectives (e.g., boss, peer,
direct reports) and domains (e.g., behavior, results,
values, relationships, attitude). Coaches can often
add real value by helping people sort through the
data to determine what they think is most important
and what they wish to focus on, given their own
goals and values.
Next, coaches can help people evaluate their own
portfolio of strengths and weaknesses (i.e., Abilities
data) relative to the Success Factors. Finally, coaches
can make sure the person has an accurate view of
how others view the person (i.e., Perceptions). As
noted earlier, Perceptions data can come from a
variety of sources. The coach can facilitate gathering
feedback through interviews and multirater instru-
ments, as well as incorporating appropriate tests and
inventories to provide additional perspectives on abil-
ities, personality, and style. However, one of the main
values of coaching is to teach people how to develop
themselves, including how to gather and interpret
feedback from others (Peterson & Hicks, 1995).
Note that multirater feedback surveys, which are
frequently used in executive coaching (Kauffman &
Coutu, 2009), incorporate three aspects of GAPS
information. The individual survey items and
dimensions represent behaviors and competencies
that are viewed as Success Factors in a manage-
ment role. Ratings by self and others are Abilities
and Perceptions data, respectively. However, the
multirater literature seems to assume that the
observer ratings are somehow more accurate than
the self-ratings, concluding that individuals overrate
themselves (Eichinger & Lombardo, 2003). Coaches
generally find that accepting both views as providing
useful information from the perspective of the rater
is a helpful way to frame the information. After the
different perspectives are clearly understood, the
coach and participant can discuss possible reasons
for any significant differences and then decide
together how the participant might wish to respond.
In addition to multirater surveys, executive
coaches use a variety of methods to gather infor-
mation for enhancing insight, including interviews
with the participant, supervisor, and peers; ability or
aptitude tests; interest and personality inventories;
objective performance data from the organization;
and role-plays and simulations (Bono et al., 2009).
However, coaches from different philosophical
perspectives may use distinctly different tools
and approaches. Advocates of positive psychology,
for example, gravitate toward assessments of
strengths, optimism, courage, and positive emo-
tions (Lopez & Snyder, 2003; O’Connor & Lages,
2007). Organizational consultants often emphasize
multirater surveys, organizational input, and stan-
dardized assessment instruments. Developmental
coaches tend to assess the participant’s develop-
mental level (Berger & Fitzgerald, 2002; Laske
1999). Humanistic and phenomenologically ori-
ented coaches generally place greater emphasis on
exploring the person’s own goals and values and
processing the meaning of real-time behavior.
W. G. Lawrence (2006) even advocated that coaches
explore the client’s dreams and unconscious as a
means to enhancing insight.
Like many practices within coaching, the use
of assessments and feedback methods in coaching
seems to be driven by the coach’s philosophical per-
spective and familiarity with specific instruments.
Little information is available on how and when to
use various methods and their relative contribution
to coaching process and outcome. Passmore’s (2008)
volume is a useful step in this direction, discussing a
number of psychometric instruments and how they
may be best used in coaching. Barner (2006) took a
similar step forward by proposing three approaches
to tailor the coaching interview to gather the infor-
mation most relevant to remedial, developmental, or
transition coaching.
As a final note, a rarely questioned assumption of
coaching is that assessment is only done at the begin-
ning of coaching and perhaps at the conclusion as
an outcome evaluation. This is explicitly defined in
almost every model of the coaching process (e.g.,
Bluckert, 2006). However, from a constraint-based
perspective on coaching, assessment, and feedback
may occur at any point in the coaching process,
whenever low levels of insight prevent further devel-
opment. For example, relatively insightful and moti-
vated clients might have a clear sense of what they
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wish to work on at the outset of coaching. Additional
assessment and feedback might be helpful to some
degree, but in most cases, it merely confirms what is
already known and simply slows their momentum.
As participants make significant progress on their
objectives, they may decide with their coach that
additional insight would be helpful, and they can
consider together the advantages of gathering feed-
back or using other methods such as personality and
leadership style inventories. Often, participants are
more receptive and even hungry for additional
insight after they have experienced significant gains
and see how a clearer picture of Success Factors or
Perceptions might be useful.
Although most coaches would agree that the par-
ticipant’s level of insight tends to increase through-
out the entire coaching process, few seem manage
the process to actively and strategically to facilitate
insight at those times when the participant is most
likely to benefit, rather than simply offering an
assessment of needs at a single point in time.
Motivation
Motivation in coaching and development activities
can be analyzed from three perspectives (see also
Vol. 3, chap. 3, this handbook). First is the person’s
overall motivational makeup in terms of drives,
such as need for achievement, power, and affiliation
(Latham & Pinder, 2005). Ultimately, coaching is a
means to an end, and the participant’s fundamental
motivation to engage in coaching and development is
contingent on their perception that it will lead to ful-
filling some desired goal or need. Typically, the more
the coach knows about the person’s core values and
motivational makeup, the better the coach can tailor
the coaching and the working relationship itself to the
person’s needs and personality. A person with a high
need for status, for example, might value examples
and illustrations from other highly regarded leaders
and organizations, whereas a person with a high
achievement drive would be more concerned about
finding a technique that he or she could use suc-
cessfully, regardless of who else might be using it.
Understanding the participant’s motivational profile
can also help the coach understand potential strengths
and weaknesses that might be addressed in coaching
(e.g., Spreier, Fontaine, & Malloy, 2006).
The second aspect of motivation in coaching is
the person’s drive and approach to learning and
development in general. This includes constructs
such as learning or performance orientation
(Dweck, 1986, 2000), locus of control (Colquitt,
LePine, & Noe, 2000), self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997),
proactivity (Major, Turner, & Fletcher, 2006), and
trait anxiety (low levels being better for learning;
Bell & Kozlowski, 2008). In contrast to the first set
of motivational factors, which are relatively endur-
ing, these constructs appear to be more malleable,
and coaches who work to enhance them are likely to
achieve greater, more long-lasting results (Biswas-
Diener & Dean, 2007). Many situational aspects of
the work environment, including supervisor sup-
port, organizational climate, and the perceived con-
sequences of behavior change, also affect motivation
(Colquitt et al., 2000).
The third consideration is the participant’s moti-
vation to work on specific development needs or
learning objectives. If needed, a coach can influence
this type of motivation in a number of ways, includ-
ing connecting development objectives to the per-
son’s intrinsic motivations, increasing the person’s
sense of autonomy and control over their choices
and related outcomes (Heatherton & Nichols, 1994;
Ryan & Deci, 2008), breaking down learning tasks
into small, manageable steps, and identifying and
addressing perceived barriers.
Three frameworks are particularly useful for
addressing motivation in coaching. First, motiva-
tional interviewing (Miller & Rollnick, 2002;
Passmore, 2007a) is designed specifically to address
ambivalent motivations, where a person’s long-
term goal requires discipline and sustained effort
(e.g., working on one’s personal development) but
the short-term behavioral alternative (e.g., check-
ing e-mail) is easier and often more immediately
reinforcing. Second is the transtheoretical model of
change (Prochaska & DiClemente, 1984; Prochaska
& Norcross, 2001), in which the first three stages—
precontemplation, contemplation, and preparation—
are primarily related to insight and motivation. The
referenced works include many helpful suggestions
that can be applied to coaching.
