More and more companies have been investing in coaching for their senior leaders in the past 20 years as they recognize the benefits of executive coaching. As a result, coaches now come from a wide variety of professional backgrounds and use many different approaches. How can a company, or an individual leader, predict whether a coaching engagement will be helpful or not?

A recent article published in Consulting Psychology Journal provided some answers to this question. In psychology, there are two basic research methodologies — quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research typically studies large samples of people and crunches the numbers to understand what’s going on. Qualitative studies, on the other hand, usually look at smaller samples to understand the “how.” The CPJ article used the second approach to dig down into the coaching experience and identify some key predictive factors of success.

Executive coaching benefits follow these success and failure predictors

Some of the CPJ results were what you might expect, but others were pretty surprising. The researchers found these factors that we might have guessed at:

Success Predictors

  • Trust in the coach and the coaching process
  • Agreement about coaching goals
  • Self-efficacy statements that reflect the coachee’s belief that s/he is capable of doing what is required to reach the goals
  • The use of techniques inspired by cognitive psychology (focusing on changing thought patterns to change behavior) and positive psychology (focusing on building on strengths instead of emphasizing deficits and shortcomings)

Failure Predictors

  • Hidden agendas and politics
    This can be a very real problem in coaching, especially when the coachee is referred by his/her boss or HR. I have had clients who thought they were being referred for high-potential leadership development when in fact they were on the verge of being fired.
  • Lack of transfer of learned skills to the workplace

Here are some of the surprises:

Success Predictors

  • The ability to achieve deep psychological reflection and understanding
    In my experience, many coaches focus on rapid behavior change, not on deep psychological reflection. So this is an interesting finding.
  • Coaching across language barriers and cultural/racial divides
    The surprise is that this is not a barrier to coaching success. This is very reassuring to coaches like me to work for global companies and coach people around the world.
  • Dominant-friendly behavior
    The friendly part is not a surprise.  But I was intrigued by the finding that dominant behavior was a positive for both the coach and the coachee. You might expect that the relationship would work better if one person was dominant and the other submissive. But in the high-octane world of executive performance coaching, both the coach and the coachee need to be able to express their power. 

Failure Predictors

  • Sexism
    The surprise for me was that this does not refer to coach sexism, but to coachee sexism, stereotyping about male or female coaches that prevents the coachee from being open to what the coach has to offer.

As we continue to learn more about the expanding world of coaching, both coaches and coachees will be more able to judge whether the fit is right and the work is getting done. And that will be good for everyone.

If you are interested in effective executive coaching for your leadership, email to discuss what format might work best.

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