What Works In Leadership Coaching?

Does Leadership Coaching Work?

The good news for consumers of coaching services is that over the past 15 years an evidence base has emerged demonstrating both what works in leadership coaching and what changes evidenced based coaching can deliver for clients. Professor Anthony Grant and Professor Erik de Haan have led the way. This commentary is based primarily on Professor de Haan’s research, whilst my coaching process is predominantly based on the research and academic writing of Professor Anthony Grant.

Large scale randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are the only way to establish the effectiveness of coaching beyond doubt. And at the time of writing, there have only been 4. While the number is small, they show that coaching works, the effect size is significant, and that those being coached would be 72% better off than those people in the control group who were not coached. Very promising. There have been 35 small & large RCTs reviewed to date and they showed a significant effect size, across different countries, and in both executive coaching, health coaching and workplace coaching. These high quality studies show improvements in; on the job behavior, 360 feedback ratings & coach/manager rated effectiveness, skills, confidence & knowledge, self-efficacy beliefs, goal attainment, satisfaction, resilience, wellbeing and work satisfaction, health & life satisfaction, less depression, stress and burnout. Impressive, yet mostly self-reported results, so there is room for bias. We can look forward to more high quality research in the next decade.

What Works In Leadership Coaching?

Building on the 35 studies mentioned above and another 125 empirical coaching research papers have been reviewed. Here we can draw insights into factors which have been shown to be significant in the coach/coachee contract. So what matters? Firstly, the coaches reputation including the conception as an ideal coach, the coaches belief that people’s attributes can be developed, the coach holding a generally positive outlook & utilizing appreciative questioning, friendliness & positive assertiveness, paradoxically a younger age (perhaps less directive!). Secondly, the technique of the coach, particularly coaching rather than instruction, positive solution focused techniques and dominant friendly techniques. Thirdly, the coachees personality & background. Fourth, the preparedness and motivation of the coachee. Fifth, the coach/coachee match. Importantly, demographical matching, personality matching and gender matching do not have a meaningful impact on the coaching relationship. So coach matching platforms and choices by third parties such as HR adds no value at all. Six, trust and rapport matter as the client rated working alliance is related to coaching outcomes. Seventh, the organization including systemic influences.

Within those 7 factors listed above, the so called “active ingredients” have also been identified and what seems to matter most, in descending order, is; overall positive relationship quality between the coach and client (trust, rapport, bonding, agreement on tasks & goals), the coaches change mindset & reputation, the coach presenting as positive, friendly, warm & confident, and then in small contributions only; coachees personality (openness), preparedness by the coachee, coachees diversity (women & higher educated do better) & conducive organizations (group rewards, lower work automation, less process changes).

Is The Coaching Relationship Really The Best Predictor Of Coaching Outcomes?

The working relationship between coach and client is generally considered the best predictor of coaching outcomes and the coach and client can work at their relationship throughout the coaching process. The working alliance formed refers to agreement over tasks & goals and the bond that holds coach and client together. However recent studies show that there is no correlation between the relationship and increased outcomes per session. Rather the relationship quality is related to overall outcome and may be more about trust or optimism. More research is needed to focus on the relationship and maybe other relationship qualities, such as the ability to repair the relationship after challenges, as this may be more significant. Watch this space.

What Objective Outcomes Does Coaching Deliver?

The objective outcomes include; efficiency savings, effectiveness improvements (service levels & conversion rates), quality improvements & work/life transitions. Improvements in 360 degree feedback ratings have been demonstrated as well as reductions in neuroticism and an increase in conscientiousness. Most importantly clients score better than control groups on self-reported levels of goal striving & achievement, hope, motivation, well-being, resilience and stress. These findings are incredibly important and lead me to adopt a hybrid coaching approach that draws upon three evidence based practices that specifically target these deliverables.

What Coaching Approach Is Applied By Glenn Duhigg Coaching?

In a nutshell, my coaching approach is based upon goal oriented, solution focused coaching (as developed by Professor Anthony Grant), combined with elements of positive psychology coaching, including strengths based, pathways thinking and self-efficacy (as developed by Professor Carol Kauffman). This approach rests upon the foundational support of Self-Determination Theory which demonstrates what it is that we need to flourish and how to inspire motivation to increase performance, engagement & commitment, and wellbeing. To understand what that looks like for a client in coaching then please see – Evidence Based Coaching


de Haan, Erik. (2020) What Works In Executive Coaching Routledge London and New York.

Stober, D. & Grant, A. Eds. (2006) Evidence Based Coaching Handbook Wiley & Sons New Jersey.

Contact Glenn Duhigg Coaching

%d bloggers like this: