A critical review of executive coaching research:
A decade of progress and what’s to come
Coaching psychology, coaching, coaching research, coaching research questions, future coaching
This paper aims to summarise the current state of coaching research and to provide a basis for
future research which will provide a frame of reference ensuring that research builds on previous
studies and adds to knowledge rather than replicating previous findings in innocence. This
approach will prevent wasted effort and resources in organisations and research.
The paper is divided into three sections. The first two sections review the state of research over
the past hundred years, with a greater focus on the past decade when coaching research has
accelerated at warp speed. The paper divides the recent research into categories; the nature of
coaching, coach behaviour studies, client behaviour studies, relationship studies and executive
coaching impact studies.
The third section considers the future direction research may take. It identifies key questions
which the authors believe should be the focus of future research and highlights the work
undertaken to support coaching researchers and published by the Coaching Foundation.
It has been ten years since Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson’s, (2001) seminal review of coaching
research. This article highlighted the scarcity of coaching research and noted seven impact
studies of coaching research had been published in the psychological literature. More generally
coaching research can be traced back to 1937 when the first impact study of coaching’s impact
on manufacturing was published by Gorby (1937). The study, while limited in its methods, was a
marker signalling the potential of coaching as a force for good within organisations. However,
after a short paper building on Gorby’s study (Bigelow, 1938), the trail went cold during the
1940’s and did not really start again until the 1990’s and the work of writers such as Kilburg,
Diedrich, Lowman and others in Consulting Psychology, which has blazed the trail in this area of
A closer look at many of the early studies noted by Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson revealed
weaknesses with methodology. These weaknesses included limitations in the research methods,
inadequate sample sizes and studies where the claims made were not fully supported by the
data. Such research problems however are not uncommon for new domains, of which coaching
in 2001 was certainly one (Passmore & Gibbes, 2007).
If we consider the evolution of other disciplines we can draw lessons from how knowledge
evolves. As a new area evolves it passes through several phases prior to maturation. Initially it
tends to focus on defining what it is concerned with. This involves a process of exploration and
sharing of the phenomena and what is experienced by practitioners. This first exploration phase
helps to shape and identify what is understood of the field from experience and what can be
considered within the field of enquiry and what cannot.
After the exploration phase, attention shifts to theory, methods and measures. Researchers seek
to develop and test new interventions, products or protocols. The initial part of this phase is often
marked with case studies and small qualitative research. This gradually shifts towards theory
building and random control trail studies with large sample sizes, and finally to meta analysis.
A third phase is characterised by concern with exceptions and variance to the theories. One
theme within this is the question: Which groups or issues benefit most from which approach?
Each phase requires different methodologies and instruments. As a result we would expect to
see a maturing of the research undertaken. A shift from exploration through survey and case
studies to theory development using grounded theory and similar qualitative techniques to
quantitative studies using random control trails and ultimately to meta-analysis studies.
This perspective allows a framing of the literature from a more appreciative stance and allows us
to consider emerging work and research in terms of its contribution to the current stage in
maturity. We would like to consider coaching research in light of this maturity model and use it to
help frame an appropriate and stimulating journey forward.
In this article we aim to review the state of coaching research and ask “Where next for the
research agenda”? In this sense our ambition is to provide a foundation and maybe a compass
for coaching researchers.
Purpose of coaching research
As researchers we have both been challenged in the past by practitioners; ‘So why is research
important, I know it works and that is enough’. For many, that is enough. However when
decisions need to be made about the return on investment (ROI) of consulting, coaching and
training, then both HR and psychologists need to ensure that they can demonstrate the
contribution of coaching to the organisation’s bottom line. Like many other HR interventions,
tangible costs are not the whole story, or at least we would argue they should not be. A price
cannot be placed on the saving of a life from a road traffic death or the improvements in hope,
resilience, emotional intelligence (Passmore & Brown, 2009). So in short coaching research
provides some of the evidence of coaching’s value in cash and others in non-cash terms for
individuals and their organisations.