Finally, the goal-setting literature (Locke &
Latham, 1990, 2002) is rich with advice on how to
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set goals to enhance motivation and performance.
However, goal-setting techniques that lead to the
best performance (e.g., set specific, difficult goals)
do not always lead to the best learning. When the
task is complex and novel, learning goals generally
result in higher performance than specific outcome
goals and “do your best” goals (Latham, Seijts, &
Crim, 2008). There is also a growing literature on
conflicts and choices between multiple goals (Beck,
Gregory, & Carr, 2009) that is extremely useful
for coaches to understand. When faced with multi-
ple goals and insufficient time, people are more
likely to work on goals for which they perceive
greater urgency (Ashford & Northcraft, 2003), in
which they are receiving more feedback, and goals
that they feel are more likely to be achieved
(Schmidt & Dolis, 2009).
Capabilities
Coaches can help participants gain new skills and
knowledge through a wide variety of techniques,
including sharing advice, ideas, and best practices;
helping people find appropriate resources and
opportunities to learn; exploring alternative ways
to handle difficult situations; and practicing new
skills and behaviors in realistic situations.
Druckman and Bjork (1991) reviewed the extant
literature to identify the training and development
principles most associated with effective skill learn-
ing, transfer, and retention. By its very nature, coach-
ing tends to incorporate several of the principles they
identified, such as using spaced practice; actively
engaging the learner in the process through conver-
sation, reflection, and goal-setting; and integrating
new knowledge with existing knowledge.
However, Druckman and Bjork (1991) described
a trade-off between the most effective methods for
acquiring skills (i.e., building capabilities) and for
helping people transfer and apply their skills in
real-world practice. For example, massed practice
is often the quickest way to learn a skill, but spaced
practice leads to greater retention. Working on one
simple skill in isolation, such as active listening,
leads to rapid learning but tends to inhibit transfer
to situations that demand use of multiple skills
simultaneously. Techniques that enhance transfer
and generalization, such as practicing complex, dif-
ficult situations with significant interference and
distractions, tend to inhibit rapid learning and are
often less enjoyable for the participant (Druckman
& Bjork, 1991). This dynamic tension between
short-term learning and longer-term retention high-
lights an implicit choice that coaches make between
focusing on the learning experience within the
coaching conversation and what participants do to
apply their learning when they leave. As noted pre-
viously, there is often a greater seductive appeal for
the coach to get positive feedback on having a great
coaching session where participants feel that they
really learned something than there is in having them
leave with a sense that they really struggled and are
not exactly comfortable with their new skills. Yet
the latter may be more valuable in the long run.
Two of the Druckman and Bjork (1991) principles,
in fact, are likely to be relatively difficult for some
coaches to incorporate into their work. Increasing the
cognitive and affective demands on the participant by
raising the level of challenge, interference, and emo-
tional intensity requires many coaches to step out
of their comfort zone and may stress the working rela-
tionship between the two. Diminishing feedback over
time is also difficult for some coaches because it takes
the focus off of them. However, it is very important to
ensuring lasting results because participants need to
learn to generate independently their own feedback
and evaluate the effectiveness of their behaviors.
Another aspect of building capabilities is equip-
ping people to be effective self-directed learners.
Teaching and encouraging participants to seek feed-
back for themselves, reflect on their learning and
progress, self-monitor behavior, adapt and plan new
actions, engage others to support their learning, and
so on (Peterson & Hicks, 1995, 1996) enhances learn-
ing, intensifies the effects of coaching, and ensures
that progress will be maintained. Furthermore, it
reduces the risk of creating overdependence on the
coach (Berglas, 2002; Noer, 2000).
Many coaches believe that giving advice is in-
appropriate in coaching (O’Connor & Lages, 2007),
claiming the focus should be on asking questions to
help people generate their own insights and ideas.
Many clients also value this approach (Bacon &
Spear, 2003). Research from neuroscience (Rock &
Page, 2009) and social psychology (Ryan & Deci,
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2008) shows that people are more likely to value
and act on self-generated ideas and choices. Yet
advice giving is common, even among coaches who
claim they disagree with the practice (Stein, 2008).
Therefore, it is important for coaches to understand
when it is actually useful or appropriate (Carr, 2009;
Cunningham, 2008) and when participants are most
likely to heed it (Gino, 2008; Gino & Schweitzer,
2008). Participants experiencing negative affect
(e.g., defensiveness, anger) are less receptive to
advice and suggestions, and those experiencing
positive affect (e.g., gratitude) are more receptive.
Advice is better accepted from those perceived to be
experts, when the problem is complex and unfamil-
iar, and when a high price has been paid for the
advice (Gino & Schweitzer, 2008). Content coaches
(i.e., experts) working with motivated participants
on challenging capabilities may thus find their advice
is welcomed, whereas coaches working with defen-
sive participants on what are perceived to be simple
topics such as listening and relationship-building
may find their advice repeatedly spurned.
In summary, capability building is a more com-
plex and artful aspect of coaching than many per-
ceive. Coaches who use a wide range of techniques
and understand when and where to use them appro-
priately are likely to be more effective than those who
either reject an approach out of hand or universally
apply their favorite tool to all cases (Cunningham,
2008; Peterson, 2006).
Because this discussion only scratches the surface
of capability building, readers are encouraged to
explore other useful information that can be found in
many domains, including training (A. P. Goldstein,
1996; I. L. Goldstein & Ford, 2002; see also chap. 16,
this volume), the lessons of experience (McCall,
Lombardo, & Morrison, 1988), and leadership devel-
opment (Avolio & Chan, 2008; London, 2002; see
also Vol. 1, chap. 7, this handbook).
Real-World Practice
Real-world practice (RWP), the extent to which
people apply their skills and knowledge at work, is
similar to the notions of generalization and transfer
of training (Holton & Baldwin, 2003a), conscious
competence (Dembkowski et al., 2006), relapse pre-
vention (Marx, 1986), homework compliance in
therapy (Scheel, Hanson, & Razzhavaikina, 2004),
and implementation intentions (Gollwitzer, 1999).
Peterson and Hicks (1996) identified two major
challenges to RWP. First, trying new behaviors is
not always successful at first. Participants who are
reluctant to make mistakes or appear incompetent
will benefit from practicing new behaviors in safe
environments (e.g., with their coach); making
changes in small, incremental steps; positive self-
talk; and having strategies for explaining to others
what they are trying to do. The second challenge is
that changing old habits and implementing new
behavior requires conscious effort and cognitive
attention (Rock & Page, 2009). Coaches can help
reduce the cognitive load and enhance transfer by
making sure participants do some of that work in
the coaching session, such as preparing action plans
specifying exactly when, where, and how new
behaviors will be implemented (what Gollwitzer,
1999, referred to as intention plans); anticipating
obstacles and identifying appropriate responses
ahead of time; identifying specific signals ahead of
time that will cue the new behavior or response; and
practicing new responses repeatedly using diverse
and challenging scenarios to enhance automaticity
(Peterson & Muros, 2008). Coaches can also make
sure participants develop skills for self-reflection
and self-monitoring, to ensure they review their
progress regularly and plan adjustments in real time
or in anticipation of the next relevant event (Tziner,
Haccoun, & Kadish, 1991).
