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How Executive Coaching Helps Managers Increase their Performance and Deal with Uncertainty: A Systematic Review

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How Executive Coaching Helps Managers Increase their Performance and Deal with Uncertainty: A Systematic Review

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How Executive Coaching Helps Managers Increase their
Performance and Deal with Uncertainty: A Systematic Review
NICOLAU Andreea1, CONSTANTIN Ticu2
1 Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Iasi (ROMANIA)
2 Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, Iasi (ROMANIA)
Emails: andreea.c.simion@student.uaic.ro, tconst@uaic.ro
Abstract
The world has been drastically affected by the coronavirus diseases 2019 (COVID-19). The
transition process to the new business reality can be extremely challenging to navigate and is
one where executive coaching may benefit both the individual and the organisation. This paper
reviews 21 empirical studies on executive coaching outcomes in the workplace focusing on
implications for business practice during challenges inherent in organisational change. It draws
on the commonly reported executive coaching positive effects to illustrate the executive
coaching impact on behaviours and skills related to leading, managing, and finding strategies
for coping with challenging situations. The paper considers the benefits of executive coaching,
additional opportunities which may be facilitated by its implementation through coaching-
based leadership style within organisations, possible challenges to its more widespread
adoption and the means by which these may be overcome. Implications of the results for
business practice are discussed.
Keywords: executive coaching, systematic review, organizational change, effectiveness
Introduction
Research on organisational turbulence suggests that its resultant stays in the uncertainty of
individuals associated with “feelings of crisis, anxiety, and stress, along with a narrowing of
the perceptual field and limitation of information that can be received, [...] rigidity of response,
and primitive forms of reaction” [1]. The research has shown that when organizations encounter
turbulence than “centralization, conservatism, conflict, rigidity, secrecy, and scapegoating of
leaders increase, and information sharing, participativeness, long-term planning, morale,
innovativeness, and credibility of leaders decrease” [1]. Executives can find challenging to cope
with their own uncertainties about how the change will affect their professional goals and
aspirations, their performance and the relationship with the important others.
The executive coaching field has grown substantially to become a development tool and
practice within organizational settings. Numerous definitions have been proposed for executive
coaching but one is the most widely accepted, proposed by Kilburg [2]: “A helping relationship
formed between a client who has managerial authority and responsibility in an organisation 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 aspirations and, consequently improve the effectiveness of the client’s organisation
within a formally defined coaching agreement”.
Although executive coaching becomes an established and popular practice within
organization, there is a limited number of reviews about its effectiveness. Moreover, there is a
recent theoretical consideration shift about the role of coaching within organization from the
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coach-client changing process to context-sensitive changing process, where executive coaching
is reframed as a social rather than individual process [3]. This is particularly important during
organizational turbulence context when executive coaching could be a catalyst for building
effective teams who can achieve organizational goals.
The aim of this study is to examine the existing empirical evidence on how executive
coaching helps executives and managers to increase their performance and deal with uncertainty
in organizational settings. In this study, we focus on executive coaching provided by an external
or internal coach to the organization, excluding all other coaching or consulting practices (e.g.,
life coaching, consulting, mentoring).
Method
Research Question: How executive coaching helps managers increase their performance and
deal with uncertainty?
Objective 1: To examine the empirical evidence, encompassing both qualitative and
quantitative studies regarding the outcomes of executive coaching related to managerial
performance and competences during organizational change.
Objective 2: Explore the practical implications for the business environment affected by
turbulences.
Search strategy
An extended search was made on electronic databases (APA PsycNet, ScienceDirect,
Google Scholar, to identify specific indexed articles from Google Scholar, PsycINFO, Proquest,
ScienceDirect, Taylor & Francis Online, Sage Journal) and references lists were searched for
relevant papers using the following words: executive coaching, business coaching and
combination of the terms “executive coaching and performance”, “executive coaching and
organizational change”, “coaching effectiveness”, “executive coaching and change”. The
search included articles published since 2000. Inclusion criteria were: (1) articles published in
English, (2) peer-reviewed articles, (3) articles including studies conducted in organizational
settings with professional coach, both external and internal (3) articles that included both
qualitative and quantitative data on the effectiveness of coaching or the executive coaching
outcomes. Exclusion criteria included coaching studies where the ratter was a coach, studies
using students as coachee, dissertations or studies unpublished. Out of 1610 of analysed studies,
we included 21 studies that corresponded to our pre-established criteria of inclusion and
exclusion.