We would also argue that this can provide valuable benefits for us as coaches. Specifically one
of the outputs of our research is to identify and define the knowledge base upon which we work –
what is our unique combination of knowledge and skills which delineates what we do from other
helping and learning interventions? This is of particular importance at a time when some
countries are legislating for competencies expected of those working within the area. It is also
essential for any consideration of coaching as a profession – the very definition of a profession
includes having a defined and unique knowledge base.
With this idea of an evolving and developing knowledge base supplied by appropriate and
stimulating research there comes the concept of sustainability of practice. The bench mark for
good practice will continually develop at a pace in line with the rapidly changing environment of
our clients. Coaches need to be able to interrogate that practice to identify what is fit for purpose
within their own work. Each coach becomes their own researcher into their own practice and the
developing literature. In line with the experience of other professions the need for professionalism
to include a requirement of the practitioner to be researcher is clearly appropriate.
Thus training and development becomes life long, building upon a sound technical base. With
increased demand for coaching, new coaches need to be trained, and with this, decisions need
to be made about what to train (Spence, Cavanagh, & Grant, 2006). Research should help us
identify the skills which make a difference in the coaching relationship. Do questions make a
difference? If so how? Or should the coach just tell the client what to do. Does it matter if the
coach moves rapidly from one to the other, or is consistency in style important?
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, working with others in intimate relationships, such as
coaching, places an ethical obligation on the coach. The coach needs to ensure that their
interventions do not expose the client or the coach to harm. The training of coaches needs to
include consideration of ethical issues as well as the importance of supervision or other reflective
practice methods. The coach needs to be sufficiently trained to identify the boundaries of their
competence and manage these within the contract. This should include identification of medical
disorders from depression to narcissism or anti social personality disorder, where coaching is not
an appropriate or helpful intervention.
In the next sections we review of the early research which took place during the 20
move onto consider the research published after Kampa-Kokesch & Anderson (2001) during the
Review of Research: 20
The period from 1937, the date of the first identified coaching study, to 1999, was a period of
slow progress, which saw more published papers in the final ten years than in the preceding fifty.
Much of this is due to the leading work of this journal and of Division 13 of the APA which
identified the growing trend of its members working in organisations. More recently the journal
has been joined by the British Psychological Society Journal, the International Coaching
Psychology Review and by commercial journals such as Coaching: An International Journal of
theory, research and practice.
In the 62 years between 1937 and 1999 there were a total of 93 articles, PhDs and empirical
studies published. The 1937 and 1938 papers were followed by a slow trickle of papers. One
research paper was published in the 1940’s (Lewis, 1947) and this was followed by nine studies
in the 1950’s, the majority concentred in the later half of the decade. This was followed by three
studies in the 1960’s and three in the 1970’s. It was not until the 1980’s that the first signs of
growth were seen. Several of these early papers hinted at the potential that coaching may have
either as a separate organisational intervention, or as a complimentary intervention to help in
skills transfer after training, for example Holoviak, (1982) study which examined training
programs in relationship to variations in company productivity levels in the coal industry. The
studied used a semi structured interview method and identified that companies which provided
greater amounts of management and supervisory training including coaching also achieved
It was not until the 1990’s that coaching research papers became a common occurrence in the
literature with 41 papers, PhD’s cited by PsycINFO and Dissertation Abstracts International for
the period. The focus of the papers starts to widen, with a recognition of the role of coaching in
enhancing feedback (Hillman, Schwandt, & Bartz, 1990), the contribution that coaching can
make to both leadership (Popper & Lipshitz 1992) and management (Graham, Wedman & Garvin-
Kester, 1993 & 1994). One of the most interesting and rigorous studies during this period was a
triangulation and psychometric based study of coaching efficacy (Peterson, 1993b). The PhD
research found that participants improve by about .85 standard deviations in overall effectiveness
as a result of their coaching programs.
The overall focus however was coaching as a management skill and with a case study led
methodology as opposed to quantitative methods comparing different interventions and using
control groups. Where qualitative methods were used the favoured methodology was content
analysis compared with the more sophisticated methods of Interpretative Phenomenological
Analysis (IPA), Grounded Theory or Discourse Analysis. However, there was wide inconsistency
in the quality of case study papers, and one of us has suggested ways this could be improved
(Passmore & Gibbes, 2007).