Accountability
The two components of accountability—monitoring
and ensuring logical consequences for progress—
can be established either internally to the person or
externally through the environment (Cummings &
Anton, 1990; London, Smither, & Adsit, 1997;
Peterson & Muros, 2008). When the participant’s
motivation is high, the development task is straight-
forward, and the environment is supportive, simple
internal accountability mechanisms, such as self-
evaluation of progress and regular discussions with
the coach, are sufficient. The lower the person’s
motivation, the more difficult the learning task, and
the less supportive the environment, the greater the
importance of establishing clear accountability
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mechanisms. Additional techniques that address the
monitoring aspect of accountability include having
the participant seek regular feedback, ensuring
ongoing feedback from the boss, setting up periodic
progress reviews with the boss and other organiza-
tional stakeholders (including meetings that also
include the coach), and daily documentation of
behavior through journaling or recording specific
behaviors. Consequences can be as informal and
simple as participants’ own satisfaction or dissatis-
faction with their progress or the coach’s asking
questions to assess the seriousness of participants’
commitments to follow-through on their develop-
ment plans and to make the expectations of others
and possible consequences more salient. Feedback
from others can be explicitly connected to praise and
positive recognition (or disappointment and negative
comments) regarding progress as well as to the
likelihood of obtaining more distal rewards, such as
bonuses, promotions, or other opportunities.
HOW CAN ORGANIZATIONS GET
THE GREATEST VALUE FROM
EXECUTIVE COACHING?
Surveys indicate that relatively few organizations
believe they are deriving the full benefits of executive
coaching (Earley & Masarech, 2009; Jarvis et al.,
2006; McDermott et al., 2007). Concerns include
the lack of clarity and consistency in how coaching
is used in the organization, lack of cumulative orga-
nizational learning about how to manage coaching,
inconsistent quality, and the lack of systematic goal
setting and outcome evaluation. Typically, as orga-
nizations strive to increase the value they obtain
from coaching, they move through four stages along
a continuum from relatively ad hoc and unstruc-
tured uses of coaching toward more systemic and
strategic applications (Peterson & Little, 2008;
Sokol, 2000).
Stage 1: Ad hoc coaching—driven by individuals.
Most organizations begin using executive coaching
when one individual, such as a boss, HR person, or
potential coaching participant, decides he or she
would like to find a coach. Others in the organiza-
tion may also begin to seek coaching, although not
in any coordinated or organized fashion. Coaching
at this stage is reactive rather than proactive, typi-
cally in response to a specific situation, such as a
new executive who needs assistance in on-boarding
into a critical or challenging role. Organizations in
the ad hoc stage of coaching have little idea regard-
ing who is receiving coaching, who is providing it,
what the process looks like, what the real value is,
and how much is being spent. This stage exemplifies
the ungoverned and chaotic image depicted by
Sherman and Freas (2004) in “The Wild West of
Executive Coaching.”
Stage 2: Managed coaching—driven by a cham-
pion or sponsor. Organizations tend to move toward
managed coaching when they recognize either that
they are spending significant amounts of money on
coaching or that coaching has great potential value
that they wish to harness in a more structured way.
They typically appoint someone to establish a more
consistent way to manage all the coaches working in
the organization. These managers establish coach
selection criteria, screen and keep track of coaches,
define the coaching process, and often begin to
measure participant reactions to the coaching they
receive (Hunt & Weintraub, 2007). Rarely at this
stage do organizations define formal criteria for who
receives coaching or even attempt to measure over-
all organizational outcomes.
Stage 3: Proactive coaching—driven by a busi-
ness need. Organizations move to the next stage of
the continuum when they begin to use coaching for
groups of people to address a specific business or
organizational need, such as on-boarding new
executives or accelerating the development of high-
potential leaders. The key shift in this stage is
focusing on developing talent pools to generate
clear organizational value in addition to the value
received by individual participants. Organizations
at this stage often start to think more strategically
about who provides coaching (e.g., calling on man-
agers and HR professionals or setting up a network
of internal coaches; Frisch, 2001) and who receives
coaching (e.g., setting up specific criteria and an
approval process). Some organizations attempt to
create a coaching culture (Clutterbuck & Megginson,
2005; Earley & Masarech, 2009) by enhancing their
internal coaching capabilities and limiting the use of
external coaches to very selective needs to reduce
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costs. Similarly, some organizations define coaching
roles for specific needs, such as providing internal
coaches for new hires from outside the organization
and providing external coaches for promotions from
within or using internal coaching for middle man-
agers and primarily external coaches for senior exec-
utives (Holstein, 2005; McDermott et al., 2007).
Stage 4: Strategic coaching—driven by organiza-
tional talent strategy. Although at present there
appear to be few organizations operating at Stage 4,
where coaching is used strategically and systemati-
cally in alignment with the overall talent management
strategy, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge as
to what is required to get there (e.g., Clutterbuck &
Megginson, 2005; Hunt & Weintraub, 2007; Peterson
& Little, 2008; Thompson et al., 2008; Underhill,
McAnally, & Koriath, 2007). At this stage, organiza-
tions have identified their most critical talent and
prioritized where development will make the biggest
difference. On the basis of their needs, these pivotal
talent pools (Boudreau & Ramstad, 2007) are then
provided the optimal development program, which
may or may not involve executive coaching. One of
the defining characteristics of Stage 4 organizations
is they have a clear understanding of their talent and
their development needs, the array of development
tools that may be used, and a method for matching
the talent need with the appropriate solution, based
on factors such as cost, effectiveness of the method,
convenience, and criticality or potential business
impact of the need.
Finding the Best Match Between
Participants and Coaches
Finding the right match between participant and
coach is viewed as a critical decision in the coaching
process (Hall et al., 1999), and yet there is little clar-
ity on the criteria to be used. Some advice is even
contradictory, with those who say the coach should
be similar in background to the participant so he or
she can relate well and others who claim the coach
should be different so he or she can challenge and
stretch the participant (Underhill et al., 2007), or
that coaches and participants should be matched on
sex or countermatched on sex (Wycherly & Cox,
2008). This type of advice focuses on superficial
characteristics such as similarity, rather than on
seeking a coach who meets more meaningful crite-
ria, such as having demonstrated both the ability to
relate well and to challenge and stretch participants.
In their review of the research on matching in
coaching and mentoring, Wycherly and Cox (2008)
concluded that trying to match coaches and partici-
pants “based on the right ‘chemistry’ and other sur-
face diversity factors may be neither necessary nor
effective” (p. 48). The primary consideration for
matching on superficial characteristics such as sex,
race, or personality seems to be the extent to which
the participant’s biases and expectations will create
difficulties in accepting their coach and building
trust and rapport quickly (Wycherly & Cox, 2008).
One of the more contentious issues in selecting
coaches is whether they should have actual business
experience in a role similar to the person to be
coached. In their thoughtful discussion of this issue,
Jarvis et al. (2006) concluded that “executive coaches
do need a strong understanding of organisational
dynamics and the business world to be effective.
