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To go where no one has gone before, but where we all will be going

Wisdom Weaver Richard Boyatzis reflects on the history of coaching research and how global thinkers are preparing for the future of coaching.

Wisdom Weaver

Richard E. Boyatzis, PhD

February 7, 2022

Coaching is one of the oldest forms of human communication. People are innately drawn to teach, guide, and help others.  Whether acting as a manager, leader, physician, nurse, teacher, tutor, mentor, cleric, therapist, or parent, the practice of coaching is part of modern society. Outside of sports, professional coaching formally emerged in organizations in the 1960s and 70s when scholars like Walt Mahler, a trailblazer in leadership development, first explored the process of coaching.

The face validity, or apparent effectiveness, of coaching and the positive experiences of clients and coaches fed a hunger for human development. As a result, the practice of coaching expanded outside of sports at a tremendous rate. Meanwhile, evidence-based research on effective coaching processes, approaches, and competencies has lagged far behind the practice. To date, there are no validated studies showing which coaching competencies are linked to client change. And yet, many programs and associations use competency models to guide their coach training and credentialing. We need more research!

Starting in the early 1990s, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) pioneered the establishment of quality standards and thereby increased the credibility of coaching as a profession. In 2020, ICF launched its own Thought Leadership Institute (the Institute) to further advance the value professional coaching provides to society. The Institute’s mission is rooted in the United Nations Action Plan for Sustainability and explores five pillars of research, which are: (1) the future of work; (2) the future of coaching; (3) the future of education; (4) the future of planetary ecology; and (5) the future of social policy.

Inaugural Convening on the Future of Coaching

For our very first convening, the Institute decided to focus our efforts on enhancing what we believe is most needed to support the practice of coaching today: rigorous, evidence-based research with intellectual integrity. We find that the field is in need of a sound basis for the practice of coaching that is documented in peer-reviewed journals; and, therefore, distinct from what is merely popular practice or even fad. 

“Our goal was to encourage open engagement, solicit diversity of thought, and foster collaboration across institutions.”

This first Convening addresses three critical areas of coaching research: (1) desired outcomes (i.e., if coaching is effective, in what ways does it help or impact the client?); (2) processes and mechanisms (i.e., what are the better or more effective processes used to coach and why do they work?); and (3) for whom is such coaching more effective (i.e., how do we improve the effectiveness of coaching for specific populations?). We solicited participation of 36 well-known and published coaching scholars and researchers and asked three of them to speak to one of the topics listed above. We then facilitated small-group discussions followed by a plenary discussion where we invited everyone to contribute their ideas on how to make progress.

Shaping the Future of Coaching Convening playlist. Richard Boyatzis facilitates discussion among 41 wisdom weavers to investigate current gaps and innovations in the field of coaching.

The conversations were spirited. Although we had a great deal of consensus on what we know and what we need to learn (i.e., do more research). It’s important to note, we did not always agree, which reflects our openness to diverse perspectives. Additionally, an intriguing fourth research theme arose during several sessions: how can we conduct research to identify ideal coach competencies that produce client change or desired outcomes?

For me, this work is personally resonant. An event in my early career witnessing how managers either supported or didn’t support their subordinates’ growth has always haunted me. Coaching and human development shaped my PhD research—and my first coaching clients helped finance my studies. So, this work, which continues today matters to me.  

The Institute’s Founding Board of Directors, consisting of Mrs. Silvia Tassarotti, Mrs. Anna Gallotti, Mrs. Janet Harvey, Dr. Frances Penafort, and me, along with the Executive Director/VP, Dr. Alicia Hullinger and my doctoral student Sharon Ehasz, decided to write this summary report of our three Convenings. We hope it will inspire new research and investigation in the field of coaching. Read it and see if it helps. If you have questions, please get in touch with any of us. Our goal is to inspire more conversations and generate informed questions!

About this Convening

Forty-one Wisdom Weavers from across the globe gathered to share their thoughts and observations on Shaping the Future of Coaching across three separate Future of Coaching Convenings in September 2021. Learn more about the participants and topics covered in this Convening.

For the complete report and research recommendations, see Boyatzis, R.E., Hullinger, A., Ehasz, S.F., Harvey, J., Tassarotti, S., Gallotti, A., & Penafort, F. (2022). The grand challenge for research on the future of coaching. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. DOI: 10.1177/00218863221079937

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