Organizational Coaching

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Section One: Foundations of the Study

Background of the Problem

Organizations today operate in rapidly changing contexts, both due to technological shifts and increased global competition. There are certain risks for many of these organizations in terms of ensuring they can effectively adapt to new environments and develop empowered and motivated employees. The phenomenon of coaching in organizations has emerged as a way to promote greater sustainability and self-awareness about organizational change (Rosha, 2013). Coaching practices have been understood as a training process that instills more self-confidence into executive management (Berg & Karlsen, 2011). However, it remains unclear whether coaching is connected more to psychology, to leadership theories, or to pragmatic interventions (Berg & Karlsen, 2011). 

One problem is that coaching research has remained relatively spare and has been under-theorized (Passmorea & Fillery-Travis, 2011). Another problem is that there is no real consensus regarding how to define coaching. However, there has been renewed emphasis on management styles that are less control-focused and more open to encouraging employees to take responsibility for their own development (Passmorea & Fillery-Travis, 2011). The question is how organizational effectiveness can be tied to coaching programs. There is also a need to understand how different coaching practices may be necessary to address changes in organizational communications. That is, organizations transitioning to a knowledge-based economy are facing new communication tools for managing human resources (Baron & Morin, 2010). Increased organizational complexity and the changing social aspects of business have necessitated a greater focus on employee development through coaching and organizational leadership (Rosha, 2013). Understanding how coaching strategies can play a central role in improving an organization’s culture and personnel development remains critical. Levels of employee development are strong predictors of leadership performance (Toit, & Reissner, 2012).

The barriers to comprehending the coaching phenomenon include a lack of empirical studies and current surveys of practices (Passmorea & Fillery-Travis, 2011). This study will gather results that have a pragmatic impact upon organizations’ comprehension of how coaching is connected to employee commitment, performance, satisfaction, and reduced turnover (Toit, & Reissner, 2012). The study’s goal is not to arrive at a concrete definition of coaching; rather, it is to unfold specific strategies and perceptions that can be compared across small and medium sized organizations.

Problem Statement

Executive Coaching has emerged as a popular, integrated intervention used to achieve greater organizational effectiveness and leadership development (Libian, 2011; McCarthy, 2011). One estimate shows that almost 60% of U. S. enterprises are currently utilizing executive coaching to sustain their organizational effectiveness (Newsome & Dent, 2011). However, increasingly competitive business environments have demanded more concentrated leadership training (Caldwell, 2011). This need has extended from larger corporations into smaller organizations, which have learned that retaining talent and fostering employee growth requires more agile and developed leadership (Caldwell, 2011).

The general business problem is that, despite the fact that a greater number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) are beginning to use executive coaching, the phenomenon remains understudied (Rosha, 2014). The specific business problem is that leaders in small and medium enterprises in the Washington Metropolitan area might not be aware of the organizational factors and competencies that will impact successful executive coaching procurement strategies and practices.

Purpose Statement

The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological study will be to explore the effectiveness of executive coaching and the leadership qualities impacted by its practice. The goal will be to gain a better understanding of how small to medium-sized organizations can benefit from coaching and improve their operations. The research will focus on the Washington, D.C. region because it contains a diverse population of business professionals working across sectors. The study’s population will consist of executives, managers, and coaches, who have significant experience with the coaching process. 

Specifically, the participants will involve two selective groups: those who possess advanced education in related leadership fields and professional coaches who provide expert training. Participants will have at least two years of experience in the coaching and mentoring enterprise. The goal will be to supplement a broader understanding of executive coaching. The research will interpret the interview data and emergent themes in order to understand the phenomenon in these organizations. This research will examine some primary definitions and themes current within the field and place them into an interpretive dialogue with the interview results. The results will form a potential educational tool for other managers and executives with an interest in leadership and coaching strategies.

Nature of the Study

This study will be qualitative and phenomenological in nature. This methodology will be chosen over others due to the difficulty in obtaining empirical data on the subject matter and also because this approach will allow for multiple, interactive methods and a way to examine people’s perceptions and lived experience (Kafle, 2011). The researcher attempt will be to provide a broader view of the social and organizational phenomena rather than to micro-analyze data. The qualitative approach is at root an interpretive one, and it used to reveal patterns of understanding as they emerge in the research process and in a specific situation, such as those occurrences in situation audits. Utilizing a qualitative method will be helpful for organizing different data sources into a system of categories, so that common themes can be grouped together (Kavoura & Bitsani, 2014). The method here will be preferable for discovering contextualized meaning and “mapping out the convergences and divergences” that will emerge with respect to the organizational effectiveness of coaching across similar business settings (Kavoura & Bitsani, 2014, p. 546). The research assumption will be that participants will take part in constructing their reality, and so taking a phenomenological stance remains crucial since the researcher influences the research process along with participants (Biggeman, 2015).  

The phenomenological perspective will ultimately be important for this study’s design because it will be more multi-faceted and personal in orientation, whereas a quantitative design would not capture the subjective, human elements of the interactions. The study will be based upon a review of current research on the topic and an open-ended interview instrument. The goal of this design will be to find a multiple-method approach to the phenomenon that is not overly reliant on one set of data. Relying solely upon data from an interview instrument without a theoretical framework would limit the study’s ability to show the broader research implications. The approach will enable the research to discover more details about the businesses phenomena in question, and the open-ended approach to questioning will allow for more active participation (Kafle, 2011). The peer-reviewed research on executive coaching will determine the theoretical frameworks, and as with Rosha’s (2014) similar study, the questionnaires will be designed to discover subjective views related to the implementation of coaching in organizations (p. 852). An interview design will be more evidence-based and flexible in terms of what data and themes will emerge. This will be important because multi-various research on coaching in this context has remained visibly sparse (Rosha, 2014). 

Research Questions

The main aim behind this phenomenological study is to investigate the effectiveness of coaching on individual leadership and organizational effectiveness. Therefore, the questions grounding this qualitative study will be formed to support this research purpose. The main questions of the qualitative research are the following:

1. What is the impact of coaching on individual and organizational effectiveness?

2. How is effective coaching understood as a business development method?

3. How do expert executive coaches describe and apply good coaching practices?

The Research Sub-Questions:

1. What are the lived experiences of those utilizing coaching strategies?

2. How does executive coaching impact business-oriented competencies?

3. How do expert executive coaches and experienced manager perceive coaching?

4. What are the benefits of executive coaching for an organization’s bottom-line?

5. How do experienced executives implement coaching for business development?

6. Are there limitations to coaching in some contexts?

7. How do executives measure the outcomes of coaching?

Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework of this study of coaching and organizational effectiveness will be tied to two prominent theories of leadership and employee empowerment. The transformational theory of leadership and the constructive-developmental personality theory were selected because they remain salient to current research on the subject. They were also chosen because they help explain the mediating role of psychological empowerment in leadership and employee development (Lan & Chong, 2015). Transformational leadership is not merely driven by considerations of efficiency; rather, such leadership is concerned with sustaining value, sharing power, and creating change through vision and restructuring of the organization (Lan & Chong, 2015). Theories of transformational leadership presuppose a need for organizations to find new methods of encouraging employees to develop and change in accord with rapidly changing business environments (Rosha, 2014). Constructive-developmental theories will become effective supplements to the transformational since they can account for variances in leader performance. They can also explain potential differences in how individuals construct or organize the experiences in their environments (Strang & Kuhnert, 2010). 

This developmental theory is different from traditional leadership theories because it stresses the mindset of the individual instead of personality traits (Hunter, Lewis, & Ritter-Gooder, 2011). The theoretical perspective for this study will not be trait-driven. It will focus on transformative and developmental theory in order to identify the stages of leadership development and the coaching factors that affect positive movement (Hunter, Lewis, & Ritter-Gooder, 2011). This will be important to the investigation of executive coaching because a primary assumption will be that those undergoing coaching need to remain self-aware of their progress through stages of development (Hunter, Lewis, & Ritter-Gooder, 2011). 

Drawing upon both of these theoretical perspectives will be important for an investigation of coaching because it will take into account the dynamics of power and responsibility within the leader-employees relationship. The assumption behind both perspectives is that achieving development and change is crucial to organizational effectiveness, including the promotion of satisfaction and innovation in employees (Hunter, Lewis, & Ritter-Gooder, 2011). Creating a framework for understanding how leaders construct meaning for themselves and others is important for this study. This will lead to a discussion of the developmental perspectives of people at various levels (Strang & Kuhnert, 2010). The goal will be then to unfold theoretical models for arriving at a descriptive and predictive view of a leader’s coaching performance.

The following figure shows some of the main conceptual relations within the transformational leadership paradigm. It displays how specific spheres of interest and development can be applied to the process of executive coaching (Hunter, Lewis, & Ritter-Gooder, 2011).

(Figure omitted for preview. Available via download).

Constructive developmental theory can be used to supplement transformational theories (Hunter, Lewis, & Rita-Gooder, 2011).  It has its origins in Piaget’s theory of cognitive developmental theory, but it has been used to evaluate leaders’ growth and coaching skills acquisition (Hunter, Lewis, & Ritter-Gooder, 2011). This development theory is mainly vertical in orientation. It represents a logical sequence of development through stages. The following table gives a general framework for this development and details some of the general characteristics that are a part of this process.

(Figure omitted for preview. Available via download).

While this table of stages is not wholly definitive of the constructive developmental approach to understanding a leader’s progress through coaching, it is helpful for identifying characteristics. It is also is a reminder that different levels of transformational self-awareness are important both the coach and the coachee. Authentic leadership has been aligned to stages four, five, and six in this model (Hunter, Lewis, & Ritter-Gooder, 2011). One assumption based upon this framework will be that leaders at the later stages of development will have more organizational impact 

Operational Definitions

Executive Coaching. This is the tailored engagement and training of management and leadership in their communication skills. It is often confidential and directed at personal and organizational needs (Kauffman & Coutu, 2010). 