This feeling our way into enquiring about coaching can be considered appropriate for the
exploration stage of the literature’s development. Sharing of case studies with their qualitative
richness has allowed the identification, and to some extent validation, of what coaching looked
like within these contexts. This was about to change in the coming decade as the research
questions changed and theory was developed; coaching research started to apply the methods
and rigour which counselling, training and other organisational interventions had been during the
1980’s and 1990’s. The work of Olivero, Bane and Kopelman, (1996) was the first reported
attempt at examining the influence of coaching in a public sector municipal agency. Thirty - one
managers underwent a conventional managerial training programme followed by 8 weeks of one-
to-one coaching by internal coaches. Action research was employed to examine the influence of
coaching upon translating the training into behaviour change within the workplace. The study
used measures of productivity appropriate to a work based project chosen as the focus of the
coaching and found a 22.4% increase in productivity after training and 88 % increase after
coaching. Looking back on this study reveals considerable weaknesses in the methodology, but
the paper was an important milestone.
Review of Research: 2000 –2009
The nature of coaching
By 2000 the initial exploration of the field had provided various definitions of coaching and
attempted the delineation of what constituted coaching within the leadership development
portfolio (Judge & Cowell 1997; Thach & Heinselman, 1999). It was suggested that executive
coaching was really a repackaging of activities and techniques borrowed from other disciplines
such as counselling, psychology , learning and consulting (Tobias, 1996). It is undoubtedly true
that a significant amount of the knowledge base used by coaches originates from other
disciplines. However, in our view, this does not negate the uniqueness of the synthesis of these
elements to produce an offer of benefit to clients and one which is not provided by other
interventions. Indeed we hold the view that psychological knowledge and practice is an integral
part of coaching as it is of all relationships. By this we simply mean that the coach needs to
consider the behaviour, cognition and emotion of the client, and use this information to help in the
process of learning and change.
Several papers have reviewed and debated the nature of coaching and its boundaries with
counselling (Bachkirova & Cox, 2004; Passmore, 2007a), as well as the emerging domain of
coaching psychology (Stewart, O’Riordan & Palmer, 2008; (Sperry, 2008).
That being said there is as yet no agreed definition of coaching and the research focus has
moved on. Examples include:
“a collaborative and egalitarian relationship between a coach, who is not necessarily a
domain-specific specialist, and Client, which involves a systematic process that focuses
on collaborative goal setting to construct solutions and employ goal attainment process
with the aim of fostering the on-going self-directed learning and personal growth of the
Client” (Grant & Stober, 2006)
To the more organisational perspective offered by Kilburg:
“a helping relationship formed between a client who has managerial authority and
responsibility in an organization and a consultant who uses a wide variety of behavioural
techniques and methods to help the client achieve a mutually identified set of goals to
improve his or her professional performance and personal satisfaction and, consequently,
to improve the effectiveness of the client’s organization within a formally defined coaching
agreement” (Kilburg, 2000, p 142).
In reflecting on the research and publications over the past decade we would offer the following
broad definition of coaching:
“ a Socratic based dialogue between a facilitator (coach) and a participant (Client) where
the majority of interventions used by the facilitator are open questions which are aimed at
stimulating the self awareness and personal responsibility of the participant”.
As with all definitions there is the potential for debate. One challenge for such a definition is the
lack of recognition around group and team coaching. We hold the view that one to one coaching
is a different activity from group and team coaching, due to the intimacy and candour that can be
created in the one to one relationship. This is not to say that coaching techniques cannot be used
with groups, but rather that the dynamic which is created is different.
The research on team coaching is at a lower level of maturity but there is a developing literature
within the realm of team effectiveness (Mathieu, Maynard, Rapp, & Gilson, 2008). Specifically
(Wageman, 1997, 2001) has made a substantial contribution culminating in the publication of a
theory of team coaching with Hackman (Hackman & Wageman, 2005) The model focuses on the
functions that coaching serves for a team, rather than on either specific leader behaviours or
leadership styles, identifies the specific times in the task performance process when coaching
interventions are most likely to have their intended effects, and explicates the conditions under
which team-focused coaching is and is not likely to facilitate performance.