The reporting of this review was guided by the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic
Reviews and Meta-Analyses [4]. The Population, Intervention, Condition, Outcome, Study
Design (PICOS) method was also used to identify the parameters of the search: (a) Population
managers, control group and other-raters; (b) Intervention type of executive coaching
approach /model used; (c) Condition organizational settings; (d) Outcome intrapersonal,
interpersonal and organizational; (e) Study method – quantitative and qualitative methods.
Quality assurance
We assessed study design aspects that could introduce bias, and we decided to select and
assess only studies: (a) published in international and recognized databases, (b) that targeted
executive coaching, not other forms of coaching (e.g., life coaching, career coaching), (c) peer-
reviewed and (d) that used professional coach in organizational settings.
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Data extraction
The categories of executive’s outcome and example of outcomes were identified and
extracted from each study through structure summaries as: author name, year, categories of
positive outcomes at intrapersonal, interpersonal and organizational level, examples of specific
positive outcomes per category at intrapersonal, interpersonal and organizational level,
evidence of positive outcomes during change on study’s findings at intrapersonal, interpersonal
and organizational level.
Results
We found 21 studies that met the inclusion criteria and were examined in this review. The
number of managers included in studies ranged from 5 to 144. A number of the studies (n=7)
included both control groups and other-raters, such as supervisors, subordinates and peers. The
number of studies involving multi-rater rating source was less than half (n=9) most of them
using self-report (n=12). The type of the coaching model or approach as well as the number of
the coaching sessions varied considerably. In terms of research design more than half of the
studies used a quasi-experimental design (n=12) and 3 used random assigned design. A couple
of studies used case study design (n=5) and one of the studies used non-experiment correlation
design. Most of the study used quantitative methods (n=16) but there were some studies which
included mixed methods (n=6). Over half of the studies involved pre and post intervention
assessment while a smaller number used only post intervention assessments measurement
(n=10).
Overall, the outcomes of the executive coaching in organizational settings can be grouped
into three areas: outcomes related to intrapersonal level, outcomes related to interpersonal level
and outcomes related to organizational level. All the studies reviewed reported outcomes on the
intrapersonal level (n=21), half of them reported outcomes on organizational level (n=11) and
less than half on interpersonal level (n=10).
Intrapersonal level
Self-management. A number of studies investigated some outcomes related to self-
management. Some studies found partial support of the effectiveness of executive coaching in
improving time management and assertiveness [5] or in creating an individual development
plan to improve goal completion [6]. However, one study did not find support for coaching
having positive impact on clarity and strategy [7]. Few studies pointed out that some of the
coaching outcomes observed were related to an increased sense of self-care and overall self-
awareness [5] or a positive connection between the perceived quality of the coaching
relationship and personal vision [8]. Other studies related coaching with self-reflection and
argued that coaching encompass psychosocial-support dimensions such as confidence
enhancement [9] or emotional support for executives’ role distress associated with loneliness
and impostorism syndrome [10].
Personal skills and abilities. A significant number of studies found results that support the
positive relation between executive coaching end self-efficacy ([7], [11], [12], [13], [14], [15],
[16]), although Smith & Brummel [6] mentioned that those executives that were unsure about
the “particular competency’s developability” were less likely to report competency
improvement. The majority of studies investigated the influence of coaching on goal
attainment. The findings suggested a positive relation between executive coaching and
improved decision making and cognitive flexibility [5], increased goal settings strategy and
mastery goal strategy and structure [7], confidence in implementing strategic objectives related
to organizational changes [6], progress towards their workplace goals [17]. One study found
that coaching was perceived as a valuable tool in gaining awareness into personal resources and
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strengths [9]. Interestingly, Ladegard & Gjerde, [11] found in their study lesser changes in
timely decisions during ambiguity after the intervention, while Kuna [10] didn’t find support
for an increasing work engagement or personal resources 4 month after finishing the coaching
intervention. Another key finding related to the executive coaching’s outcomes is that coaching
enhances leadership skills and solution focus thinking [16], the ability to master tasks in their
managerial role [11] and enacting new behaviour [18].
Well-being. The majority of the research examined found that the participant’s level of well-
being increased significantly in both their personal and professional life following coaching,
the participants were significantly [5] happier with their carrier and progression, more satisfied
with their work [13]. Different findings were found for the effectiveness of executive coaching
in reducing stress. While Sanchez et al., [5] and Ladegard [19] found that workplace coaching
is related to reducing stress Grant [20] didn’t find evidence for this finding. Two of the studies
reviewed found that executive coaching enhances resilience ([16], [20]).
