Executive coaching trends may change, but as in psychology, change happens slowly. Back in 1957 Carl Rogers wrote a brilliant article on the necessary and sufficient conditions for therapeutic change. He proposed that three elements were necessary for a helping relationship to produce positive changes: 

  1. Empathy
  2. Genuineness
  3. Unconditional positive regard 

If you ever took a Psychology 101 course, you’ve probably heard about these conditions before. In the 62 years since Rogers’ article was published, a lot of research has been done on his proposition. I wrote a review of that research in the mid-70’s and concluded then that the data suggested that these conditions were necessary but not sufficient for creating change —other factors are also required. Still,  many psychologists today, including myself, remain convinced that Rogers’ conditions are essential for driving change. 

Adapting with the trends in executive coaching

Brilliant 20th century ideas have abiding value, but psychologists have to guard against relying too heavily on old, outdated theories and research. A lot has happened in recent decades, and the world looks very different from even a few years ago. In 2016, I gave a presentation at a conference of the Society of Consulting Psychology called “Running Faster than our Clients,” where I argued it was essential that consulting psychologists be at least as tuned in and open to change as our business clients are.

So I was delighted when my colleague, Steve Garrett, proposed that this month’s topic for the Chicago Coaching Roundtable should be “New and Emerging Developments in the Field of Executive Coaching.” (I am the facilitator of the CCR, a network of senior executive coaches in the Chicago area who meet monthly to expand our knowledge and expertise as coaches.) 

Letting societal trends drive executive coaching trends

This month, we discussed two main questions: What new issues are you hearing about from clients, and what new approaches for delivering coaching are you seeing? This brought up great topics, like managing political conflicts in the workplace and dealing with gender fluidity. Some of the coaches commented that they were seeing an increased focus on the link between organizational culture and profitability. Many of us had noticed a heightened emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

There were two overarching themes we talked about, both having to do with uncertainty. First was the anxiety many business leaders were expressing about economic unpredictability and the likelihood of a recession. Second was their nervousness around new and unfamiliar rules of civility. Is it ok for a man to compliment a woman on her appearance? How can I avoid making offensive remarks about people who are different from me? Is there any joke it’s safe to tell? While we agreed that business leadership is always about dealing with uncertainty, it seemed to many of us that our clients were experiencing more stress than usual about the unpredictability of their environment.

In terms of delivering coaching, many of the members were exploring alternatives to face-to-face coaching. Tools such as live online training programs and podcasts were becoming familiar territory. And looking ahead, some of us were exploring gamification, the increasing power of data analytics, and the potential of AI in coaching. 

My conclusion? In our VUCA world, coaches still need to offer empathy, genuineness, and unconditional regard. But we must be prepared to use those tools to help our clients wrestle with new problems, and to deliver our help in new ways.

If you would like to learn more about what’s new in executive coaching, or about the Chicago Coaching Roundtable, contact me at ggolden@gailgoldenconsulting.com.

1 Comment


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    Great article. I do miss the roundtable. Trust you are doing well.