It may be argued, that group or team coaching is too close to Action Learning Sets and group
facilitation to usefully distinguish between them. Indeed the use of such methodology has been
activity explored and described in the team coaching context (Vaartjes, 2005) and research
studies such as these identified here may illuminate that question. For the present the question
is still unresolved and hence we do not address this mode of coaching explicitly in this paper.
Whilst considering what coaching is the community has also explored the concept of process
within the coaching engagement i.e. what would be seen to be happening. At first the studies
were relatively naïve and tended to err towards marketing literature on a particular model or tool.
A more critical engagement with the process was needed and one bright light here was a PhD
study by Dingman (Dingman, 2004) where the literature review compared a series of different
coaching processes and identified six generic stages which were part of all published models:
1. Formal Contracting
2. Relationship building
4. Getting feedback and reflecting
5. Goal setting
6. Implementation and Evaluation
The relative weighting of each of these stages and their exact titles may change but in all the
models reviewed each stage was present.
The perspective which underpins the process i.e. the five major approaches to executive
coaching interventions that have been summarised by Peltier (2001): as psychodynamic,
behaviorist, person-centered, cognitive therapeutic, and system-oriented and explored within
(Feldman & Lankau, 2005) recent review. Each have been further explored within coaching
(Cocivera & Cronshaw, 2004; Ducharme, 2004; Hrop, 2004; Kilburg, 2004; Sherin & Caiger,
2004). As befits the explorative nature of the enquiry these studies have tended to use case
study and surveys as the methodology and instruments of choice as we explore what is actually
happening out there and what people are doing. In the following sections we look at the work
from the viewpoint of each actor within the intervention.
Coach behaviour studies
Numerous authors have tried to identify the critical attributes of the effective coach (Kilburg,
1996, 2001). One of us (Jarvis, Lane, & Fillery-Travis, 2006) identified three areas as being
critical – self awareness, core coaching competences and an understanding of the ethics and
management of coaching relationships. Other studies (Dingman, 2004) have shown similar
competencies but perhaps with more clear delineation i.e. interpersonal skills, communication
skills and instrumental support which include effects such as creativity, dealing with paradox etc.
There is a continual debate here as to the academic requirements of coach training and its
content. Specifically should coaches hold a degree in psychology? Opinions vary from
absolutely! (Berglas, 2002) to the realisation that our clients probably want a mixture of all;
graduate training in psychology; experience in, or understanding of, business; established
reputation as a coach; listening skills; and professionalism as expressed by intelligence, integrity,
confidentiality and objectivity (Wasylyshyn, 2003).
It is clear that there is a role for the professional bodies within this arena specifically as they
approach individual accreditation of professional coaches. Their construct of what differentiates
the seasoned practitioner from the novice other than simply hours of practice will continue to
influence both the training received by coaches and the continuing professional development
they will choose.
Client behaviour studies
It is perhaps not surprising that there have been a range of studies looking into how the client’s
behaviour impacts upon the effectiveness of coaching. It is clear that a willing and informed client
will get more from the encounter when coaching is seen as important, relevant and beneficial.
This has been explored within the CIPD research (Caley et al, 2002) where the motivation to
learn was identified as one of the most critical factors influencing learning effectiveness.
Readiness for change is therefore a prime factor in predicting outcomes. Several authors have
tried to extend this analysis to consider if any specific sector of society delineated by gender
(Vinnicombe and Singh, 2005), learning style or personality type (Dawdy 2004) benefits more
from coaching then another. However to date none have been able to provide evidence of any
Coach- Client Relationship studies
It is now recognised that the most consistently identified factor seen as contributing to the
success of a coaching engagement is the quality of the relationship between the coach and
client. (De Haan, 2008a & 2008b). This is in agreement with studies from related fields such as
psychotherapy where the
‘Common factors such as empathy, warmth, and the therapeutic relationship have been
shown to correlate more highly with client outcome than specialized treatment
interventions.’ (Lambert & Barley, 2002).