Executive Coach. An executive coach works with executives and leaders to assess behaviors that affect business processes in an organization (Kauffman & Coutu, 2010).

Organizational Capacity. This refers to an organization’s in-built range and limitations, including its pool of resources (Ashraf & Kadir, 2012). The size and scope of the organization determines it capacity to handle growth and change. 

Organizational Effectiveness. This relates to the ability of an organization to achieve its central aims and absorb resources. It also involves creating central strategies for fulfilling an organization’s mission and purpose (Ashraf & Kadir, 2012). Systems, goals, strategic constituency, and internal processes are essential to organizational effectiveness (Ashraf & Kadir, 2012).

Competency. This refers to the level of knowledge and preparation an organization possesses. It involves the problem-solving capacity of the organization (Wiek & Redman, 2011). This may include responsibility programs in place for employees and other stakeholders (Wiek & Redman, 2011).

Assumptions, Limitations, Delimitations

Assumptions

The assumptions of a study are those elements that are thought to be true, however, cannot be verified (Merriam, 2014). This includes some of the potential biases and generalizations that the researcher brings to approaching the study and interpreting data (Merriam, 2014). It is assumed that executive coaching positively impacts management and fosters stronger leadership (Bartlett, Boylan, & Hale, 2014). There is also the assumption that those interviewed will be honest in their appraisal of the nature and the effects of coaching within their organization. 

Managers and executives are also assumed to have some awareness of transformational leadership and employee development. The assumption will also be that other interventions, beyond coaching, contributed to improved effectiveness (Dai, De Meuse, & Peterson, 2010). From a sampling point of view, the study will also assume that a fair mixture of participants and organizations will emerge, providing credible input. The final assumption is that the qualitative and phenomenological approach is most appropriate for understanding the subjective phenomenon of executive coaching. This is because it remains a lived experience that cannot be quantified (Bartlett, Boylan, & Hale, 2014).

Limitations

The limitations of a study are the design restrictions, including the chosen scope, issues that could not be covered, the objectivity of the research, and the depth of research (Merriam, 2014). Certain research designs cannot cover all of the complexities involved in a situation or phenomenon. Therefore the researcher will be open about what claims and results in the study can be justified. A significant limitation to the study will be the relative dearth of current research on executive coaching in the context of transformational leadership (Rosha, 2014). Another obvious limitation will be the relative small sampling size. The study will center on a purposely limited and localized population of small and mid-sized organizations. The research will not be generalizable across all types of organizations, especially those involved in partnerships. Because many of the executives and managers interviewed might be interested in promotion, their self-assessments could contain a measure of bias (Merriam, 2014).

Another limitation is that coaching experiences will likely be varied in terms of quality, breadth, and problem focus (Grant & O’Connor, 2010). Therefore, there will be possible inconsistencies that might not be avoidable in the data. Because of time constraints and the difficulty in accessing large data pools, the population here will be deliberately limited by region and size. The study will also not be able to examine organizational variables that may have significantly shaped the experience of coaching (Srivastava & Nair, 2010). 

Delimitations

The delimitations are the boundaries that are set up for the study. This involves the reasons behind why some method and populations choices will be made and not others (Merriam, 2014). This study will be limited to executive coaching and will not concern the wider phenomena of employee coaching. The amount of executive coaching competencies and outcomes will be inherently limited by the questions asked of the participants (Grant & O’Connor, 2010). It is possible that other underpinning theories and methods would produce different answers. Participants will not be selected based upon the degrees of coaching they have experienced. They will be deemed to be in the scope only if they have participated in executive coaching in their organization. The interview instrument will be selected as the best way to gather a diverse range of subjective responses. Open-ended questioning will be preferred in order to avoid as much researcher bias as possible, which is in line with similar studies (Grant & O’Connor, 2010).

Significance of the Study

The study will be significant because it will add to a growing body of coaching research (Grant, Passmore, Cavanagh, & Parker, 2010). It will address the need for establishing accountability, development, and feedback in coaching practices (Grant et al., 2010). The study will also be significant because it will consider collaborative and systematic learning processes in coaching (Bartlett, Boylan, & Hale, 2014). Executive coaching is currently experience tremendous growth in the United States, and this study will add to this conversation (Bartlett, Boylan, & Hale, 2014).

Contributions to Business Practices

This study will contribute to research on the effectiveness of coaching for promoting organizational and social change. Recent research on the subject has pointed out the need for new frameworks and expanded studies (Rosha, 2013). Focusing on coaching will be important because it leads to more awareness about leadership development in organizations (Grant & O’Connor, 2010). This study will have the potential to change practices in terms of developing stronger coaching platforms. It will increase managerial engagement with how leadership strategies evolve in organizations. One benefit will be that small and medium-sized organizations may re-institute coaching programs for senior leadership. They may also re-tailor their training programs to create more motivation and satisfaction in employees. Understanding employee empowerment will have implications for human resource practices and employee retention (Cox, 2013). This research will propose new ways to think about developing coaching practices that might be adapted in different organizational settings.

