Nov 8, 2009 Jerry Lopper
Sources estimate that the self-improvement market topped eight billion dollars in 2008 (Marketdata Enterprises press release), with the largest portion of that market occupied by life coaching, business executive coaching, and other specialized coaching niches.
With an estimated twenty-five thousand full-time and part-time coaches, coaching as many as a quarter-million clients, it is reasonable to question whether coaching actually works. If the coaching industry's claims of self-improvement gains by coaching clients are accurate, why and how does life coaching work better than a coaching client's individual efforts to grow personally and professionally?
ICF's 2009 research study was conducted by Price Waterhouse and the Association Resource Centre Inc., with over two-thousand coaching clients surveyed in sixty-four countries. The top two motivations for seeking coaching help were self-esteem/self-confidence and work/life balance issues. ICF reports that ninety percent of those whose motivation was to improve self-esteem/self-confidence reported positive gains in those areas.
Furthermore, of those with other motivation for seeking coaching, such as business executives, over fifty percent also reported positive gains in self-esteem/self-confidence. ICF President Karen Tweedie summarizes the benefits of being coached this way: "Our research shows that those who work with a professional coach not only attain success in the goal areas which initially led them to seek a coach, but...find themselves enjoying positive changes in other areas of their life as well... in their relationships, wellness and other parts of their business or personal lives."
Business executives may seek coaching for the same personal growth reasons as anyone else, but they also seek greater business performance for themselves, their employees, and organizations. Measuring the effectiveness of business executive coaching at improving organizational performance is difficult because of the many variables involved.
Annette Fillery-Travis and David Lane, reporting (International Coaching Psychology Review, April 2006) on their analysis of studies using both intangible and tangible measures of coaching effectiveness find, "The improvement in coachee behaviours...post-coaching was consistent across all studies, whether the coachees self-reported or the quantification was through 360-degree feedback."
Further, referring to two tangible-measure studies, they indicate of "the study by Olivero et al, (1997) and a Xerox study, both of these studies show significant improvement in bottom-line measures after the coaching intervention."
Anthony Grant, Ph.D. is an academic, psychologist, and practicing coach. Grant, who is the director of the Coaching Psychology Unit of the School of Psychology, University of Sydney, has studied the effectiveness of coaching for many years. Many of his studies have been randomized, rigorous, and controlled. His results confirm that "coaching can indeed enhance goal attainment, well-being, resilience, and reduce stress, anxiety and depression."
Grant promotes a form of coaching he terms evidence-based solution coaching, which results from his many research studies of coaching effectiveness.
It seems humans are programmed for personal and professional growth. Psychologist Abraham Maslow's research into human motivation resulted in the well-known model named Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs. Maslow's model (see the image below) described human needs as a pyramid, with safety and security needs at the base, followed by the needs for love, belonging, and esteem. Perched atop the pyramid was the human need to grow continuously. Maslow termed this need self-actualization, the need to reach one's full potential.
Positive Psychologist Kim Conner, in a presentation to the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA, November 4, 2009) indicated that all life forms have built-in mechanisms of growth in response to positive environments.
Statistics from the American Society for Training and Development provide insight into why working with a coach might be better than working alone. The data indicate that a person's probability of achieving a goal increases from fifty percent to ninety-five percent when the plan for goal attainment is committed to another person and there is a specific accountability appointment with the person to whom the commitment was made.
This is the essence of the coaching arrangement, shared commitments with accountability to the coach.
Research studies confirm that working with a coach improves one's probability of achieving goals. Most people seeking life coaching do so to improve self-esteem and self-confidence; studies show the coaching alliance provides a high degree of success. Even those seeking other benefits, such as business executive coaching clients, find they also improve self-esteem and confidence.
Studies of intangible and tangible measures indicate working with a coach is beneficial.