Initial investigations of coaching interventions started with Wasylyshyn who undertook a survey of
clients and found the highest-scoring characteristic of an effective coach was the ability to form a
strong connection with the client. It should be noted that this study was carried out on the clients
of this one coach and therefore cannot be viewed as definitive (Wasylyshyn, 2003). However this
issue has since been the subject of a variety of studies (Thach, 2002; Dingman, 2004) most of
which are looking at efficacy more generally but the most recent empirical study was undertaken
to investigate the links between the coach-client relationship and the success of the intervention.
73 managers and 24 coaches were involved in the work and 31 coach-client dyads were
analysed. The results indicated that the relationship pays a role between the coaching received
and the development of self-efficacy (Baron & Morin, 2009).
Coaching impact studies: Organisational
As the process and perspective underpinning coaching has become clearer the focus of research
has shifted to the second phase of theory development by looking at the factors which contribute
to effective coaching and the overall impact upon the individual and organisations. We have
previously categorised these factors in terms of coach attributes, client attributes, the
organisational context for coaching and coaching process (Jarvis et al., 2006).
The differentiation of factors and their weighting requires more sophisticated methodologies and
with this, the research resources to make it happen. Thus research involving controlled trials is
moving to the research organisations such as the Universities and large scale consultancies. The
increase in doctorate level research in coaching provides the resources and timescale
appropriate to these more ambitious studies. One such study used a quasi-experimental pre-post
control group design to examine the impact of coaching on individual leadership development
beyond what might be expected from attending a leadership development program only (Hernez-
Broome, 2004) . It was found that even a single phone conversation a month for three months
with an experienced coach provided significant benefits in producing behaviour change within the
Most studies discussed above have tried to identify the impact within a single study. The impact
has varied from study to study, but a recent paper (De Meuse & Dai, 2009) has undertaken the
first meta-analysis study. The paper drew on a very limited range of studies, six in total. (Evers,
Brouwers, & Tomic, 2006; Luthans & Peterson , 2003; Peterson, 1993b; Smither et al. 2003;
Togel and Nicholson , 2005; and Wolfred, 2003 ). It concludes that previous claims of ROI were
over stated, but that coaching does yield a relative good ROI based on the six studies, four of
which were used (Table 1).
Table 1: Statistics Reported in the Coaching Studies
|Study |Self-Ratings Effect Size (corrected for unreliability) |
| |Skill/Performance | | |
| |Improvement | | |
|Peterson (1993) |1.98 (N = 100) | | |
|Luthans & Peterson (2003) |0.02 (N = 20) | | |
|Evers et al. (2006) |0.34 (N = 30) | | |
|Wolfred (2003) |0.46 (N = 23) | | |
| | |
| |Others’ Ratings Effect Size (corrected for unreliability) |
|Study | |
| |Skill/Performance | | |
| |Improvement | | |
|Peterson (1993) |1.83 (N = 100) | | |
|Luthans & Peterson (2003) |1.41 (N = 100) | | |
|Smither et al. (2003) |0.06 (N = 382) | | |
|Togel & Nicholson (2005) |0.65 (N = 89) | | |
(De Meuse & Dai, 2009)
The ROI however varies between the estimates of clients and those of their managers. The true
effect size on ROI corrected for sampling error in the four studies was 1.27 compared with 0.6 for
the effect size in others ratings. However a closer examination of the data in Table 1 shows wide
variation between 1.98 and 0.02 for self rated improvement and for others ratings from 1.83 to
0.06. These variation as wide and not consistent and thus questions need to be asked whether
conclusions can be reached from the results.
The authors warn however that coaching effect may be situational, with stronger effects
demonstrated with specific individuals and domains. This would accord with Lambert and Barley
(2002) who from a meta-analysis of counselling noted that client readiness the most significant
factor in bringing about change, accounting for 40% of the variation in outcomes. As yet we
cannot say conclusively what factors may lead to more positive outcomes.
The Future decade for coaching research
We can see that as we emerge from the exploration and definition phase within the research field
we are at the point where theory development and testing comes to the fore. With it we are
seeing a shift from case study and uncontrolled trials to designs appropriate to the type of
research questions prompted by theory generation (what coaching for what client?) By 2021 we
hope that researchers across the globe will have completed fifty to hundred large sample size
studies (with sample sizes over 60 participants in each group) using 2 or more conditions
including a control, random allocation of participants to different conditions and placebo
interventions alongside the control no intervention and the coaching intervention. As identified
previously, these studies will be undertaken at the doctoral level, allowing greater sophistication
and longer time frames for pre, post and 6 or 12 months post intervention measures. These
methodologies will allow coaching to reveal its impact over the course of the intervention and
beyond. Initial studies suggest that programme lengths of 4 to 6 months are impactful but
programmes of over 1 year yield diminishing returns (Luthans & Peterson, 2003).