However, direct experience of a particular industry
or role is unlikely to be necessary for a person to
be an effective coach—their real contribution is
their ability to help individuals learn and develop”
(p. 91). Also problematic is the often-mentioned
issue of matching on “chemistry.” Given the impor-
tance of the coaching relationship, it seems reason-
able to let participants choose their own coach from
two or three qualified options. Yet, as McDermott
et al. (2007) pointed out, “most executives do not
understand coaching provider differentiators or how
they should use a coach; they simply want to com-
plete the coaching process” (p. 35). Because they are
not familiar with how to evaluate coaches, they may
simply choose the person they like best. There is
nothing inherently wrong with providing executives
a choice among competent coaches; however, it
often takes additional time and delays the beginning
of coaching, with little additional value. One of the
qualifications for being accepted into an organiza-
tion’s pool of coaches should be the ability to
establish trust, credibility, and an effective working
relationship with a specific audience. If a coach has
a dominant personal style, such as being direct,
forceful, and assertive or open-ended, unstructured,
and free-flowing, which they are unable to moderate
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to meet the needs of a given client, then matching
on personal style may also matter for some partici-
pants (Hunt & Weintraub, 2007). Given all this,
having a knowledgeable person recommend a spe-
cific coach is advised. If the participant is not com-
fortable with the match, he or she should have the
option to ask for another coach.
Coachability
Some coaches take a position that some people are
uncoachable and cannot benefit from coaching.
Naficy and Isabella (2008) described the following
as characteristics of “uncoachable” people: having a
fixed mind-set, being forced into coaching, lacking
trust and openness, and feeling manipulated by per-
formance management in the guise of coaching.
Goldsmith (2009) claimed that all people who do
not think they have a problem, are in the wrong job,
are pursuing the wrong strategy for the organiza-
tion, or who blame others for their problems are
uncoachable. Bacon and Spear (2003) proposed
seven levels of coachability:
C0, not coachable; psychologically or medically
impaired and require clinical help;
C1, extremely low coachability; narcissistic types
who are arrogant and impatient;
C2, very low coachability; resistant to feedback,
defensive, lacking self-insight;
C3, fair coachability; complacent and unmotivated
to change;
C4, good coachability; accepts some feedback
and sees some reason to change;
C5, very good coachability; desire to improve but
may be too busy to work on it; and
C6, excellent coachability; self-directed, lifelong
learners with an intrinsic need to grow.
There are two major problems with this notion
of coachability. First, it labels people as globally
uncoachable when the reality is that they may not
want coaching on a given topic because they do not
currently see the need to change. It may be more
reasonable to assume that virtually all people are
able to learn new things and change their behavior,
and will accept coaching eagerly, when they see how
it can help them accomplish goals that they value.
When people are labeled as uncoachable, it is often
simply because they do not want to be forced to
change in the ways that others want them to change.
Conversely, intrinsically motivated, enthusiastic
learners who fit the C6 category of excellent coacha-
bility might be completely unreceptive to coaching
on a topic such as strategic thinking if they do not
see how enhancing that skill serves their needs in
current or future roles. The second problem is that
the types of people labeled as uncoachable are the
very people who need coaching the most. Leaders
with an intrinsic desire to grow, who accept feed-
back willingly, and are self-directed learners may
not need much coaching. Those who are stubborn,
arrogant, closed-minded, and defensive seem to
most need the help of a professional coach. Given
that leaders with narcissistic qualities, for example,
typically demonstrate many positive leadership
qualities and often rise to senior positions (Brunell
et al., 2008; Maccoby, 2000; Rosenthal & Pittinsky,
2006), it is important to find coaches who are able
to work with them.
The real consideration is that not all coaches are
qualified to work with difficult or complex coaching
situations. It is more accurate to label the situation
as complex or difficult and thus requiring a specific
expertise from the coach, rather than labeling the
person as uncoachable (Ludeman & Erlandson,
2004; Mansi, 2009; Peterson & Sutherland, 2003).
The majority of the coachability issues have to do
with motivation. Of the four types of coaches
defined earlier, the development-process coaches
are best qualified to explicitly address resistance,
defensiveness, and other motivation-related issues.
Skills and Issues Best Suited to Coaching
Just as some coaching participants may appear to be
more challenging than others, some capabilities
appear to be easier to learn than others (Hogan &
Warrenfeltz, 2003; Lombardo & Eichinger, 2002;
Tessmann-Keys & Wellins, 2007). Using a frame-
work that clusters management competencies into
four domains, Hogan and Warrenfeltz (2003) pro-
posed that intrapersonal competencies such as self-
control, integrity, and attitude toward authority are
relatively difficult to change. Next most difficult are
interpersonal skills, such as empathy and relation-
ship building. Leadership skills, such as building
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and maintaining a team, build on intrapersonal and
interpersonal skills but are easier to learn. Finally,
the easiest to learn competencies are business skills,
such as planning, running meetings, and evaluating
performance. From their perspective, the skills that
are more difficult to learn are closely linked to rela-
tively hardwired personality variables and the easiest
to learn are primarily cognitive in nature (although
cognitive ability per se is difficult to change).
Although there are discrepancies between this frame-
work and other lists of easy- and difficult-to-learn
capabilities (e.g., Lombardo & Eichinger, 2002;
Tessmann-Keys & Wellins, 2007), this notion is
potentially a useful factor in considering when to use
coaching. Specifically, because coaching is a relatively
powerful intervention, it may be most useful for the
more difficult-to-learn skills. Training and other less
costly interventions might be sufficient for the easier
to learn competencies, especially as a first step.
A second way to identify skills for which coach-
ing is well suited considers a continuum ranging
from relatively fact- or data-based skills and knowl-
edge (e.g., finance, law, geography, mathematics) to
more principle-based and contextual competencies
(e.g., leadership, coaching, influence). Coaching
seems most appropriate for the latter. In fact, the
more the competency is content-based with rela-
tively clear right-or-wrong answers, the more it
can be delivered efficiently through training, books,
and self-study materials. Coaching on such fact-
based topics would resemble one-on-one tutoring.
However, the greater the requirement for situational
judgment, the more helpful coaching can be to help
people figure out how to analyze the situation and
then, on the basis of their goals, skills, and other
factors, decide how they would like to approach it.
Lazar and Bergquist (2003) made a similar point by
differentiating puzzles, problems, and mysteries and
then comparing the types of coaching best suited
to each. In their framework, puzzles have relatively
clear answers and reasonable criteria for evaluating
whether something was done correctly. They use
the label performance coaching for these primarily
behavioral issues such as delivering presentations,
giving feedback, or managing the agenda for a meet-
ing. This category is similar to content coaching.
Problems refer to complex, multidimensional situa-
tions in which judgment involving cognitive and
affective components is critical, and choices must be
made without explicit criteria for correctness. Lazar
and Bergquist labeled this executive coaching, which
seems to parallel development-process coaching.
Examples include choosing a leadership approach
to handle a particular challenge and determining
whether to give feedback in a specific instance. They
defined alignment coaching as the approach to work-
ing with mysteries, the unfathomable, unpredictable
areas of life related to spiritual and philosophical
issues, to values and ethics, and to the deeper mean-
ing and purpose of life and career.
RESEARCH ON COACHING
Virtually every author who seriously examines
coaching has declared that there is a paucity of
research evaluating the effectiveness of coaching
(Kilburg, 2001; Sherman & Freas, 2004). Yet sub-
stantial evidence indicates that coaching can be an
effective development tool that leads to significant
improvements in performance and results (Jarvis
et al., 2006; Peterson & Kraiger, 2004; Wise &
Voss, 2002). In terms of participant satisfaction,
most studies report that participants have favorable
or highly favorable views toward coaching (e.g.,
Gegner, 1997; Hall, Otazo, & Hollenbeck, 1999;
Olivero, Bane, & Kopelman, 1997). De Meuse, Dai,
and Lee’s (2009) summary of the empirical research
on this topic reports that 75% to 95% of coaching
participants are positive about their coaching expe-
rience. In addition, a number of coaching research
studies report tangible improvements in outcomes
such as learning, performance, and business results.