Therefore, the study may make a significant contribution to managerial and business practices by recommending effective coaching strategies. Current business culture is concerned with developing leaders and employees, who are inspired to be innovative and socially conscious (Cox, 2013). Effective coaching can help an organization promote a culture of motivated leadership and responsibility (Silva & Cooray, 2014). This study will consider outcomes that might show new paradigms for leadership engagement and organizational development (Bond & Seneque, 2013).

Implications for Positive Social Change

Positive social change resulting from some of these results extends beyond the internal workings of an organization itself (Silva & Cooray, 2014). This is reflected in how employees and managers can be coached to think social responsibility and personal development. Studies have examined improved social responsibility to coaching leadership (Silva & Cooray, 2014). However, much of this research is not evidenced-based. This is why the proposed study here will look at specific organizations and coaching strategies used for organizational effectiveness and employee development. Moreover, strong business cultures depend upon a buying-in among its employees. They also need to develop a positive culture designed to recruit and retain thoughtful employees (Cox, 2013). The results of this study will show how understanding leadership and developmental strategies can foster effective business cultures and lead to the acceptance of the change. Developing human capital and resources within organizations is crucial from a practical and social perspective. Repairing some of the gaps in the knowledge of coaching effectiveness will help organizations re-think their practical strategies.  

Literature Review

The literature review contains a surveying of the relevant, contemporary literature on executive coaching. It includes definitional material along with material on the role of the coach in an organizational context. Literature was sourced mainly from peer-reviewed journal articles published in the last five years. It contains articles, 95% percentages of which were published in that year range, in accordance with the expectations of the study rubric. The organizing principle of the review was to outline how coaching has been defined in recent years and then to talk about how the field has expanded to include certain work behaviors and operational strategies. Finally, the review sets out some of the conceptual frameworks that have been important to the study of executive coaching over the last five years. The search strategy involved reviewing popular and well-known management and leadership journals for articles germane to the study, including library databases and JSTOR. The goal was to supplement both the conceptual framework of the study along with the practical, organizational issues that may arise in the interview process.

Application to the Applied Business Problem

Challenges in Defining Executive Coaching

Executive coaching practices have been steadily increasing in popularity as a source of academic study on leadership development (Bresser, 2010; Lebihan, 2011). Organizations have not only prescribed coaching for their upper management, but they have also expected managers to coach their employees (McCarthy & Milner, 2012). Research has demonstrated that there are positive correlations between employee satisfaction and coaching (Hagen, 2010). Developing strong listening skills and setting direct expectations for performance are two areas that have been put forward as central to effective leadership (Larsson & Vinberg, 2010). Coaching can take place either in a formal session, or it may be conducted more informally on an everyday basis (McCarthy & Milner, 2012). This fact presents some challenges for how researchers have defined and understood the phenomenon. 

Bresser (2010) conceives of coaching skills as a natural part of an empowering style of leadership. He maintains that the executive or manager should not be a formal coach, but should make the coaching process normal to daily operations (Bresser, 2010). On the other hand, some research has found that formal coaching sessions are more clear and comfortable for employees because they have clearer expectations (Baker-Finch, 2011). This may be the result of having less time to conduct coaching on a daily basis, or it may be that the formal process instills more confidence in the coaching process. One issue is that it is difficult to conduct effective coaching if one has not been coached as well (Ladyshewsky, 2010). Being trained in coaching is an important first step in the process, but an organization also needs to create a culture that allows for the continued modeling of coaching skills (Longenecker, 2010). This may, in fact, imply that the traditional definitions of coaching may need to be expanded when one thinks about the broader organizational culture.

There are various definitions of coaching discussed in the literature, some ranging into organizational psychology. However, one basic principle is shared, which is the notion of engaging in meaningful communication that affects the actions of individuals (Ellinger et al., 2010). Coaching is meant to cultivate learning and reflection, leading to greater levels of ownership and self-direction (Wheeler, 2011). Authentic listening is a large part of effective coaching for most researchers because it increases personal relationships (Wheeler, 2011). One challenge is to create a coaching atmosphere that does not put people on the defensive, which would lessen the likelihood of learning. Therefore, empathy has been stressed as a central part of effective coaching practices, though this characteristic is not always easy to develop (McCarthy & Milner, 2012).

Tyler (2011) writes about the need for a coach to give the employee enough time and attention in order to build a positive relationship. In this respect, coaching can be understood as a non-directive approach to employee engagement (Cox et al., 2010). However, many executives and managers may be more accustomed to supplying quick solutions for change, and so they may need to learn how to be less directive in certain contexts. The coaching executive needs to ask questions that motivate the employee to become more self-aware and to develop (Cox et al., 2010). This approach is different from traditional management theories. The coaching approach, however, presents possible issues with respect to challenging employees or team members (Wheeler, 2011). This means that the coaching manager must be aware of the situations wherein he or she must be more or less directive. This is a persistent challenge that appears in survey literature on coaching practices because it is not sufficient to say that there is one single coaching approach that works in all organizational contexts (McCarthy & Milner, 2012).

