Expanding Access to Coaching

January 12, 2022

Expanding Access to Coaching

Demand for coaching within organizations is exploding. Yet certain barriers seem to be blocking the way for coaching to reach its full potential. This article will propose one solution for making a significant leap forward.  It involves connecting several dots that have begun to more clearly emerge.

  1. According to the executives themselves, the preferred method for executives to learn improved leadership practices is coaching. We can speculate about why that is.  It is personal.  It is efficient.  It is focused.  The list could go on, but the bottom line is that this is the method they say they prefer. [i]
  2. Coaching makes a major positive impact on the outcome of a leader’s development. The International Coach Federation (ICF) cites a number of studies showing that coaching normally generates an ROI of between $4 and $8 for every dollar invested.[ii] A Personnel Management Association report noted that coaching combined with training boosts productivity by an average of 86% compared to 22% with training alone. [iii] A Manchester Inc. study on executive coaching’s effect revealed an average ROI of 5.7 times the initial investment or a return of over $100,000. [iv]
  3. Strength-based coaching has been shown to produce even more favorable results. Quoting from an article by Doug MacKie: “Coaching needs controlled (between-subject) trials that measure changes beyond the level of self-report using reliable and valid dependent variables to really demonstrate significant change. My own study (MacKie, 2014) did exactly this and demonstrated highly significant changes (Effect size d=2.7)  in transformational leadership (TL) after only 6 sessions of strength-based leadership coaching. How did we know that it was the strength-based component that mediated the change? To test this, we measured adherence to the strength-based protocol and found that adherence was predictive of subsequent positive change in TL. By way of contrast, it’s useful to compare these results to those obtained in more traditional deficit approaches to leadership development that focus on identifying and addressing weaknesses. Several meta-analytic studies of leadership training (e.g., Collins & Holton, 2004; Avolio et al., 2009) have found average effect sizes of around d=1.01 and 0.65 respectively, but with a huge standard deviation and a range that included negative scores indicating some people were worse off after standard leadership development interventions. In addition, there are now several meta-analytical studies of both generic and workplace coaching that demonstrate effectiveness (eg. Theeboom et al, 2014, Jones et al, 2015) to which we can compare the outcomes of a strength-based approach.” [v]
  4. What are the barriers in every organization to coaching’s proliferation? There are several:
    • Cost. To the extent that external coaches are used, the fees quickly mount up.
    • Availability. Given that there are no barriers to someone hanging up a shingle and proclaiming themselves an executive coach, the challenge is to qualify coaches and find those who produce good results.
    • Equity. Coaching in times past was reserved for those leaders who were one step away from being terminated.  Those days are fortunately long gone.  Now the question is how to allocate a scarce resource among many eager and deserving candidates for coaching.
  5. What makes the coaching relationship so valuable? Again, there are several components of the coaching relationship that make it work. Among these contributions are that coaching:
    • provides accountability for progress
    • brings long-term sustainability of progress and change
    • provides a constructive mirror for person being coached, with the coaching helping a person to recognize their self-deception, or their blind spots regarding the impact of their behavior
    • provides a running partner on the path of personal development. The strength of the relationship makes a huge difference.
  6. What does the coach primarily bring that makes this so successful? The coach need not be an expert in the discipline the person receiving coaching currently manages. Coaching also doesn’t include the prerequisites of being older, wiser, or more educated. We submit that the coach primarily brings a process or overall framework for every conversation. The coach does not control or own the content of the conversation with a person being coached, but the coach should orchestrate the process being followed. Good coaching operates with a framework. That framework can be learned and applied in virtually every conversation relating to a person’s performance in their organization.
  7. Colleagues in an organization can be trained to be capable coaches. To some, it comes naturally. To others, it requires diligent learning. But the skill can be acquired. The most difficult challenge is to have the aspiring coach obtain a clear understanding of what coaching is and what it is not. In the book, The Extraordinary Coach, we offer this definition of coaching: “Interactions help the person being coached to expand awareness, discover superior solutions, and make and implement better decisions.” 

    Noticeably absent from that definition is anything about advice-giving or providing new directions. Indeed, business coaching is the antithesis of the junior high school athletic coach giving specific directions to the players. That pattern of telling people what to do and how to do it better permeates most coaching in the world of athletics.The use of internal coaches is not a revolutionary idea. Whirlpool, in the early 2000s, established a program that used an external leadership coaching consultant to develop a cadre of internal organizational coaches.[vi] One fundamental that makes coaching successful is the nature of the relationship between the two people involved. We submit that internal colleagues who understand the culture in which they both function, who have some degree of knowledge of one another resulting from past experiences together; will have a leg up in building a trusting relationship that then increases the likelihood of coaching being successful.

  8. Breaking old assumptions. In addition to questioning the assumption that good coaching requires someone from the outside, there is also the assumption that coaching is always a “one-on-one” interaction. Counselors and clinical psychologists have learned that group counseling can be highly effective and is obviously far more cost-effective. We believe groups of leaders could come together with a facilitator who provides that same framework for a productive conversation.

The above should in no way be interpreted to diminish the value and contribution of external coaches. They are extremely valuable and often appropriate for the CEO or someone with especially challenging circumstances or behavior. The points earlier in this article are simply a way for the benefits of coaching to be made available to a wider audience.

—Jack Zenger
Connect with Zenger Folkman on LinkedInTwitter, and Facebook.

(This article first appeared on Forbes)


[i] Cite DDI study on exec preferences for their development.

[ii] International Coaching Federation, ROI on coaching

[iii] Personnel Management Assoc. Feb. 10, 2021

[iv] Manchester Inc. study on ROI of exec. Development

[v] Doug MacKie, (cite Strength Based Approach article in 2016)

[vi] Hunt, J. & Weintraub, J. Hunt, J. & Weintraub, J. (2007). The Coaching Organization A Strategy for Developing Leaders. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.