Bersin (2007) analyzed 62 talent management
practices in 760 organizations and concluded that
having formal or well-established coaching pro-
grams had the highest impact of all practices they
examined.
Evers et al.’s (2006) quasi-experimental study
found statistically significant improvements of
approximately 0.5 standard deviation units in two
of six areas of self-efficacy beliefs and outcome
expectancies. No significant changes were found
in their control group. This study reports little
information about the coaching process or the
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qualifications of the coaches themselves, so it is
difficult to generalize from their findings.
Finn (2007) reported the following statistically
significant pre–post effect sizes for his coaching
group for improvements in: self-efficacy (d=0.31),
positive affect (d= 0.23), openness to new behaviors
(d= 0.41), and developmental planning (d=1.05).
Much larger effect sizes were obtained for most of
these variables in the comparison between the
coaching group and the control group at Time 2,
although this was reported to be primarily a function
of decreases in the control groups scores at time 2:
self-efficacy (d=1.05), positive affect (d= 0.18, not
significant), openness to new behaviors (d=1.26),
and developmental planning (d=2.24).
Gegner (1997) interviewed 25 executives and
found that 84% were positive about their experi-
ence in coaching. Although all reported learning
more about themselves and gaining new skills,
only 32% reported improvements in actual job
performance.
Kombarakaran et al. (2008) found that 81% of
114 coaching participants reported meeting their
expectations in coaching, and 73% saw it as pro-
viding a good return on investment. A principal
components analysis revealed five areas of
improvement: people management (with at least
90% of participants reporting increases in insight
into others, managing direct reports, influencing,
conflict management, giving feedback, and leader-
ship style), relationships with managers (79% of
participants reported improvement), goal setting
and prioritization (88% reported improvement in
their ability to define performance goals, 76%
reported increased insight into the business drivers
of decisions), productivity and personal engage-
ment with work (e.g., 78% reported improvements
in personal productivity), and communications
(68% reported improved communications with
their colleagues).
McDermott et al. (2007) surveyed organizational
sponsors of external coaching initiatives from 55
organizations. Their respondents reported the most
significant benefits of coaching, as rated on a scale of
1 to 5 (1 =not at all effective, 3 =moderate, 5 =highly
effective), to be development of future leaders (3.8),
reinforcing the notion that development is impor-
tant (3.7), getting senior managers to use appro-
priate leadership behaviors (3.6), and improving
individual performance (3.5).
McGovern et al.’s (2001) study reported that
86% of 100 coaching participants surveyed were
very or extremely satisfied with their coaching.
Participants reported improvements in a wide vari-
ety of tangible and intangible business variables,
including relationships with direct reports (77%),
peers (63%), and other stakeholders (71%); team-
work (67%); job satisfaction (61%); productivity
(53%); and quality (48%).
Peterson’s (1993b) research on 370 executives
found an average effect size (Cohen’s d) of just over
1.5 on specific coaching objectives across a wide
range of leadership, communication, interpersonal,
and intrapersonal skills as rated by both participants
and their bosses. The average improvement in overall
performance was greater than .5 standard deviations,
again from both rater perspectives. For comparison,
participant and boss ratings on control group items
(Peterson, 1993a) showed no significant change.
Follow-up ratings an average of one full year later
showed all results to be stable.
Schlosser and colleagues (Schlosser &
Steinbrenner, 2008; Schlosser et al., 2006) launched
a major study of coaching impact and value in 2004.
Highlights from their results to date include the fol-
lowing. On a 10-point scale (1 =very little; 10 =very
much), participant, manager, and coach, respectively,
reported that coaching had a positive impact on the
participant’s overall effectiveness (8.0, 6.5, 8.0),
that coaching was worth the participant’s time
(8.9, 7.8, 8.7), and worth the amount invested
(8.7, 7.4, 8.7). Participant, manager, and coach also
report the following degrees of improvement due to
coaching: 36%, 26%, and 47%, attributing substan-
tial portions of this improvement directly to the
coaching: 47%, 39%, and 57%. When asked to esti-
mate the financial value of the improvements in
the specific capabilities and behaviors worked on,
coaches report a mean of $371,000, participants
$276,000, and managers $268,000. As a side note,
capabilities with the highest average estimated value
to the business are partnering across boundaries and
silos ($515,000), strategic thinking ($475,000), and
delegating and empowering others ($433,000).
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In terms of comparing research on skill improve-
ment with improvements in job performance and
business results, Feldman and Lankau (2005)
sounded a cautionary note, suggesting that coaching
may be too many causal linkages removed from
financial and business results to demonstrate consis-
tently a direct relationship. Similarly, on the basis of
their survey of users of coaching in large organiza-
tions, McDermott et al. (2007) concluded that
coaching has a greater impact on proximal learning
outcomes, such as improving leadership behaviors
and individual performance, than it does on rela-
tively distal organization-level outcomes, such as
strategy execution and change management.
Levenson (2009) concurred and pointed out that
even when objective measures of organizational
impact are chosen, they may be chosen because they
are readily available and not because they measure
the variables most critical to organizational success.
More important, Levenson noted that coaching
objectives are frequently chosen on the basis of low
ratings on multirater surveys based on generic com-
petency models and not necessarily because an
improvement in the skills is clearly linked to objec-
tive business impact (see also Kaiser et al., 2008, for
an insightful discussion on the importance of differ-
entiating leadership perceptions from leadership
effectiveness).
Return on Investment: ROI of Coaching
At least four studies report an average return on
investment (ROI) in the range of 5 to 7 times the
cost of coaching (Anderson, 2001; International
Coach Federation, 2009; McGovern et al., 2001;
Parker-Wilkins, 2006). The Corporate Leadership
Council (2004) reported that additional studies
have obtained similar ROI results. Phillips (2007)
reports an ROI of 221%, using a fairly rigorous
approach (Phillips & Phillips, 2007), involving
detailed analysis of fully loaded costs (including
both direct and indirect costs, such as the value of
the executives time), the specific area affected (e.g.,
an 11% reduction in turnover due to the coaching),
rater estimates of the degree to which the impact
could be attributed to coaching (including asking
raters to list other factors that might have con-
tributed to the result), and specific cost bases for
estimating financial value. In addition, they asked
raters to estimate their level of confidence in the
overall analysis, resulting in estimates ranging from
50% to 90%. Such an approach has greater credibility
than studies based solely on direct financial costs,
which underestimate the total costs, thus inflating
ROI, and retrospective self-report, which suffers from
methodological problems such as potential hindsight
bias, self-serving bias (on the part of both the partici-
pants and in some cases the consulting firms con-
ducting the studies), and cognitive dissonance (De
Meuse et al., 2009; MacKie, 2007).
Future attempts to calculate ROI would benefit
from careful consideration of the challenges, among
them determining the fully loaded costs of the
coaching, including the value of the time spent by
the participant and other organizational stakehold-
ers. Another rarely noted challenge is trying to esti-
mate the future value of any capabilities acquired
through coaching. It is always possible that the
strategic insights or enhanced leadership capabilities
gained might contribute to a success long after the
coaching has ended. In that regard, carefully
designed ROI analyses may potentially underesti-
mate the long-term ROI of coaching.