The question of power in the coaching and managerial relationship should not be overlooked for these reasons (Welman & Bachkirova, 2010). A coach who is also in a managerial position may place the coachee in a position wherein he/she is not willing to speak out as much (Welman & Bachkirova, 2010). This is something that coaches need to be conscious of because there is always some level of power relations at stake in the process. The goal is not to stress the power of the manager; rather, it is to focus on the manager’s openness to listening (Welman & Bachkirova, 2010). The coaching process needs to protect conditions that allow for open dialogue about how the employee or manager is developing in the organization (Welman & Bachkirova, 2010).

A related challenge here is connected to confidentiality (McCarthy & Milner, 2012). In formal coaching, employees may unveil more than they would normally. The coach must possess effective listening abilities in order to ask questions that may lead the coachee to feel empowered and comfortable (McCarthy & Milner, 2012). However, some have argued that it is not realistic to expect total confidentiality in coaching (McCarthy & Milner, 2012). Therefore, the coach should discuss the issue of confidentiality in advance of the process. For example, issues may arise in the process that involves other employees. This should be handled with care because the coachee will have to take responsibility for involving another employee in the conversation (McCarthy & Milner, 2012). Making an agreement beforehand on the expected levels of confidentiality is important for setting the conversational parameters for the coachee (McCarthy & Milner, 2012).

Role Switching in Coaching

Hicks and McCracken (2010) investigates times at which the manager may need to adopt the role of teaching and coaching that might be reflective of their own coaching. The manager and the team member both need to be aware of the roles that are being adopted. Bresser (2010) notes how the manager or leader should explicitly signal the shift between roles. Changing roles is often dependent upon the context and situation (McCarthy & Milner, 2012). Effective coaching helps a leader develop the awareness to identify the need for different roles (Hicks & McCracken, 2010). Even though the role of the coach is typically a one-to-one relationship, group coaching can be used when new roles are needed (Brown & Grant, 2010). In these situations, the coach might act more as a team or group member (Brown & Grant, 2010).

Hawkins (2011) has argued that there are limits to group coaching, however, because individual coaching has been shown to develop social and emotional intelligence. On the other hand, Shipper and Weer (2011) discovered that positive team coaching increases organizational commitment and effectiveness. In either setting, the goal is to coach managers to focus on individuals and to practice listening and empathy (Ladyshewsky, 2010). Self-reflection and awareness are key elements of this process because they relate to the development of emotional intelligence (Ladyshewsky, 2010). The manager and coach must consider role shifts in the context of how best to build group dynamics in the organization. Therefore, concentration is placed upon finding critical moments for this engagement and listening to the feedback in the process (Ladyshewsky, 2010). The aim is to use a coaching style and to adopt a role that suits the individual or team development goals. The following table outlines some of the roles and responsibilities in coaching interventions and team effectiveness (Haug, 2011).

(Figure omitted for preview. Available via download).

Executive Coaching and Critical Moments

Research on executive coaching has looked for those critical moments wherein coaching does or does not work for the client (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010). For example, there may be a disconnect between client and coach perspectives regarding the aim of the coaching (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010). In some studies, it is apparent that coach and client responses to a same question vary widely (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010b). Clients tend to report critical moments in terms of personal realizations (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010). They have a tendency to focus on internal processing and their own sense of agency (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010). This is important to note because it may lead researchers to look for more of the emotions attached to realizations in survey or interview responses. It is difficult to know exactly what the critical moment may be in the coaching process. The coach may expect the client to arrive at a central turning point; however, clients may experience coaching as a more gradual process (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010). For this reason, some researchers have proposed that coaching should be understood as a kind of psychotherapy (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010). While this analogy does not hold up with respect to the need for treatment, it is helpful in guiding one to reflect and think about how the client-coach relationship might be perceived differently.

Some data indicate that clients and coaches do tend to understand the relationship in different ways (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010b). Clients may perceive the relationship as much more stable and smooth, while coaches may tend to look for jolts of understanding (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010b). The types of coaching conversations that go on are, therefore, important to consider because different circumstances can affect the datasets (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010). One suggestion is then to collect more client descriptions about these critical moments of coaching and to compare them across types of conversations (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010b). Defining ‘insight’ in research on coaching moments is one thorny issue. Research needs to make these idea broad enough to encompass all of the facts, strategies, and tools of those involved (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010). The crucial element in such research is to allow the client to have the needed space to tell his/her full story of the coaching process (De Haan, Bertie, Day, & Sills, 2010b). 

Executive Coaching Work Behaviors

Similar research has been conducted on the critical factors that shape executive coaching work behaviors (Newsom & Dent, 2011; Glunk & Follini, 2011). Others have drawn upon authenticity scales in order to measure executive coaching behaviors (Susing, Green, & Grant, 2011). The factors that are most important in these measures are: professional coaching activities, goal setting, and relationship and attainment activities (Newsom & Dent, 2011). Differences in coaching behaviors are affected by a broader range of variables, including education and work experience (Glunk & Follini, 2011). However, some of the more frequently reported professional coaching behaviors that affect performance include: establishing trust, asking open-ended questions, and clarifying client needs, roles, and expectations (Newsom & Dent, 2011). 

