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What is Executive Coaching? More Importantly, Does it Work?

Executive coaching is meant to improve performance. It can best be defined as “…a helping relationship formed between a client who has managerial authority and responsibility in an organization and a consultant who uses a wide variety of behavioral techniques and methods to help the client achieve a mutually identified set of goals to improve his/her professional performance and personal satisfaction and, consequently, to improve the effectives of the client’s organization” (Kilburg, 2000; p. 67).

Poor leadership can lead to financial ruin for an organization (Kilburg, 1996). However, executives typically receive very little behavioral feedback (as opposed to business performance or outcome-based feedback). Executive coaching provides the confidential venue for increasing self-awareness and communication skills with peers and direct reports, which in turn can lead to increased morale, productivity and profits for the organization (Smith, 1993).

So does it work?

A recent meta-analysis shows that executive coaching significantly improves performance and skill, well-being, coping, work attitudes and goal-directed self-regulation (Theeboom, Beersma & Van Vianen, 2013). A second meta-analysis also found uniformly positive and significant effects of executive coaching on a variety of outcome variables (Jones, Woods & Guillaume, 2016).

Specific field studies with executives show statistically significant improvements in:

  • Leadership effectiveness
    • Peers and direct reports indicated increases in charismatic, influential and inspirational impact after coaching (Kampa-Kokesch, 2001)
  • Job performance and productivity
    • 53% of executives reported an increase in productivity during and after coaching (McGovern et al., 2001)
    • Most commonly reported benefit from coaching was productivity and effectiveness – both with tasks and relationships (Kampa-Kokesch, 2001)
  • Self-awareness and development
    • Executives reported personal and professional growth, becoming more open to change, increasing their self-confidence (Kampa-Kokesch, 2001)
    • Executives showed growth above and beyond behavior change, depending on the cognitive profile of the executive and coach (Laske, 1996)
  • Learning
    • Executives report learning new skills and insights about themselves and others (Gegner, 1997; Laske, 1999)
  • Subjective Reactions to executive coaching
    • 75 executives from six different Fortune100 companies gave an average rating of 4/5 when asked about the effectiveness of coaching. They described benefits such as receiving challenging feedback and helpful examples for behavior change with a results-oriented focus.
    • 86% of executives and 74% of stakeholders reported being “very satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” with coaching (McGovern et al., 2001)

By Jon Hinrichs


Gegner, C. (1997). Coaching: Theory and practice.  

Jones, R., Woods, S., & Guillaume, Y. (2016). The effectiveness of workplace coaching: A meta-analysis of learning and performance outcomes from coaching. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89, 249-277.

Kampa-Kokesch, S., & Anderson, M. Z. (2001). Executive coaching. A comprehensive review of the literature. Consulting Psychology Journal53(4), 205-228.

Kampa, S. & White, R. (2002). The effectiveness of executive coaching: what we know and what we still need to know. In R. L. Lowman (Ed.), The California school of organizational studies handbook of organizational consulting psychology: A comprehensive guide to theory, skills and techniques (pp.139-158). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kilburg, R. R. (1996). Toward a conceptual understanding and definition of executive coaching. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 48(2), 67-77.

Kilburg, R. R. (2000). Executive coaching: Developing managerial wisdom in a world of chaos. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Laske, O. E. (1999). Transformative effects of coaching on executive’s professional agenda. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Smith, L. (1993). The executive’s new coach. Fortune, 128(16), 126-128.

Theeboom, T., Beersma, B. & Van Vianen, A. (2013). Does coaching work? A meta-analysis on the effects of coaching on individual level outcomes in an organizational context. Journal of Positive Psychology, 9(1), 1-18.