Interpersonal level
Management. The results from the reviewed studies support the positive impact of executive
coaching on improving managerial skills. The findings revealed that executive coaching may
facilitate risk taking behaviour, increase in trust which was related to a decreased intention of
subordinates to leave the organization [11], improve management competencies [5], increase
the ability to facilitate the development of one’s subordinate’s [12] the increase of effectiveness
and extra-effort and reduce laissez-faire style of leadership [14].
Communication. The main findings related to the coaching outcome on the communication
level are related to the role of executive coaching in enabling the translation of individual into
collective learning through better interconnections [20] and the ability to better influence and
manage the subordinates’ reactions and behaviours regarding the change [21].
Collaboration. Another finding refers to how executive coaching improves collaboration
with other, including experts and stakeholders [5]. One of the studies found that executive
coaching increases the level of manager’s empathy [22] while in other study the executives
reported a better connectedness and attachment of their subordinates [14].
Organizational
Environment. A number of studies reported that the participant’s reported that executive
coaching was a valuable tool in producing positive change in the work environment and
contributing to a good working and team climate ([23], [5]). Interestingly, one study found that
the qualitative evidence didn’t sustain the effectiveness of coaching in improving
professionalism and commitment to the organization [5].
Profitability. From an organizational perspective is important to have some outcomes that
might affect the cost or the results given the substantial cost of the executive coaching.
Executive coaching was found to be associated with an increased goal attainment and
alignment of the individual with the organizational goals [16], an increased profitability of the
organization ([24]) and a decrease of the turnover intentions of the leader’s subordinates [11].
Procedures. Two studies found a positive relation between executive coaching and new team
procedures and the efficacy of the internal procedures ([11], [24]).
Discussion and implications
The aim of this review is to evaluate the role of coaching in helping managers to increase
their performance and deal with uncertainty, by examining the empirical evidence brought by
21 studies on executive coaching in organizational settings hoping to provide practical insights
for both organizations and practitioners. Despite the variation of the executive coaching
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approach, measurements and outcomes, the results suggest a positive link between executive
coaching and psychological variables affecting performance and competences involved in
organizational change. Our findings show that executive coaching can help managers make
improvements at the intrapersonal, interpersonal and organizational level. The results lean
towards executive coaching being an effective intervention that helps manager improving their
self-management and control through planning, enhancing reflection and the overall self-
awareness, developing their leadership and managerial skills, levelling up confidence and well-
being and facilitating goal attainment and better connectedness.
A considerable number of studies found support for a positive relation between executive
coaching and self-efficacy. This is important because self-efficacy influences the initiation of
goal-directed behaviours, the intensity of effort, and persistence in the face of difficulties,
reduces stress and contributes to performance accomplishments [25]. Nevertheless, these
findings should be considered with precaution. Possible explanation of these results may be
found on the coach approach and the process focus on the executive’s success and positive
assets. It may be also related to the executive’s individual differences or the different pursuit of
performance versus mastery goals leading to different perception of the ability to develop
competences [26]. The absence of the control group or a pre-test, post-test design in some of
the studies may also influence the reported self-efficacy outcomes.
Improved goal settings strategy and attainment is another outcome of executive coaching
drawn from the results of the researched studies. This is important because goals affect
performance through four mechanisms: direction, energy, persistence and possible actions [27].
The results indicate that executive coaching was successful in increasing the goal strategy
dimension [7] and the confidence in implementing objectives regarding organizational change
[21], helping participants reach their goals aligned with the organization change objectives [16].
Moreover, executive coaching can facilitate the leader’s change readiness, the change
process by creating space for reflection and evaluation of one’s leadership style [16] and the
willingness to engage in risk-taking behaviour [11]. Some results indicate the positive effect of
coaching in the manager’s ability to find strategies for coping with difficult situations, such as
conflicts or crises [5]. Interestingly, the other-raters such as leader’s supervisor or other
employees did not report an improvement in leader’s competences ([5], [15], [17], [9]). These
results may be explained by the mediating effect of time or the differences on how others
perceive the change in the leader’s competences. The executive coaching process aim to assist
the leader in an intentional process of change and may encourage leader to try new ways of
interacting with others, facing others and their resistance to change, addressing them difficult
issues. Another possible explanation is that performance is a complex construct with various
predictors and the instruments used may have not captured all the factors that contributed to the
leader’s performance.
Research on organisational change suggests that that when organizations encounter
turbulence, the level of stress and ineffective reactions increase [1]. Some findings provide
evidence about the effectiveness of coaching in enhancing resilience ([16], [20]) and reducing
stress [5] during organizational change. It is important to mention that the partial support for
reducing stress is associated with the improved planning skills acquired through the executive
coaching process.