Most of the academic literature on the relational and behavioral elements of executive coaching has shown very little empirical evidence for variances in coaching behaviors (Visser, 2010). Newsom and Dent (2011), however, interviewed and surveyed executive coaches in order to determine the frequency of professional coaching, relationship, and attainment activities. They found that education level tends to affect the reporting of professional coaching activities (Newsom & Dent, 2011). For example, those with doctoral degrees tended to place less emphasis on adhering to professional coaching activities, while those with only a Bachelor’s degree reported much higher emphasis (Newsom & Dent, 2011). This might be due to the fact that advanced degrees infer a notion of expertise, and those with less education might feel the need to bolster their professional identity (Newsom & Dent, 2011).

Those coaches with an educational background in business reported that they place significantly higher emphasis on professional coach activities than those with counseling-related degrees (Newsom & Dent, 2011). This might speak to some of the perceived divide over whether coaching is related more to psychology than it is to business praxis (Rosha, 2014). Work experience also affects how the coach understands his or her work behaviors (Newsom & Dent, 2011). One assumption might be that those with counseling-related experience would emphasize the relational aspects of coaching work (Newsom & Dent, 2011). However, Newsom and Dent (2011) found that coaching behaviors centered on relationship-building did not significantly differ between those with business or counseling backgrounds. 

Coaching work behaviors in line with goal-setting and attainment activities were found to be more frequently reported in those with more than five years of coaching experience (Newsom & Dent, 2011). This is significant because these steps have been shown to increase client growth beyond the initial relational stages of coaching (Glunk & Follini, 2011). A basic conclusion drawn from this could be that the master coach possesses a greater understanding of the steps and actions of the constructive developmental aspect of coaching (de Haan et al., 2010). From a client perspective, such research might help in the selection of a coach depending on the emphasis on certain work behaviors (Newsom & Dent, 2011). 

There is not a strict divide between those who use relationship activities versus goal-setting and attainment activities, but it is important for the coach and client to remain self-reflective about these behaviors (Newsom & Dent, 2011). For this reason, considering the various factors involved in the developmental stages of both client and coach remains crucial. The following table displays key executive coaching work behaviors and characteristics adapted from the work of Newsom and Dent (2011).

(Figure omitted for preview. Available via download).

The Ethical Agency of Executive Coaching Behaviors

Recent research has built upon studies of executive coaching behaviors by proposing an agency view of the coach’s relationship to an organization (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2012). This approach is important because it unfolds some of the ethical issues that arise out of the coaching experience (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2012). Executive coaching remains a partnership and infers specific obligations and duties for those involved. The most important goal for the coach and the organization is to think about ways to improve professional human flourishing (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2012). Coaches enter into contracts with organizations, and so the nature of their duties must be clarified from the outset. At times, these obligations may remain unclear, and this can create ethical confusions for the coach (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2012). 

The agency relationship exists on two primary levels: the coach’s relationship with the individual undergoing coaching and the coach’s relation to the organization that is soliciting the coaching (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2012). The shared relationships can become complex, and deep psychological ties can be formed (Peltier, 2010). Therefore, it is crucial to retain a strong level of confidentiality in order that trust and openness can be maintained (Peltier, 2010). Since there are often culture clashes within coaching situations, coaches need to understand how their own agency can affect the organizational culture (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2012). This means being aware of the complex business environment that the coach is entering. Remaining mindful of the ethical environments that the clients work within is important to the coach’s self-reflection process (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2012).

Coaches who bring more of a therapeutic approach to an organization may come into some conflict with an organization that prefers well-defined business relations (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2012). However, the coach’s primary obligation is to serve the interests of the principal client first, and the organization second (Peltier, 2010). For these reasons, agency trust is crucial to the work of coaching (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2012). The risk is that there may be a breakdown of the essential relationships if the coach is not aware of the ethical obligations of the work and the organization (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2012). The work behaviors of the executive coach, therefore, carry with them moral duties to respect the client and to remain upfront about any potential conflicts (Hannafey & Vitulano, 2012). By adopting an agency perspective, the executive coach is able to clarify any ethical uncertainty in the practice. This remains an essential part of the self-reflection characteristic that effective coaches need to develop. 

Executive Coaching-Organization Learning and Performance

Understand the strategic deployment of coaching for organizational learning is important for evaluating an organization’s effective use of coaching practices (Walker-Fraser, 2011). Senior leaders’ and HR professionals’ perceptions of coaching can affect how it is or is not deployed in an organization (Schein, 2010). The relationship between performance and learning in the coaching process needs to be considered contextually so that an organization can determine the extent to which coaching is needed (Walker-Fraser, 2011). One challenge is to make certain that the business objectives of the organization are aligned to the specific coaching process (Walker-Fraser, 2011). 