But we must be sophisticated enough in our thinking to appreciate that just as case study as a
methodology can only provide a limited perspective in our exploration of coaching so random
controlled trials are not appropriate for issues requiring depth and theory generation. As we go
forward the richness of our questions will develop and in addressing them we will need to bring to
bear the full armoury of research paradigms, approaches and methodologies. We believe that all
research paradigms have a place within coaching and that the only criteria should be one of
research excellence - the congruence of paradigm, question, approach, methodology,
instrument, analysis and conclusion. Qualitative studies using recognised techniques such as
IPA, Grounded Theory and Discourse Analysis have a valuable role to play in helping us
understanding the human interactions of coaching at a deeper level. We also would argue the
case in favour of mixed methods studies which call upon both traditions and through triangulation
between qualitative, quantitative and existing research literature to offer new understandings.
This inclusive stance must also extend to who contributes to the research. We strongly urge our
community to not let the academic – practitioner divide appear within coaching. This separation
of research from practice has been the cause of lost opportunity and internal discord within
professions as widely dispersed as teachers, marketing professionals and IT workers. The major
concern for all of us is that such divides have resulted in a substantial reduction in research
sponsorship from major stakeholders on the grounds that research is not relevant to their
practitioners and the results are not valid within their organisations.
An example of how academic/practitioner collaboration will add value and validity to even large
scale research is the measure of ROI. In institutions, the only measure that matters is ROI
(Phillips, 2005). Return on Investment however is notoriously difficult to measure in human
settings, where factors are difficult to isolate. As a result the studies appear to exaggerate the
ROI (De Meuse and Dai, 2009). With further and better studies a more realistic ROI can be
generated using sixty studies rather than six as has been undertaken in counselling and other
domains. Even this meta ROI however will hid variation, and with greater studies we may be able
to get behind the factors which influence the success of coaching projects, such as top team
commitment. We may also get a better understanding of ROI depending on grade, so while C-
suite coaching may yield 0.7(based on external assessment), middle manager coaching may
yield 0.3, and lower grade coaching may only be cost effective when undertaken internally by
internal coaches. The experience of practitioners within such programme will vastly enhance the
relevance and impact of the resulting studies.
The purpose of research is to learn something new or gather evidence for something. We must
also add something as to overall purpose of the research we carry out. The scale of that purpose
be it organisational, team, coach with client or coach and client can provide a useful
categorisation of research themes in terms of purpose but also in terms of methodology.
We need to have a clarity concerning the distinctiveness of coaching and what delineates it from
other development interventions. Once this is identified then it provides a boundary within which
subsequent enquiries can be made and it will stop development of theory from enquiries into
inappropriate coaching interventions.
Obviously there are issues of ROI as we have already identified. One of us has previously
identified the complexity in that issue and the need for a coherent approach from initial design
intervention through to outputs (Fillery-Travis & Lane, 2006).
There are also issues generated from the very real positionality of the coaching in relation to the
organisation itself. This goes beyond the buy-in of the top team but extends into the whole
organisational infrastructure. For example the role of manager coaches and how that positions
the external coach. There are calls for manager coaches to be further involved in the
transformational end of the coaching spectrum (Howe, 2008) but we strongly suggest that closer
consideration is needed. How is supervision or support accessed and what are the
organisationally set standards of ethics and terms of reference? It is clear that there will be a
spectrum from skills to developmental coaching and the coach needs to know where they are in
the spectrum. If they have the skills and resources to do it, what support will they need to access
and how they can identify whether they are being effective in any of these spheres? The
organisation itself needs to set a strategy and implementation plan for coaching which fully
supports its manager coaches by providing a robust framework within which they can act. This
will be highly context specific as recently identified (Knights & Poppleton, 2008) and as they
identified there are three main types of coaching systems; centralised and highly structured,
organic and emergent or a tailored middle group. Are there generic issues to all three or does
each present a unique challenge?