It is important to keep in mind that ROI is inher-
ently context dependent, and no numerical calcula-
tion in isolation can provide an estimate of the value
of coaching (Levenson, 2009; Peterson & Kraiger,
2004). For example, the ROI of coaching on strategic
thinking is likely to be significantly greater for a per-
son with little background or experience in that topic
who is moving into a leadership role in a highly com-
petitive business setting than it is for either a person
of comparable abilities who is operating in a stable,
profitable environment (who would have a difficult
time putting the new skills to use) or a leader who
is already a highly skilled strategist and thus would
likely show little incremental gain. Schlosser et al.
(2006) cited such issues for why, even though they
are gathering detailed financial information, they do
not calculate ROI outside of a specific organizational
context.
The ROI of coaching, or any other development
intervention, is best understood as a function of
three factors: impact, effectiveness, and efficiency
(Boudreau & Ramstad, 2007). Impact refers to the
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business value resulting from the change in leader-
ship behavior. In practice, it is preferable to obtain
an estimate of the business impact before an inter-
vention takes place—even before one is chosen—
because it is less subject to the biases evident in
after-the-fact surveys. Effectiveness is the degree to
which the coaching or other intervention can actu-
ally produce the desired results. Coaching appears
to have a relatively high level of effectiveness com-
pared with less potent development options such as
books or multirater feedback in isolation. Finally,
efficiency refers to the cost of the coaching.
ROI blends these three factors, but much can be
learned by keeping them separate. In principle, it is
relatively easy to estimate impact and efficiency—
we can obtain estimates of both the value of the
enhanced capabilities or desired changes in perfor-
mance and of the cost of various interventions.
Specifically, obtaining an estimate of the business
value of a given improvement in skill or perfor-
mance (i.e., the impact as defined in Boudreau and
Ramstad’s, 2007, framework) from the coaching
participant’s boss, or, preferably, even an average
of estimates from several relatively objective stake-
holders in advance of the coaching reduces the typi-
cal biases that may affect retrospective ratings.
What is missing in our understanding of the ROI
of coaching, and where research on coaching and
other leadership development interventions is sorely
needed, is on how effective coaching is in achieving
the stated objectives, factoring in such variables as
type of coach (e.g., content or process coach, experi-
ence level), participant variables (e.g., motivation,
current skill level, intelligence), purpose (e.g., reme-
dial or developmental coaching), organizational
context (e.g., boss support, opportunities to apply
new skills), type of coaching program (e.g., length,
intensity), and other elements, such as those found
in the research taxonomies proposed by Bennett
(2006), Joo (2005), and MacKie (2007).
Such research could guide the choice of interven-
tions to best meet individual circumstances and orga-
nizational needs. As a hypothetical example, suppose
that coaching method A (long-term, delivered by a
development-process coach) consistently produces
two units of change and method B (short-term con-
tent coaching) produces one unit of change. Also
assume that method A costs twice as much as B.
Given that the ratio of cost to amount of change is
the same in both, it would be easy to conclude that
the ROI of the two methods is equivalent. However,
if the organization requires two units of change for a
person to be successful in the job, then the ROI of
method B is actually negative. The organization made
a moderate investment but did not accomplish its
goals. If the organization only requires one unit of
change for a person to be successful, then the ROI of
method B would actually be higher than method A,
because the additional returns from method A pro-
duce little incremental difference in the outcome.
Other Support for the Effectiveness
of Coaching
In addition to the studies summarized in this sec-
tion, there is a significant body of what might be
considered relatively weak data in support of coach-
ing, given the considerable variations in quality and
rigor of the methods used. However, it is noted here
because of the relatively consistent findings that
across such a variety of methods, purposes, and
measures, researchers are reporting positive find-
ings. Each of the references noted here describes
some tangible positive outcomes from coaching:
research based on self-report from participants
and their managers using diverse samples and
data-collection methodologies (e.g., Bush, 2005;
B. L. Davis & Petchenik, 1998; Kombarakaran,
Yang, Baker, & Fernandes, 2008; Leedham, 2005;
Seamons, 2006; Thompson, 1986; Wasylyshyn,
2003; Wasylyshyn, Gronsky, & Haas, 2006);
individual case studies (e.g., Blattner, 2005;
Diedrich, 1996; Hunt, 2003; Kiel, Rimmer,
Williams, & Doyle, 1996; Kralj, 2001; Libri
& Kemp, 2006; Natale & Diamante, 2005;
Orenstein, 2006; Peterson, 1996; Peterson &
Millier, 2005; Schnell, 2005; Tobias, 1996;
Wasylyshyn, 2005; Winum, 2005);
organizational case studies, dozens of which
are described in books by Clutterbuck and
Megginson (2005), Hunt and Weintraub
(2007), and Jarvis et al. (2006);
surveys of organizational purchasers of coaching
(Dagley, 2006; Leedham, 2005; McDermott,
Levenson, & Newton, 2007);
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evaluations of ROI (e.g., Anderson, 2001;
Corporate Leadership Council, 2004; Holt &
Peterson, 2006; McGovern et al., 2001; Parker-
Wilkins, 2006; Phillips, 2007; Schlosser,
Steinbrenner, Kumata, & Hunt, 2006);
a small but growing number of quasi-experimental
and other carefully designed research studies
(e.g., Evers, Brouwers, & Tomic, 2006; Finn,
2007; Finn, Mason, & Griffin, 2006; Grant,
Curtayne, & Burton, 2009; Offermanns, 2004
[as reported in Greif, 2007]; Peterson, 1993b;
Smither et al., 2003; Steinmetz, 2005 [as
reported in Greif, 2007]; Sue-Chan & Latham,
2004); and
literature reviews that critically examine the
available research and conclude that the evidence
supports the effectiveness of coaching (e.g., De
Meuse et al., 2009; Ely et al., in press; Feldman
& Lankau, 2005; Fillery-Travis & Lane, 2006,
2007; Jarvis et al., 2006; Joo, 2005; Kampa-
Kokesch & Anderson, 2001; Kampa & White,
2002; Levenson, 2009; MacKie, 2007; Passmore
& Gibbes, 2007).
In addition to this evidence, there is the simple
but compelling logic that executive coaching
incorporates multiple techniques already shown
to be effective in facilitating learning (Jarvis et al.,
2006; Latham, 2007), including goal setting (Locke
& Latham, 1990; 2002), feedback (Kluger &
DeNisi, 1996; London, 1997), accountability
(Holton & Baldwin, 2003b), behavioral practice
(Druckman & Bjork, 1991), communicating per-
formance expectations (Buckingham & Clifton,
2001; Buckingham & Coffman, 1999), enhancing
self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997), reflection (Seibert &
Daudelin, 1999), and establishing a trusting, sup-
portive relationship (Lambert & Barley, 2002;
Mahoney, 1991).
Although it is easy to conclude from the aggre-
gate evidence that coaching produces generally
positive outcomes, well-designed research on any
specific aspect of coaching is virtually unavailable.
