Coaching Research: How Effective is Executive Coaching?

November 30, 2012 by Sandra Mashihi

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” -Winston Churchill

Executive coaching seems to be more popular than ever based on some recent survey findings of the International Coach Federation (http://coachfederation.org/coachingstudy2012/).

But, for whom and under what circumstances, does executive coaching result in successful change?

Anthony Grant, Linley Curtayne and Geraldine Burton explored the impacts of executive coaching in their 2009 article called, Executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience and workplace well-being: a randomized controlled study1. I’d like to share some insights about this study and its findings about how executive coaching leads to behavioral change.

Research Review

Forty two executives participated in a Leadership Development program aimed at developing leaders and their management capabilities of executives and senior managers. The program was based on individual 360-Degree Feedback, and one half-day leadership training workshop followed by individual executive coaching. They hypothesized that participation in the program would be associated with increased goal attainment, increased resilience, and decreased level of depression, anxiety/stress, and increased workplace well-being.  They also hypothesized that the training workshop on its own without coaching would not result in any of these effects. Four coaching sessions were completed within a specified 8-10 week timeframe, using a cognitive behavioral approach.

The study used a randomized controlled study measuring three effects during a current (Time 1), 10 week (Time 2) and 20 week (Time 3) time period. Compared to controls, those who participated in coaching enhanced goal attainment, increased resilience & workplace well-being and reduced depression and stress.

In fact, those that received coaching revealed (qualitatively) that it: increased self-confidence, helped build applied management skills, were better able to deal with organizational change and stress, helped find ways to develop their career. 

Coach’s Research Implications

From the Grant et al. (2009) study, we can suggest that coaching is indeed an effective  intervention for leaders in organizations. It demonstrated how coaching is effective on multiple levels. First of all, coaching helped those that needed to reach their goals. As a coach, I personally found those who solely participated in a 360 or self-awareness program but failed to pursue coaching support for their behavioral change attempts ended up approaching me in the later future for help as they did not commit to a behavioral change program. In fact, I believe that changing behaviors are difficult enough even with coaching, let alone for change to happen without the appropriate support.

The study also found that those that were coached were able to build more resilience. In my experience, I found that mid-way through some of my client’s development process, negative self talk, feelings of quitting, and resistance arose. Grant’s study also showed that participant’s depression levels decreased, while the depression levels of the control group increased. A coach plays a pivotal role in helping the client overcome beliefs about barriers. So, once again this study seems to be aligned with my experience as a coach. These positive impacts occurred in only four coaching sessions.

So, when organizations spend a ton on building their organizations, perhaps they should consider an intervention that is likely to help leaders and retain their talent. After all, “people don’t leave organizations, they leave bad bosses”, and coaching may actually get to the gist of the problem.

What are your thoughts about Grant’s study? How effective do you believe coaching is?

  1. Grant, A., Curtayne, L. & Burton, G. (2009). Executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience and workplace well-being: A randomised controlled study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 396-400 []

Dr. Sandra Mashihi is a senior consultant with Envisia Learning, Inc. She has extensive experience in sales training, behavioral assessments and executive coaching. Prior to working at Envisia Learning, Inc., She was an internal Organizational Development Consultant at Marcus & Millichap where she was responsible for initiatives within training & development and recruiting.. Sandra received her Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from University of California, Los Angeles and received her Master of Science and Doctorate in Organizational Psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology.

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