Executive coaching is increasingly popular for organisations aiming to get the best out of their managers and high performing talent. With the proliferation of demand, comes an increase in supply. In an unregulated industry, this results in anyone being able to call themselves a coach and organisations willing to certify would be coaches into their fold. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I do have issues with many people who consider themselves coaching and warn those looking for coaching services to look both at what coach says and what the coach has accomplished or is accomplishing. Moreover, professionally this is why I choose not to align myself with coaching organisations but proudly describe myself as an executive psychologist.

I admit to a bias for my discipline, but I do believe that executive coaches, with the pre-requisites in business and a background and affiliation to psychology, make excellent coaches.

Here are my top four reasons for the benefits of the executive psychologist as a coach.

1. Guiding principles, focussed training and ethics

Executive psychologists, who are registered, not only sign up to ethics as psychologists but are subject to disciplinary action should their behaviour not live up to these ethics. The regulation within the discipline gives those engaging in coaching a level of unprecedented professional protection. To ensure that we maintain best practice, executive psychologists have guiding texts that guide their practice1.  Psychologists have frameworks to assist in the transition from clinical to consulting work2 and ethical frameworks that extend what psychologists do to executive coaching3.  To ensure that new psychologists are trained, frameworks appropriately to help with teaching psychology now exist4.

2. Community

Psychologists have always maintained a strong commitment to professional development, and therefore it is not surprising to see a growing interest among psychologists to establish special interest groups to look at coaching. New Zealand, for example, has long had a committed group of coaching psychologists that interact both physically through regular meetings as well as virtually from special interest groups such as [email protected]

Singapore Psychologists are likewise seeing increased interest in the specialist of coaching psychology. Just last week, I had the pleasure of attending professional development with the society special interest group.

3. Evidence-based practice

In recent years, the demand for psychological interventions to be evidence-based has been almost mandatory resulting in various measures developed to help in the assessment of coaching effectiveness5. Psychology is in a unique position to demonstrate effectiveness through the combined approach of academia and practice. While I’m acutely aware of the problems with psychological science and have commented on this often in this blog, this should not detract from robust attempts to show a relationship between outcomes be that through qualitative and quantitative methods6.

This research, be it peer reviewed or industry based, has identified key precursors for coaching effectiveness as well as realistic outcomes achievable through coaching. Precursors include the likes of the client relationship7, which is key to the effectiveness of coaching. Support for outcomes such as increased organisational citizenship behaviour8 has been identified together with frameworks to assess effectiveness developed9 and meta-analysis to identify effectiveness across multiple areas of performance10.

4. Multiple models to draw upon

Many coaches who are not psychologists proudly promote their coaching approach citing, what is in essence, a promotional pamphlet summarising a given training programme. Psychologists, due to their electric training, approach coaching in a multi-faceted manner and can draw on multiple schools of thought in their practice. While many psychologists may have a preference for a particular method (such as Lifespan psychology11 for example), the coaching psychologist will be able to mix multiple models and sees this ability to approach coaching in a multi-faceted manner as a vital part of being an effective coach12.

5. Cognisant about limitations of coaching

Not only are psychologists aware of the strengths of their practice, they are also mindful of limitations of coaching13. Being a coaching psychologist means putting down one’s marketing hat and using the research to note what aspects of change are less likely (such as resilience training14) as well as the and the limits of techniques such positive thinking15. Through an evidence base, the coaching psychologist knows both the strengths and limitation of the coaching intervention and can set realistic expectations accordingly.

I’m proud to be an executive psychologist. If people wish to call me a coach I’m fine with this, but please don’t forget my roots. The field of Psychology and its sub-discipline of I/O psychology adds a great deal to the field of coaching regarding practice theory and most importantly an evidence-based approach to achieving organisational outcomes.

  1. Handbook of Coaching Psychology: A Guide for Practitioners by Stephen Palmer
  2. Liebowitz, B., & Blattner, J. (2015). On becoming a consultant: The transition for a clinical psychologist. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 67, 144-161.
  3. Duffy, M., & Passmore, J. (2010). Ethics in coaching: An ethical decision making framework for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 5 (2) 140-151.
  4. Grant, A.M. (2011). Developing an agenda for teaching coaching psychology, International Coaching Psychology Review, 6, 1.
  5. de Hann, E., & Nilsson, V.O. (2017). Evaluating coaching behavior in managers, consultants, and coaches: A model, questionnaire, and initial findings. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69, 4, 315-333.
  6. Grant, A. M. (2014). The Efficacy of Executive Coaching in Times of Organisational Change. Journal of Change Management (doi:10.1080/14697017.2013.805159), 14(2), 258-280.
  7. de Haan, E., Grant, A., Burger, Y., & Eriksson, P. (2016). A large-scale study of executive and workplace coaching: The relative contributions of relationship, personality match, and self-efficacy. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research (http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cpb0000058), In Press, 1-20.
  8. Kim. S & Kuo, M. (2015). Examining the Relationships Among Coaching, Trustworthiness, and Role Behaviors. A Social Exchange Perspective (https://doi.org/10.1177/0021886315574884), 51, 2, 152-176.
  9. Osatuke, K., Yanovsky, B., & Ramsel, D. (2017). Executive coaching: New framework for evaluation. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69, 3, 172-186.
  10. Jones, R.J., Woods, S.A., & Guillaume, Y.R.F. (2015). The effectiveness of workplace coaching: A meta-analysis of learning and performance outcomes from coaching. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, InPress, 1-29.
  11. Tamir, L.M., & Finfer, L.A. (2016). Executive coaching: The age factor. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research (http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cpb0000069), In Press, 1-14.
  12. Vandaveer, V. V., & Palmer, S. (2016). International perspectives on becoming a master coaching psychologist. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research (http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cpb0000063), 68(2), 99-104.
  13. Graßmann, C., & Schermuly, C.C. (2016). Side effects of business coaching and their predictors from the coachees’ perspective. Journal of Personnel Psychology, In Press, , 1-13
  14. Robertson, I.T., Cooper, C.L., Sarkar, M., & Curran, T. (2015). Resilience training in the workplace from 2003 to 2014: A systematic review. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, In Press, 1-30.
  15. Collinson, D. (2012) Prozac leadership and the limits of positive thinking. Leadership, 82, 2, 87-107