Client and Coach
For some understanding whether coaching is the right organisational intervention is not
enough. We also need to better understand what aspects of coaching are the critical features.
We can speculate that the relationship is central, and the evidence is all pointing in this direction
(Passmore, 2008; De Haan, 2008a; De Haan 2008b). The evidence base for other elements of
the process, for instance the need or not for goals and where these are identified will also need
to come under scrutiny. Such discussions are happening within the coaching community at
conferences and workshops and we should applaud this deconstruction and scrutiny of practice.
This will in turn help us get a clearer understand of what coaching courses need to teach new
coaches to accelerate their performance towards competence. At present this is a major
impediment to the development of a profession.
The readiness of the client for change has been identified as a major predictor of coaching
effectiveness and already certain research effort has been invested in assessing it. This needs to
continue and be extended to include factors which may influence ‘matching’ of client and coach
as well as preparation of the client for coaching.
We need to understand the range of areas which coaching is suited to addressing. The research
is beginning to identify these areas as developing new behaviours (and learning), enhancing self
regard, hope and resilience, deepening awareness and thus emotional intelligence, and
enhancing motivation, and associated goal attainment. Over the coming decade we should aim
to develop a deeper understanding of these aspects, the relationship between these aspects and
whether new areas can also be impacted by coaching.
Linked to this is an aim that we can understand when coaching is the right intervention and when
action learning sets, leadership development programmes, training, mentoring or other consulting
interventions are the most effective use of the organisation’s resources. Clearly, these will vary
depending on the grade of the role (and associated hourly cost of the employee) and also the
personal preferences of the individual.
As an emerging profession we should be aiming to understand how different coaching
approaches / methodologies (for example behavioural, cognitive behavioural, solution focused
and psychodynamic) impact on clients. We need to understand which methodology is the right
one to use in different situations. We may speculate that Cognitive behavioural coaching
(Neenan & Dryden, 2002; Neenan, 2007; Palmer & Szymanska, 2007) may be most effective for
working on stress or confidence, while behavioural methods (Skiffington, & Zeus, 2003;
Passmore, 2007b) may be best suited to enhancing goal attainment, and psychodynamic
(Rotenberg, 2000), and transpersonal (Whitmore & Einzig, 2006) for exploring values or purpose.
However at present these are hypotheses. We agree with Spence (Spence 2007) that research
into the psychological mechanisms underpinning successful behaviour change and goal-directed
self-regulation, such as emotional intelligence, hope, and mindfulness is also required and will
inform such hypotheses.
There is a wealth of interest in the validation of competency frameworks for coaching and clearly
this will have an impact on training and continuing professional development as we have
identified before. A further theme worthy of research is the impact of coaching on the coach
themselves. A number of writers (Cashman, 2009) have speculated on the impact of coaching on
the coach, some research into this has started but more needs to be encouraged to understand
whether coaching affects leadership competence, resilience and emotional intelligence as we
As we noted earlier in this paper coaching is spreading from its initial growth area of business to
new areas. The evidence suggests this spread is gaining momentum in the UK and US. One of
us has been developing coaching in some of these frontier areas, with the aspiration of impacting
on wider social results. These diverse areas including the driver training, where our work is
aiming to reduce novice driver accident rates and thus road traffic deaths particularly among the
17-25 year olds and in pupil educational performance, where we have been using coaching to
address under attainment in examinations at 16 (Passmore & Brown, 2009). These are exciting
areas, and witness the potential of coaching as a force for social good. But how much more
potential has coaching? Research can help us push the boundaries.
As we conclude this paper we would like to highlight to researchers and practitioners the work we
and others have been doing with The Coaching Foundation to promote coaching research. They
have established a fund at Mclean Medical School, Harvard University and are actively
supporting coaching research through grants and knowledge sharing events. In Autumn 2008,
one hundred research questions were developed, that echo the themes illustrated above. The full
set of questions is set out on the Coaching Research Forum website
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Thanks are due to Denise Pearson for her comments on this paper.