For example, there is scant evidence to suggest
that any given approach is more effective than
another (Kilburg, 2004a; Olson, 2008), despite the
fact that advocates of various approaches claim
superiority and criticize other approaches (e.g.,
Berglas, 2002; Peel, 2005). Some proprietary
approaches to coaching make extravagant claims
that appear to be motivated by self-marketing
rather than science, a practice that continues to
make coaching resemble a business more than a
profession (Bennett, 2006; Grant & Cavanagh,
2004). For example, consider Corbett and
Coleman’s statement that “the Sherpa process
is the only credible standard for executive coach-
ing” (2006, p. xiv). Rock and Donde (2008)
claimed an ROI of 17 times the cost of the invest-
ment for training internal coaches in their propri-
etary approach to replace external coaches, but
they did not provide sufficient details to under-
stand how that claim is calculated. Garman,
Whiston, and Zlatoper (2000) noted that there
are even questions as to whether psychological
training is helpful or harmful for executive
coaches. Although only 31% of the articles they
surveyed even mentioned psychological training
for coaches, 18% of those articles presented it as
potentially harmful, 36% were mixed on the per-
ceived value, and only 45% were positive.
In addition, reviewers of coaching research
often note several methodological problems. The
majority of studies are based on relatively small
sample sizes and rely on retrospective self-report
from participants (Feldman & Lankau, 2005;
MacKie, 2007) in which hindsight bias or cogni-
tive dissonance could be factors. A number of
studies have been conducted by practitioners who
are essentially evaluating and reporting on their
own work. Many other studies have been con-
ducted by graduate students unfamiliar with the
actual practice of coaching. There is little consis-
tency in how findings are reported, with results
often presented in vague qualitative terms and
frequently incomplete. De Meuse et al. (2009)
reported that for their meta-analysis they found
only six studies for which effect sizes were avail-
able or could be calculated from the data. Some of
these problems are perhaps due to the nature of
coaching; it is a relatively long-term process, and
the participants are busy executives who are reluc-
tant to spend their time on detailed research pro-
tocols. It is difficult to conduct control group
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studies with this population as well (De Meuse
et al., 2009).3
In summary, the cumulative evidence from mul-
tiple sources and methods supports the efficacy of
executive coaching (De Meuse et al., 2009; Ely et al.,
in press). However, as Fillery-Travis and Lane
(2006) pointed out, the research to date primarily
enables us to answer yes to the question, Does
coaching work? It is time for researchers to address
more substantive questions regarding how coaching
works, what aspects of coaching are most effective,
which types of coaching work best for which pur-
poses, and which criteria can be used to define when
coaching is most appropriate (Grant & Cavanagh,
2007). Furthermore, it is by no means clear that all
coaches and all coaching approaches are effective. It
is therefore reasonable for consumers of coaching to
be skeptical in evaluating outcome and ROI claims
(Coutu & Kauffman, 2009).
COACHING RESEARCH: FUNDAMENTAL
QUESTIONS AND CHALLENGES
Calls for more research on executive coaching are
pervasive in the literature. On the basis of Grant’s
(2009) summary of dissertations and peer-reviewed
publications on coaching, it appears that researchers
are responding enthusiastically. Grant’s report shows
that 61 dissertations on coaching were completed in
the nearly 10-year period between 2000 and May
2009, compared with 10 dissertations in the decade
before that and only 6 in the decade earlier. There
were 117 empirical studies published in the most
recent 4.5 years of his summary (2005–May 2009),
almost triple the 40 that were completed in the pre-
ceding 5-year period (2000–2004), and vastly more
than the 29 published the entire 20 years before that
(1980–1999). In addition to these research-based
publications, more than 60% of all other coaching
articles published in peer-reviewed journals since
1937 have appeared in just the 5 years 2005 to 2009,
as this chapter went to press.
Compared with the dramatic increases in quan-
tity, it is more difficult to assess the increases in
quality of research and theory and how that has
enhanced our understanding of coaching. Rather
than trying to address all of the potential method-
ological and design issues with coaching research
(De Meuse et al., 2009; Ely et al., in press; Feldman
& Lankau, 2005; Greif, 2007; Joo, 2005; MacKie,
2007; Passmore & Gibbes, 2007), this final section
is intended to highlight a few topics that have not
received adequate attention elsewhere. Similarly,
rather than attempting to summarize all of the impor-
tant questions to be answered through research (Joo,
2005), this section tries to provide a fresh perspective
on selected topics of value to the field.
Measuring Groups Versus Individuals
Executive coaching is a diverse and highly individu-
alized activity, yet much of the research looks at
group-level effects rather than individual-level
effects, using the same measures for all participants
regardless of differences in coaching objectives and
initial skill level. Even for two people ostensibly
working on the same objective, such as strategic
thinking, there may be significant differences in
each person’s degree of insight, motivation, capa-
bilities, opportunities for real-world practice, and
accountability, variables that could lead to signifi-
cantly different outcomes or at least to widely differ-
ent experiences in coaching. Similarly, the same
coach working with two different people may take
a distinctly different approach with each. With so
much variability between coaching engagements, it
is impossible to determine what is really going on
when results are averaged across individuals. As an
example of how critical this is, consider that 77% of
coaching participants in the McGovern et al. (2001)
study reported improved relationships with direct
reports. Such a finding might be an exemplary result
if only 50% of the participants had that as an objec-
tive of the coaching or a tremendous disappoint-
ment if 100% of the participants had that as a goal.
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553
3Although the most common control group designs are difficult to use in organizational settings, researchers may consider other quasi-experimental
methods, such as the nonequivalent dependent variable design (Shadish, Cook, & Campbell, 2002). Peterson (1993b), for example, used this
approach by having participants, their coaches, and their managers rate participants on their current effectiveness on specific coaching objectives as
well as a set of unrelated control items drawn from a management multirater survey.
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There is also no indication of the degree to which
those 77% who showed improvement actually
reached a satisfactory level of performance. It is con-
ceivable that all 77% showed some improvement, yet
only a small percentage achieved their desired level of
performance on improved relationships. In fact, when
asked to rate their success, participants said they
achieved 73% of their stated goals very effectively or
extremely effectively, although 12% of participants
reported not achieving a single one of their develop-
ment objectives. Ratings from organizational stake-
holders were even lower in terms of degree of success
on attaining specified coaching objectives.
What is often missing from outcome research on
coaching, surprisingly so, is an answer to the simple
question, Did the participants achieve their objec-
tives? Researchers need to incorporate measures of
what specific goals each individual is working on,
the extent to which they achieve their goals, and
how much they change in the process (see Peterson,
1993a, for a discussion of issues in measuring change
in coaching). With these types of data, comparisons
can be made between subgroups based on specific
features (e.g., comparing groups working on different
types of goals or participants who met their goals vs.
those who did not). In addition, researchers could
ask both coaches and participants to list the specific
actions and techniques that they thought contributed
most to the perceived outcome. Goal-attainment scal-
ing (GAS; Kiresuk, Smith, & Cardillo, 1994; Spence,
2007) is one way to measure accomplishment of spe-
cific objectives directly. Simply put, GAS is a process
for defining individually tailored coaching objectives
and then measuring outcomes in terms of the degree
of successful goal attainment. A difficulty factor can
also be calculated, which facilitates comparison across
different goals and individuals. In addition to evaluat-
ing progress on stated goals, it is also useful to ask
about other benefits of coaching, which would make
it clear to what extent coaching is likely to deliver
both direct and secondary benefits.
