Attn: HR / L&D Folks! What you need to understand about executive coaching effectiveness: ‘You can’t hurry love!’ (Phil Collins)

Research consistently demonstrates that more than the model, tools or processes that a coach uses, it’s the relationship with the client that is one of the best predictors of successful coaching(Gnilka et al., 2012). So, let’s not get carried away by the latest tool or training or process that promises to bring about ‘transformational’ change for the client (this itself seems to be more of a sell to attend a training or buy a tool). As most coaches know, change is often slow, arduous, requires much hard work and support – not to mention it happens in cycles of small successes and failures. One wonders about claims of miraculous transformations – or anything that promises that. Be wary!

Coming back to research: It’s the relationship with the client that counts! (Bedi, 2004; Gnilka et al., 2012; Meara & Patton, 1994; Pistole, Fall 1999) This relationship is known as ‘working alliance’ or ‘therapeutic alliance’. According to Bordin (1983) part of structuring an effective working alliance is agreeing clearly on what the client wants to achieve (goals), the various interventions that will be used to achieve these (tasks), and finally, the actual personal relationship between the coach and the client (bonds). Often, coaches are under pressure from organization stakeholders to achieve certain results within a set number of sessions (mostly between four to six).

This is easier said than done because it often takes up to three sessions to build trust and intimacy before the client opens up to work on deeper issues. More often than not, coaching intervention design is based neither on coaching experience nor research – many times, not too much can be achieved in less than six sessions, perhaps, other than picking some low hanging fruit.

Since research points to the fact that it’s the relationship between the coach and client that is the best indicator of outcome success, it’s hard to force the alliance to build trust in less than three sessions. This also assumes that the client is convinced about the process and motivated to jumpstart from session one. The reality is that clients – especially those sponsored by their organizations (including the ‘hi-po’ ones) – come to coaching with some reservations (Howzzat for being polite and politically correct :).

It takes time to deal with these doubts and build their confidence…

Sometimes, as coaches we’re so happy to get an engagement that it’s difficult to point out these realities to the stakeholders who’ve designed a program that optimizes their budget. Often, the designers have not experienced coaching themselves so are unaware of what really happens – and how it happens.

So, who will bell the cat? There is much published literature on how to create a culture of coaching (see the material on the ICF website) and also studies that point to the elements of an effective coaching intervention design.

We’d be happy to share some material or have a chat with you if you’re interested. Email us on

Information on our ICF approved ACTP executive coach training for Jan & March 2015, in Bangalore, is available on

Information on our ICF approved ACTP executive coach training for Jan & March 2015 is available on

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