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Executive and Leadership Coaching – what next?

Executive and leadership coaching is a big business with an estimated value of $2billion globally and it is continuing to grow rapidly.  Research from the International Coach Federation (ICF) suggests that the number of worldwide coaches has grown from 47,500 in 2012 to 53,300 in 2016 with the addition of approximately 1,500 coaches per year for the last four years. Western Europe was estimated to have the highest number of coaches with 18,800 coaches in 2016. North America followed closely behind with an estimated 17,500 coaches in 2016.  And 72% of organisations expect to increase their spending on both external and internal coaching in the next two years.

What are the latest trends in executive and leadership coaching?

In our research paper – Transformative Coaching – we explored how the field of executive and leadership coaching has changed and adapted to meet organisational challenges today and how it needs to evolve in the future.  The research identified three broad trends in leadership and executive coaching:

Developments in coaching practice

Our research is clear, in order for executive and leadership coaching to remain relevant and for coaches to continue to provide value, their practice must keep pace with the changing world and embrace new ways of working.

Fifteen years ago the starting point for any coach was to identify a client’s goal and, whilst this hasn’t changed to a certain extent, coaches are now no longer limited by them.  Instead they’ve become highly skilled at expanding, moulding, challenging and developing goals.

Coaching practice is also shifting from performance towards helping clients manage their development goals.  Coaches practising today are focused on facilitating a greater depth of learning, by being skilled and agile in their ability to explore beyond the boundaries of explicit goals.  This requires coaches to have conversations characterised by deep self-reflection and the discussion of previously unexplored thoughts and experiences. As a result the coach-client relationship is more of a partnership, built on trust and understanding, which means that coaches need to be authentic, to provide careful and considered inputs of information, knowledge or challenge.  By working in this way, as a dialogic partner, coaches are able to affect real change in their client.

Increasing diversity of coaching influences

Executive and leadership coaching has seen a massive growth of tools and techniques creating a repertoire of interventions on offer to organisations and individuals. At the same time, professional coaching accreditation bodies have grown which all creates very clear benefits for the coaching profession.   Our research also recognised the increasing influence of understanding adult development stages when working with a client which equips coaches with the ability to help their clients explore their connectedness with the wider world. Neuroscience and somatic approaches are having an increasing influence on coaching practice and, as a result, their clients are able to practice and pay attention to, not only their felt response, but also their brain.

Changing trends in the organisational context of coaching

Coaching remains the preferred option for senior leaders and organisations are more knowledgeable about coaching and having increasingly sophisticated conversations with coaches about their needs.  As the executive and leadership coaching profession matures, this trend will continue and will be hugely beneficial as it opens the door to more genuine conversations about the type and outcomes of coaching.

In the last fifteen years, the field of coaching has become increasingly more professional with a number of well-established professional accreditation bodies.  Coaches often have to demonstrate that they are an accredited member of a professional body.  Our research found that accreditation provides a good foundation although there is still work to be done to standardise the various programmes.  Development of coaching practice should not finish at the end of accreditation, as it is incumbent on all coaches to be continually reflecting, learning and evolving so that their practice remains at a high standard.

One of the crucial ways of developing coaching practice is regular, good quality supervision. For many years, coaching supervision has become more open to the influences of psychology and psychotherapy.  Our research identifies a clear need for two core skill sets of a coaching supervisor – the coach mentor and therapeutic supervisor.  A priority now is the training of supervisors and the setting of quality standards for effective supervision in the coaching field.

Coaching is a collaborative journey

Executive and leadership coaching is a journey, a collaboration between two individuals, where both client and coach give something of themselves.  The end point may not be known at the beginning, but the planned outcome is clear, a client who has an increased capacity to engage with life.  Our research highlights the clear view from the coaching profession that coaching is not about helping people work harder and faster, but it is about providing clients with a reflect space to build greater self-understanding and equip them for life and the world of work.  For coaches it’s hugely rewarding and challenging at the same time.

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