Therefore, identifying cultural factors that might shape how the coaching process is systematized remains important for leadership (Schein, 2010). Executive coaching is a strategically deployed resource for an organization, and the perception of benefits gained will affect the type of deployment (Walker-Fraser, 2011). Coaches need to be aware of some of these cultural factors as they consider entering into a contract. However, some coaching deployments are made on an ad hoc basis, which may be determined by shorter-term business goals (Walker-Fraser, 2011). It is more typical that the coaching intervention is formalized through the contracting process and an evaluation of performance or growth objectives (Walker-Fraser, 2011). The process can be internal or external, and organizations that wish to build a greater mentoring culture often formalize a process that can be maintained over time (Walker-Fraser, 2011).

External coaching tends to focus on specific performance goals, which result in shorter-term relationships (Walker-Fraser, 2011). Research has shown that HR should consider the specific models and resources of executive coaching to develop a sound procure strategy both internally and externally (Walker-Fraser, 2011). Organizational cultures that are more open are more likely to create a learning environment suitable to coaching (Jones, 2010). Experienced coaches are important to this process because they can provide consultation that takes into account different cultures (Jones, 2010). They can contribute to changes in an organizational culture beyond the individual level (Jones, 2010). Some attributes of an organizational design that successfully integrates a coaching strategy include: centralizing coaching procurement, coordinating activities that can be improved by coaching, coaching supervisions, and a feedback process involving the coach and the client (Walker-Fraser, 2011).

There is no universal measure for the effectiveness of coaching or the learning organization; however, a formal evaluation process should be put in place with the coach’s participation (Walker-Fraser, 2011). Research does show that effective organizational learning depends upon an integrated approach that is aware of the internal and external resources that a coach can utilize (Walker-Fraser, 2011). In strategically deploying coaching and using performance measurements, an organization can foster the transfer of learning (Walker-Fraser, 2011). This includes formal processes and centralized controls, which help to build the integrated approach. Developing an organizational model allows an organization to understand the benefits that can be gained from coaching. It also permits clarity in communicating the assumptions and rationales behind the coaching strategy for all stakeholders (Walker-Fraser, 2011).

As organizations increase their maturity in coaching intervention, there are more demands upon senior leadership and HR to apply and develop a plan to integrate the knowledge acquired (Walker-Fraser, 2011). Coaching at these levels holds the potential to change some of the values and norms of the organization. Organizational effectiveness has been connected to the development of new learning processes and mentoring values (Walker-Fraser, 2011). The coach, in this context, might become integrated into the internal structures of the organizational culture. Systematizing the use of executive coaching is therefore desirable, even if the ad hoc approach can be effective (Walker-Fraser, 2011). Griffiths and Campbell (2010) confirm that the successful coaching process focuses on creating a learning culture in an organization. This depends upon an internal and external continuum that is a part of the coach’s responsibility within the system. The following figure offers a model of these processes as a continuum, which outlines how strategic deployment of coaching should be aligned with the organizational culture and needs:

Internal & External Coaching Continuum

(Figure omitted for preview. Available via download).

Transformational Leadership and Executive Coaching

Theories of transformational leadership have recently been incorporated in literature on effective coaching and an organization’s learning culture (Antonakis, 2012; Gardner, Lowe, Moss, Mahoney, & Cogliser, 2010). Understanding how transformational leaders bolster the performance of their employees can be effectively applied to the literature on successful coaching. Transformational leaders are agents of change in an organization, and they effect the beliefs, motivations, and ideals of their followers (Cavazotte, Moreno, & Bernardo, 2013). The behaviors of such leaders can be placed into four broad categories: idealized influence, intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, and inspirational motivation (Cavazotte, Moreno, & Bernardo, 2013). Such dimensions are not very different from the attributes studies have found in executive coaches, though the coach’s influence is usually more targeted (Rosha, 2014). 

Transformational leaders give positive feedback to their employees, and they encourage personal development (Cavazotte, Moreno, & Bernardo, 2013). The psycho-social elements of these interactions are meant to foster greater self-efficacy, which is also a fundamental of the executive coaching process (Cavazotte, Moreno, & Bernardo, 2013). This mode of empowerment is intensified through the transformational leader’s continued engagement with the employee (Zhang & Bartol, 2010). That is, the transformational leader or coach is mindful of the employee’s past achievements, learning contexts, emotional intelligence, and goals (Zhang & Bartol, 2010). Encouraging self-efficacy is therefore important if one considers coaching to be a socio-cognitive process (Cavazotte, Moreno, & Bernardo, 2013). Studies have shown that transformational leadership creates feelings of greater empowerment in those being mentored (Den Hartog & Belschak, 2012). 

The leader-follower context of this type of engagement is not a one-way process of influence (Cavazotte, Moreno, & Bernardo, 2013). Rather, it depends upon a feedback or reciprocal model of engagement that is likewise central to executive coaching strategies (Cavazotte, Moreno, & Bernardo, 2013). Transformational leaders act as role models and create an identification process through their work behaviors (Cavazotte, Moreno, & Bernardo, 2013). This becomes a collaborative process that emphasizes the organization’s culture and mission (Zhang & Bartol, 2010). The following theoretical model displays the direct and indirect effects of transformational leadership on performance measures:

(Figure omitted for preview. Available via download).

