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How does coaching work?

The scientific basis for leadership coaching, and especially for the newer discipline of coaching psychology, has been steadily growing over the last 15 years. We now know that leadership coaching is effective, and what it is effective at achieving. We also know much more about how leadership coaching works, for whom, and when. In this series of 3 linked blogs, Consultant Coaching Psychologist and Executive Coach, Dr Fiona Day brings us up to date with the latest research evidence relating to the science underpinning leadership coaching and Coaching Psychology.

Last blog we looked at the question of ‘does leadership coaching last?’ and the added benefits of Coaching Psychology. 

In the final blog in this series, we will look at the question of how coaching works.

Which factors drive coaching outcomes?

  1. The leader needs to want to be coached and to be ‘coachable’
    The individual leader needs to wish to engage in coaching for their own growth and development. Personality traits such as ‘openness’, and a willingness to be receptive to feedback, are important. Leaders with low wellbeing but without mental illness are likely to gain significantly from coaching (especially from coaching psychology).

  2. The Working Alliance needs to be based on mutual trust and effective communication
    The working alliance is the ability of the coach and the leader to build an effective coaching relationship. This requires a high level of trust in the coach, and effective communication from both coach and leader.

  3. Organisational and system factors should promote cultures of learning and psychological safety
    The wider context of the organisation and system of the leader impacts the ability of the leader to translate their development into practice. Manager and workplace support is desirable to ensure translation of coaching into real life practice. Joint (3 way) goal setting with the leader, coach and employer is helpful, providing that this aligns with the leader’s own needs and preferences.

  4. Coach factors – ensure the coach is ‘Independently Accredited’
    The quality and level of skill of the coach is an important factor: despite the establishment of the coaching professional bodies, around fifty percent of individuals who use the label ‘coach’ do not hold professional body ‘Independent Accreditation’ credentials, even though they may be a member of one of the coaching professional bodies.

  5. The coaching intervention should be based on research-proven interventions
    A skilled leadership coach is trained in research proven, evidence-based psychological interventions and can integrate approaches, flexing their coaching interventions and approaches to accommodate the dynamic and complex contexts which their clients are responding to. The most common models used by Coaching Psychologists are those based on Cognitive Behavioural Coaching ‘CBC’ approaches: this is an umbrella term for a range of differing models which combine the use of cognitive, behavioural, imaginal and problem-solving techniques and strategies to enable clients to achieve their goals.

  6. External Coaches and especially Coaching Psychologists deliver better affective (emotional, wellbeing) outcomes)
    Affective outcomes (emotional and wellbeing) are higher when coaching is provided by external coaches compared to internal coaches. Coaches who are external to an organisation appear to provide greater assurance of confidentiality and impartiality, enabling the client to feeling safe to explore issues such as wellbeing, self efficacy, or job satisfaction.

  7. External coaches deliver better outcomes for those with the most complex job roles
    Positive outcomes are greater when coaching is provided by external coaches for those working in the most complex job roles. Longer term leadership coaching interventions rather have been shown to be more effective than shorter term ones.

  8. Including between-session support is important
    Blended approaches to coaching which combine face-to-face (virtual, in person, or by phone) with remote contact from the coach in between sessions has been found to be more effective for affective outcomes. This is thought to due to the additional support provided, as well as a more responsive, flexible approach to supporting the client.

  9. There is no significant difference with Online or face to face coaching
    Online coaching has grown rapidly in recent years, and is expected to continue. Research consistently demonstrates there is no significant difference between online or face to face coaching, indeed there is some suggestion that outcomes may be better from remote coaching due to reduced stress relating to travel and travel time, and feeling more secure in one’s own space (work or home).

In summary

There are a wide range of different factors which are now known to underpin ‘how coaching works’. These include factors relating to the leader, their organisational context, the type of goals they wish to work on, and factors associated with the coach.

Over the last three blogs, we’ve reviewed the evidence and can firmly conclude that leadership coaching is effective in a wide range of outcomes for individuals and their organisations, that the impacts last, that the new discipline of coaching psychology is particularly beneficial, and how coaching works. It is a rapidly evolving field and we will continue to update you as the evidence grows in the coming years.

Dr Fiona Day is a former Board level medical leader and is now one of the UK’s leading executive coaches. She is independently accredited by the British Psychological Society as a Chartered Psychologist in Coaching Psychology, and by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) as a Master Practitioner.

Further reading in this series:

Part 1 – Does Leadership Coaching work?

Part 2 – Do the effects of leadership coaching last?

About Aziz Corporate

Aziz was founded over 30 years ago by Khalid Aziz, a media pioneer of his day who at 21 became the youngest ever appointed BBC producer.

About Fiona Day

Dr Fiona Day is a former Board level medical leader and is now one of the UK’s leading executive coaches. She is independently accredited by the British Psychological Society as a Chartered Psychologist in Coaching Psychology, and by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) as a Master Practitioner.

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