Another consideration in measuring groups ver-
sus individuals is to consider single-subject research
design methodologies used in counseling and thera-
peutic research (Barlow & Hersen, 1984; Galassi &
Gersh, 1993). Although not common in I/O psy-
chology, such designs have long been accepted as
the equivalent of group-based experiments for
establishing cause and effect (Thomas, 2006). Part
of the power of repeated single-subject designs is
showing that the same treatment (i.e., coaching),
delivered to different people at different times and
for different reasons, produces the same pattern of
results. The cumulative evidence increases the confi-
dence that the treatment is causing the effect. A sim-
ple design, which occurs informally all the time, is to
get multiple baseline measures of a person’s behavior
before coaching. Many organizations have perfor-
mance reviews or multirater data that show a certain
skill level or behavior over several years. Then the
question is, after coaching, do those same measures
show a change. No single instance is conclusive,
but repeated across many individuals, this AAAB
design—showing no change, no change, no change,
coaching,—is compelling. Another design, which
might be described as ABCDE—where each letter
represents a different treatment, such as perfor-
mance review, multirater feedback, training pro-
gram, new manager, executive coaching—is also
relatively common. It is represented well in the
statement, “We’ve tried everything else, and nothing
seems to work.” In such a case, if coaching is intro-
duced and results in change, it can be concluded
that coaching was the causal factor. Again, although
it is difficult to rule out other causal factors in any
individual circumstance, repeatedly finding that
coaching works when other treatments have not is a
powerful indicator of causality.
Designing Research Suited
to the Dynamics of Coaching
Much of the research on coaching to date has been
broad and exploratory rather than aimed at testing
specific hypotheses. With the complexity and vari-
ability of coaching and the small sample sizes typi-
cal of each study, meaningful results are difficult to
find. Even when specific hypotheses are tested, they
are often derived without reference to theoretical
frameworks of individual learning and development
and with minimal regard to the unique nature of
the coaching process itself. As one illustration of
how research questions need to be tailored, con-
sider that because an effective coach customizes his
or her approach to a participant’s specific needs and
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context rather than treating all participants all the
same, the variance due to personal and contextual
variables is diminished. Working with a participant
who demonstrates low motivation and a lack of boss
support, an effective coach will naturally focus on
specific methods to address those issues. Peterson
(1993b), for example, began his research with specific
hypotheses about the relationship between coaching
outcomes and individual differences such as motiva-
tion, intelligence, and neuroticism. However, none of
the hypothesized correlations, nor in fact any of the
dozens of unhypothesized relationships between per-
sonality scale scores and outcomes, were statistically
significant. Similarly, Dawdy (2004) also found no
relationship between participant personality variables
and outcome. So it is quite likely that individual dif-
ferences such as participant motivation (Colquitt
et al., 2000) or learning orientation (Dweck, 1986),
which might have significant predictive value in
training and other standardized group programs
in which everyone receives the same treatment,
are uncorrelated to outcomes in many executive
coaching programs.
However, it is quite likely that personal and con-
textual variables may matter in certain situations.
Participant motivation is more likely to have an
impact on participation and dropout rates in coach-
ing, time required to achieve development objectives,
and in the specific processes, techniques, and assign-
ments their coaches use in their coaching engage-
ment. Individual difference variables are also likely
to be more predictive of outcomes in short-term and
highly standardized approaches to coaching, where
the parallels to predictors of training outcomes
(e.g., Naquin & Baldwin, 2003; Noe, 1986) are more
direct. These are empirical questions that remain to
be answered, but the important principle is to formu-
late hypotheses based on a solid understanding of the
unique dynamics of coaching.
Exploring Research on Coaching
From Multiple Levels
There are a multitude of important questions to be
answered about coaching (Bennett, 2006; Joo, 2005;
MacKie, 2007). Paradoxically perhaps, one flaw in
much of the coaching research is its exclusive focus
on coaching. Both broadening and narrowing the
scope of research questions might increase our
understanding of coaching faster than some of the
questions currently being examined. From a broader
perspective, it would be helpful to compare coach-
ing with other skill building, behavior change, and
leadership development interventions. Where is
each intervention most effective relative to cost?
Who benefits the most from each approach? What
are the advantages and disadvantages of coaching
relative to other options?
From a narrower perspective, we might learn
more as a field if we studied the component elements
of development (e.g., the five Development Pipeline
conditions) and how they contribute to coaching.
For example, a significant contribution to coaching
as well as leadership development in general could
be made by comparing different methods for facili-
tating insight, such as having the coach deliver
feedback based on interviews with key stakehold-
ers versus teaching the participant how to get their
own feedback and having them interview key stake-
holders themselves. A feasible research design for a
slightly different comparison might be as simple as
giving half the coaching participants personality
inventory feedback in Session 1 and multirater feed-
back in Session 2, with the other participant group
receiving the same sources of feedback but in the
opposite order. Participants and coaches could be
interviewed after each session to ask how much their
insight increased, in what ways, what contributed to
that increase, and what they plan to do on the basis
of that information. Ideally, a follow-up conversation
several months later would ask about the longer term
impact, including actual action taken. Understanding
the best ways to accomplish specific subgoals in
coaching, such as increasing insight, enhancing moti-
vation and accountability, and ensuring real-world
practice, would allow coaches to design optimal
programs for specific people and needs.
CONCLUSION
As popular as it has become, executive coaching is
still an emerging discipline. As Coutu and Kauffman
(2009) pointed out in their survey of 140 leading
executive coaches, “The coaching field is filled with
contradictions. Coaches themselves disagree over
Executive Coaching
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why they’re hired, what they do, and how to mea-
sure success” (p. 91). Yet despite the many ques-
tions about exactly how it works, coaching appears
to be one of the most potent, versatile, and efficient
leadership development tools available. In fact, its
adaptability and versatility probably explain in some
part why it is so difficult to quantify and define.
Nonetheless, as long as coaches continue to seek
better ways to help leaders accelerate their learning
and improve performance, coaching itself is likely to
continue to flourish long into the future.
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... The research study draws on two nascent fields of scientific inquiry in relation to the nascent yet fast-growing coaching profession (Grant et al, 2010;Peterson, 2011): the effectiveness of executive coaching (Athanasopoulou & Dopson, 2018;Jones et al, 2016); and vertical adult development (Cook-Greuter, 1999;Kegan, 1982;McCauley et al, 2006;O'Fallon, 2011O'Fallon, , 2020Rooke & Torbert 2005). The paper first sets out a literature review of the two areas of research discussing how the two fields intersect. ...
... In addition to the five moderating factors which would all seem to play a vital part, coaching effectiveness has been considered in terms of how best to measure objective outcomes beyond coach reporting and coachee feedback (Athanasopoulou & Dopson, 2018;De Haan et al, 2013;Jones et al, 2016;Grant et al, 2010;Peterson, 2011). Enhanced coachee capabilities, career advancement, organisational performance, and financial measures (Grant, 2003;Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson, 2001;Wasylyshyn et al, 2006) have each been proposed without arriving at a firm conclusion on the most appropriate measure. ...
... Some have called leadership coaching one of the fastest growing industries in the world (Bueno, 2010), while others have deemed it the "Wild West of yesteryear" (Sherman & Freas, 2004, p. 82), lamenting that it is an area of practice which is far ahead of theory development and empirical research (Boyatzis, Smith, & Van Oosten, 2015;Peterson, 2011). Others have pointed out that without scientifically evaluating such leader development efforts, we run the risk that these efforts may produce none of the intended outcomes, no desired outcomes, or worse, negative, unintended outcomes (Ladegard & Gjerde, 2014;Solansky, 2010). ...
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