In a similar fashion, the executive coach can act as a transformational leader, while also motivating others to develop as one. Coaching remains a transformational process that generates value by giving leaders a way of thinking about their developmental process (Harper, 2012). Self-discovery is a significant part of this process along with building toward greater self-efficacy. Some transformational theories focus on the charisma of the leader, but one of the premises of executive coaching is that it can be applied across personality types (Harper, 2012). Transformational leadership differs from transactional theories because it does not assume that relationships are based upon exchange (Harper, 2012). This is an important recognition because executive coaching does not tend toward an instrumentalist view of employees (Good, Yeganeh, & Yeganeh, 2010). Transformational coaching leadership establishes transparency and trust in the client relationship (Harper, 2012). However, coaches focusing on transformational leadership are also aware of multi-disciplinary approaches that will fit in with the organizational culture at hand (Harper, 2012). 

Constructive Development and Executive Coaching

While transformative theories have been persistent in coaching literature, constructive development has also been an important part of the coaching conversation. There has been a movement in recent literature to talk about coaching in terms of developing a post-conventional leader (Spano, 2015). Leaders, especially after the 2008 crisis, have been increasingly asked to show a capacity for transformative action (Yang, 2011; Barbuto & Millard, 2012). Leadership thinking has moved past some of the conventional wisdom that had dominated earlier research (Spano, 2015). Coaching literature has also developed in this line by emphasizing the coach’s role in fostering constructive development within a client and organization (Spano, 2012). Barbuto and Millard (2012) have suggest that leadership development is concerned more with transitions and stages within the transformational process.

Applying a developmental theory to coaching practices is, therefore, helping in showing how the client progresses through steps in coaching (Barbuto & Millard, 2012). This is a pragmatic approach that does not assume a quick transformation in the client (Spano, 2015). Rather, it assumes that each stage of leadership development leads to more complexities (Spano, 2015). At each stage, there is a focus on control and character development that brings the client to new self-conceptions (Spano, 2015). Theorists of constructive developmentalism argue that individuals who reach post-convention levels evince more capacity for the integration of complex action and thought (Spano, 2015). 

The need for a greater understanding of a person’s emotional and psychosocial development has been a mainstay of this research (Spano, 2015). Wisdom in leadership has been attached to the degree to which the leader develops in attunement with these dimensions (Torbert & Herdman-Barker, 2013). Torbert and Herdman-Barker (2013) have written about developing a leader’s center of gravity so that they understand how they are developing in other stages. The idea is to conceptualize the flow of human development in both positive and negative directions (Torbert & Herdman-Barker, 2013). A coach oriented to this way of thinking would suppose that the coaching process will contain some back-and-forth among stages (Spano, 2015). The question is related to how leaders experience the development of wisdom (Spano, 2015). 

Yang (2011) has proposed that this process view of developing leadership wisdom is connected to the promotion of better lives for oneself and those in the organization. Coaching leaders toward greater wisdom is understood as a positive real-life process that the coach can impact (Yang, 2011). Krafcik (2011) has also indicated that cultivating higher levels of wisdom through coaching can lead to more openness, which is a keystone of an effective learning organization. Yukl (2010) also emphasizes that leadership research should move past traditional investigations of traits and influence. Focusing on cognition and perception, these more recent phenomenological studies are important for examining how the coaching role has engaged with leadership development in less conventional ways (Yukl, 2010).

Phipps (2010) has also adopted a constructive development approach to leadership by emphasizing how a leader’s self-perception as a servant and future development to the organization is important. This is a view that is coherent with a transformational approach to work and life (Phipps). The conception of a leader, in this respect, develops in part from one’s self-concept as an ethical actor in the organization (Phipps, 2010). This approach speaks to the agency model of coaching discussed above, and coaching practices have become increasingly aware of developing leadership from a psychologically-informed servant perspective (Phipps, 2010). This is a model that has its roots in psycho-social development thinking where stages are determined by the person’s progress toward greater inter-individual awareness (Phipps, 2010). A general outline is given in the following table:

(Figure omitted for preview. Available via download).

Although this approach to personal development is almost entirely theoretical, it offers some guidance with respect to social leadership development. The implication is that by modeling stages, coaches might be able to instill a servant leadership perspective into clients. Harris and Kuhnert (2007) have pointed out that a greater understanding of leadership developmental levels from this perspective can aid in the coaching process. The important point is that development cannot be reduced to this theory, but that this is a conceptual way of thinking about stages (Harris & Kuhnert, 2007). The 360-degree feedback model has been proposed as a way to engage with leadership development from the constructive developmental perspective (Harris & Kuhnert, 2007). Transition from one level to another will depend upon the leader’s willingness to develop and the culture that surrounds him or her. Developing leaders, who can understand higher levels of engagement and purpose within an organization is, therefore, an important component of executive coaching. Coaching perceptions and understandings of these stages of development are key indexes of current coaching effectiveness on leadership development.

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