Home Research Literature Review Survey of Current Themes in Coaching Research with a Methological Critique

Survey of Current Themes in Coaching Research with a Methological Critique

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Leslie Evans, MBA and Vance Caesar, Ph.D.

[This article first appeared in The International Journal of Coaching in Organizations, 2005, v. 3, Issue 4, pp. 54-62. Reprinted with kind permission of John Lazar, Professional Coaching Publications, Inc.]

Coaching is a profession that is rapidly becoming popular among both organizations and practitioners, yet there is little empirical evidence linking the results to the process. This leaves a rapidly growing industry (now $1billion annually) without universally accepted standards or guidelines. Practitioners are left to decide for themselves which approach is best. Organizations have no conclusive evidence on appropriate qualifications to use when selecting a coach. This article surveys some of the current research on coaching and critiques the methodologies in an attempt to provide insights and suggestions for future research.


Organizations are being battered by successive waves of change. Today’s executives must manage globalization, the growing demand for services, advances in technology, and the ensuing acceleration of business processes. These overwhelmed executives are expected to lead leaner, faster-moving organizations to ever greater success while relying on employees who no longer have a strong loyalty to the organization. To accomplish their goals, executives must demonstrate a more subtle set of competencies, which include the communication and relationship skills that influence and energize employees, generate adaptability to change, and reflect a respect for people of diverse backgrounds.

To overcome the gap between what is expected of today’s executives and the capabilities they possess, many of the world’s most admired companies, from GE to Deloitte & Touche, invest in executive coaching. In fact, last year it was estimated that companies would spend $1 billion dollars on coaching. [1] The Corporate Leadership Council study in May 2003 found that the average cost of an executive coaching engagement was between $12,000 and $15,000. In fact, they found one organization’s bill was $155,339 or an average of $25,890 per executive. [2] Coaching is reportedly responsible for bringing new success to executives and organizations, yet reliable information on the subject is scarce. In 2003, the directors of coaching psychology at the University of Sydney, Australia, surveyed research on coaching of all kinds. They located only 128 peer-reviewed studies published since 1937. Of these, just 55 were empirical, and few met the standards of reliable methodology. [3] This dearth of research has prevented the coaching industry from establishing authoritative guidelines for its practitioners. It also has resulted in a lack of clear standards for the qualifications of its practitioners, something that troubles organizations faced with selecting the appropriate coach.

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