Executive Coaching Comes of Age By Monica McGrath, Jeremy Robinson, and Deb Giffen
11-Nov-2006

Executive coaching is growing up. Two decades ago, when executive coach Jeremy Robinson started in the profession that would become executive coaching, "this was clearly the remedial rescue operation." Today, while there may sometimes be a remedial component, coaching is much more focused on developing high potentials in the organization. "It is positioned for the leader now and the leader in the future," he said.

Estimates are that there are now more than 10,000 coaches worldwide. In many organizations, coaching has moved from a process of personal growth to an integral part of organizational strategy and professional development. Where companies once relied upon good feelings that coaching was working, they now are looking at concrete business returns on their investments. Where training was once ad hoc and by trial and error, new certification and university-based programs have rapidly emerged to define and strengthen the competencies that are needed to be a successful coach.

"Organizations are now much more structured about coaching," said Wharton Adjunct Assistant Professor Monica McGrath, who has been coaching for about 20 years. "There was really no training in coaching then. Today, there is a whole cadre of programs certification programs, university programs and internal programs."

The Emergence of a Collaborative Culture

The rise of coaching has been driven by a sea change in organizations. "The organization has become much more collaborative," Robinson said. "A person's development is no longer private. It is public."
This shift has been driven by external forces such as the dramatic failures of go-it-alone executives at Enron and other organizations. "It became clear that multi-billion dollar businesses cannot be trusted to narcissistic CEOs," Robinson said. The rise of coaching has been accelerated by the acceptance of tools such as 360-degree feedback and recognition of the power of "Emotional Intelligence." Research shows that emotions in organizations are contagious and negative leaders result in high levels of absenteeism and lower performance. This means coaching is not just something that affects a single career but can have dramatic effects on the success of the entire company.
There is also an increasing willingness by younger workers to speak openly about themselves. "I think there is a generational difference at play," McGrath said. "As more senior executives are moving out, there is a greater acceptance of feedback from others."
Education for Coaching
As coaching has spread, organizations have become more sophisticated in how they approach the process. "Many major companies now have someone who understands the process of coaching and has a knowledge of the organization," McGrath said. "They monitor the progress and results." How are these results measured? It can be based on achievement of the executive's objectives or through interviews and other feedback before and after the coaching engagement. Better internal management of the coaching process has led to more rigorous qualifying requirements. This has created a demand for better education and certification, a demand that many institutions are rising to meet.

A decade ago, coaches made up the profession as they went along. In recent years, a growing number of programs have begun to clarify, codify and cultivate the knowledge and skills needed by successful coaches. These range from short training programs, certification programs and educational programs at top universities and business schools such as the University of Pennsylvania and its Wharton School, Georgetown University, New York University and Villanova University. University programs draw upon faculty with deep knowledge of organizational psychology, social systems, negotiations and diverse business disciplines, as well coaching experience.

Many organizations expect at least a master's degree or MBA and often screen for a Ph.D. More than 1,000 coaches have completed the International Coach Federation (ICF) certification, and about 500 have received its highest certification of master coach. This credentialing includes a rigorous exam component, including assessment of a coaching situation. "I can tell you that we do fail people," said Robison who is an evaluator for ICF certification.

At the same time, there is an art to coaching that can't be entirely reflected in the letters after one's name. Qualities such as good listening skills and empathy are critical. McGrath said this was reflected in the design of the Wharton program, with a focus on experience and self-reflection.

While there is still work to be done in developing the profession Robinson points out that the term "executive coaching" is applied to everything from short programs teaching presentations skills, to year-long coaching engagements the profession is coming of age. "Coaching and coaching education are definitely growing at a very rapid pace," Robinson said. "It is not a fad. It is here to stay."

Deb Giffen is an executive coach and Director of Executive Programs at the Wharton School's Aresty Institute of Executive Education. She is program director of the Wharton Executive Coaching Workshop, which will be held in January 2005. Monica McGrath and Jeremy Robinson are co-academic directors of the program.

Monica McGrath is a seasoned executive coach who consults and teaches internationally in the area of leadership development. In addition to teaching in Wharton's MBA and executive programs, she is president of Resources for Leadership, Inc. a consulting firm delivering one-on-one coaching to individuals and teams and building frameworks to support women's leadership challenges.

Jeremy Robinson is a pioneer in the field of executive coaching and founder of Executive Coach Academy, a New York City-based company that provides training for psychologists, OD practitioners and business executives in executive coaching. In addition to Wharton, he has taught coaching skills at the Milano Graduate School at New School University in New York and serves on the certification committee of the International Coach Federation.