Based on our overall findings, organizations should consider using executive coaching in
supporting managers during organizational change. Moreover, coaching skills can be learned
and become embedded in the managerial behaviour. A couple of studies have shown the
benefits of a coaching-leadership style due to reported increase in self-efficacy for both coach
and coahee [13]. One possible challenge for using either external coach or coaching-leadership
style stays in the primarily focus on performance goals within organizations. Another possible
challenge may be the resistance to change from both managers and subordinates: for managers
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to adopt a coaching leadership style and for subordinates to positively respond to a more
challenging manager.
Although we found favourable results for the effectiveness of executive coaching on leader’s
performance and outcomes related to organizational change some limitations of the analysed
studies must be considered. Firstly, it is possible that the efficiency of the executive coaching
was mediated by the organization environment. Ryan and Deci [28] showed that people perform
better when there is a supportive social context on people’s intrinsic motivation. Future studies
should determine the environmental factors and consider a potential dialog between the coach
and others stakeholders to better align the coaching objectives with the desirable organizational
outcomes. Secondly, the findings cannot be generalized due to limitations associated with the
characteristic of the samples. Such limitations are: small sample size, the convenience type of
sample, the biased sample, or selected from a single company. Thirdly, a number of studies
used executive coaching as a part of a larger development program ([14]), [29], [17], [21], [12],
[8]), which may have affected the coaching outcomes. The diversity of procedures and coaching
approach interventions used makes difficult replications. Future studies should use coaching
approach that are most used in surveys such as GROW model. Fourthly, the reviewed studies
did not perform any direct measures of organization change. Future research should include
some measurement of the organization change along with measurement of manager’s
performance improvement.
The current systematic review has its limitations. Firstly, this review focused on coaching
papers that were peer-reviewed and did not include papers that were not published. The
rationale stays in the quality’s assurance of the instruments and measurements used in the
researched studies. Secondly, in the search strategy were included a limited number of
databases. Future research should include additional database and key words used for search.
Thirdly, the executive’s outcomes and approach varied considerably making difficult to
generalize data on specific finding.
Conclusion
This study provides evidence that executive coaching can be a beneficial tool during
organizational change and can positively impact the manager’s performance. Senior leaders
often suffer from loneliness, “where isolation from informal social networks increases with
every promotion up the hierarchal ladder” [30]. The executive coaching relationship may
represent a psychological safe space where managers can easily learn and find strategies for
navigating the challenges of organizational life. We suggest that executive coaching may leads
to positive outcomes for both individual and organizations. It may enable leaders to become
more flexible cognitively and emotionally and able to build a performing team.
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In this article, we focus on a specific type of personal and professional development practice -executive coaching- and present the most extensive systematic review of executive coaching outcome studies published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals to date. We focus only on coaching provided by external coaches to organizational members. Our purpose is twofold: First, to present and evaluate how executive coaching outcome studies are designed and researched (particularly regarding methodological rigor and context-sensitivity). Secondly, to provide a comprehensive review of what we know about executive coaching outcomes, what are the contextual drivers that affect coaching interventions and what the current gaps in our understanding of coaching practice. On that basis, we discuss and provide a research agenda that might significantly shift the field. We argue that methodological rigor is as important as context-sensitivity in the design of executive coaching outcome studies. We conclude with a discussion of implications for practice. FULL-TEXT AVAILABLE VIA THE FOLLOWING LINK: https://ora.ox.ac.uk/objects/uuid:8548836a-13af-4f3c-bac9-91e02bb4baf0
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Although theoretical and applied work has emphasized the critical role of coachee personality in the coaching process, little empirical research has identified specific personality traits as moderating variables. Drawing from social-psychological theories, we examined coachees’ ability to modify self-presentation, a major facet of the self-monitoring construct, as a moderator of the relationships between executive coaching and coachees’ satisfaction with the coaching relationship, career-related self-reflection, and self-esteem. Using a sample of managerial coachees who were either unemployed or at risk of becoming unemployed and who participated in a series of executive-coaching sessions, we found support for most of our hypotheses. Overall coaching as well as specific coaching factors were significantly and positively associated with relationship satisfaction and self-reflection. Overall coaching and transformative-learning dimensions of coaching (goal development and past reappraisal) related more strongly and positively to self-reflection among coachees high in self-presentation ability, whereas overall coaching and psychosocial dimensions of coaching (confidence enhancement and relationship building) related more strongly and positively to relationship satisfaction among coachees low in self-presentation ability. Therefore, our theoretical considerations and empirical results suggest that coachees differing in self-presentation ability respond differently to coaching in general and to specific coach behaviors in particular.