Summary of Executive Coaching Research Project

by Carol Gegner MA,MS

Research completed March 1997, Copyright Carol Gegner


The premise of the research project was coaching executives for both professional and personal growth would facilitate making a strategic shift in organizations to a coaching management style. As executives experience the process and master their own growth potential, they will develop more awareness and take more responsibility for their actions. The effects of increased awareness and responsibility can filter through the organization as executives begin to coach others. The shift to a coaching management style will have been initiated at the top of the organization with a commitment from the executives.


The study explored the outcomes of the coaching process from an interpersonal and intrapersonal nature. The purpose was to measure the executives perceptions of the coaching process to explore what components of the process were most effective and whether coaching sustained behavioral changes. Several research questions were examined to explain what makes coaching effective. As perceived by executives, do the components of the coaching process work collectively to enhance their performance or are there isolated components that are most effective? Does the coaching process contribute to sustaining behavioral changes? Do gender, age, and ethnicity affect the process? Do time, frequency, and modality influence the process? And lastly, does the gender difference between the coach and executive affect the process?


The study was a cross-sectional survey design using a non-random sample of executives who had been or were currently being coached. The study collected both quantitative and qualitative data. A survey questionnaire was developed specifically for the study and used a 5-point Likert scale to measure the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the coaching process. Phone interviews were conducted with executives who willingly agreed to participate.

The variables measured in the study related to components of the coaching process and their effectiveness in sustaining behavioral changes. The independent variables were goal setting, feedback, rewards, self-efficacy, communication style, and interpersonal skills. The dependent variables were awareness and responsibility. Intervening variables were the socio-demographic characteristics and the time, frequency, and modality characteristics.

The data was analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Scientists. To test the research questions, the analysis used descriptive statistics with the appropriate measures of association. The qualitative data was analyzed for themes to compare to the results of the quantitative data.


One hundred and forty six questionnaires were mailed to participating consultants for distribution to executives they coach or have coached. Forty eight questionnaires were returned, for a response rate of 32%. From the 48 questionnaires that were returned, 28 of the executives agreed to participate in a phone interview. The response rate for the interviews was 58%. Interviews were conducted with 25 of those individuals. The following information represents descriptive data of the executives, coaches, and the coaching process.

There were 14 female executives (29%) and 34 male executives (71%) with a mean age of 44.5 years. The ethnic categories were 1 Asian (2.2%), 1 African-American (2.2%), and 44 Caucasian (95.6%). There were 7 female coaches (15%) and 40 male coaches (85%) with a mean age of 48.3 years. All of the coaches were Caucasian.

The coaching experience had ended for 9 of the executives (18.7%) and was ongoing for 37 (81.3%). The mean for the ongoing coaching was 1.2 years with a range from 3 months to 3 years. The mean for the coaching that had ended was 1.3 years with a range from 3 months to 2 1/2 years. The mean for the length of the coaching session was 1.3 hours with a range from 30 minutes to 2 hours. The mode for the frequency of the coaching sessions was weekly (37.5%) and other (37.5%) which included monthly, quarterly, or annually. The mode for the coaching modality used was face-to-face (73.9%) and phone (26.l%).

The associations between the socio-demographic characteristics and the coaching components ranged from very weak to too weak to report. Communication style was the only component that had weak associations with both age and gender. Ethnicity had no predictability since Caucasian was basically the only ethnic group represented

The associations between characteristics of the coaching process and the coaching components also were weak. Frequency of the sessions had more affect on the components than duration, length of session or modality. Interestingly, duration had a negative relationship with awareness which could indicate there is a time factor in the coaching process where awareness begins to decrease.

The following results relate to the main focus of the study. Which of the identified components were most effective in the coaching process? The findings indicated there were two isolated components that affected both of the dependent variables. Self-efficacy and communication style, had moderate correlations to both awareness and responsibility. Rewards and feedback had moderate correlations only with responsibility. Responsibility had stronger associations to all the components when measuring the effectiveness of the coaching process.

However, awareness had higher percentages of agreement for sustaining change. The statements for awareness and responsibility measured the effectiveness of sustaining change based on combined percentages of statements rated as "highly effective" or "somewhat effective". The percentage of agreement for awareness statements are as follows: Understanding how my actions impact others, 93.8%; challenged my own actions, 89.6%; more sensitive to others, 85.5%; better relationships, 81.2%; and better balance in my life, 70.9%. The percentage of agreement for responsibility statements are as follows: applied to future choices, 91.7%; maintained goals achieved, 83.4%; applied to other areas in life, 83.4%; encouraged others to achieve, 81.3%; and stretched my abilities, 81.3%.

The following findings relate to the six questions used for the phone interviews:

How was the coaching process initiated for you and what were your thoughts about it?

It did not matter if the process was self-initiated or part of a corporate program most individuals were receptive, enthusiastic, and positive about it. A few were neutral to skeptical about getting involved at first but became advocates of the process.

How was a base line established to measure your progress and by what percent do you think your performance increased?

40% indicated no baseline was established, 28% said 360's or some variation of a 360 was used, 24% stated goals were used, and 8% used personal values. Although only 32% gave actual percentages for performance increases, the remaining 68% perceived positive results.

What were the greatest obstacles you experienced in the process?

40% said the element of time, 20% indicated the corporate culture, 24% said there were no obstacles, and 12% said other people in the organization.

What have been the most valuable learning experiences you have gained from the process?

Three themes emerged involving "self", "others", and the "coach". All indicated they had learned more about themselves and/or gained new skills, 35% commented on improved interactions with others, and 16% commented on the benefits of having an objective person to use as a reality check.

Has the experience affected other areas of your life and if so, how?

All replied positively that their personal life had changed with regard to interactions with family members, relationships with others, deciding what is important and how they use their time, and finding a balance in their life.

Is there anything I haven't asked you about your coaching experience that you would like to comment on?

Three themes emerged from the question. The "coaching process" was seen as valuable, the "coach's" personality and skills were important, and "self" as relating to growth , increased confidence, and receptiveness to change.


The communication style of the coach and a greater sense of mastery and competence for the executive, i.e., self-efficacy, indicates an increased awareness and responsibility results from the coaching process. This finding supported themes that emerged from the interviews. Executives indicated they had become more aware of others and self and took more responsibility for their actions through the coaching process.

Sustaining behavioral changes as measured by the high percentage of agreement regarding the effectiveness of awareness and responsibility also supported findings from the interviews. All the executives perceived positive performance changes, 37% stated they were coaching others, all indicated their personal life had been influenced by the coaching process, and all agreed they had learned more about themselves. This would support Bandura's social learning theory that self-efficacy is what sustains behavioral changes.

Coaching is effective as perceived by the executives interviewed. There was unanimous agreement that coaching has had a positive influence on their professional and personal development. The agreement was reflected by the metrics in the survey measuring the effectiveness of coaching in sustaining behavioral changes.

The findings of the study were from a relatively small sample size and no cause and effect conclusions can be stated with any certainty. Since the findings were subjective, follow up interviews could be conducted to determine if perceptions change and regressions to old behaviors occur.

Larger outcome studies will eventually need to be conducted for organizations to justify the cost of a coaching program and determine what the return is on their coaching dollar investments.

For further details of this research please email

Carol Gegner, M.A., the principal for Executive Coaching and Consulting Systems. With both a Master's in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology, she has a strong theoretical and practical base for executive coaching and consulting. She facilitates change for individuals and businesses.

Ms. Gegner promotes leadership through her one-on-one coaching programs. A special focus of her coaching is helping small business owners who want to develop their business. She also consults with organizations to facilitate planned change.

phone: 925-933-1051
fax: 925-932-2741