BRINGING SCIENCE TO
THE ART OF COACHING
by Jack Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett
Interest in helping leaders to become better coaches is at
an all time high. Surveys show that employees want a great
deal more coaching than they receive and there are signs
that corporate America is finally trying to respond in two
ways: first, they are training managers to be better coaches
and second, they are using external coaches. With all this
investment, what can be done to insure that it pays off with
the highest possible return? There is great inconsistency
in the quality and effectiveness of coaches, and the field is
attracting more people at a rapid rate.
To expand and improve the art of coaching triggers a series
of extremely important questions for which we’ve not had
good answers. Yet, the future success of coaching may lie
in our ability to find answers to these basic questions. The
purpose of this paper is to highlight how many of these
questions may be addressed in large part by:
Applying research from a variety of allied disciplines
Applying lessons learned from other successful initiatives that are closely related to coaching
Using research conducted in business and public
THE KEY QUESTIONS
The questions are:
1. To what degree does coaching really pay off? Or, is
this just one more in a long line of management fads?
2. How can we increase the effectiveness of each coach-
3. How can the process of coaching be made more
4. What is the appropriate goal for coaching, and how
much change can we expect?
5. What is it about the coaches’ personality or behavior
that makes the most positive impact?
THE NEED FOR EVIDENCE
In the book Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total
Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management,
Pfeffer and Sutton show how companies can improve
performance and overcome their competition through
evidence-based management.1 They point out that a very
small percent of what managers do is based on any solid
data. This analysis appears to have been spawned by the
research on medicine from Dr. David Eddy2 who suggested that in 1985 only 15% of what physicians did had
any scientific evidence to support it, and that now that
number has risen to somewhere between only 20 to 25%.
Let’s face it. The practice of coaching in our industry is
relatively new. Until recently, most coaching happened
somewhat informally. Before that, some organizations offered more formal coaching to those leaders who needed
1 Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, Hard Facts, Dangerous
Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from EvidenceBased Management (Harvard Business School Press; March
2 “Medical Guesswork,” by John Carey, Business Week, May
29, 2006, p. 72-79.
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Another important insight from this research is that
the greatest gains come in the early stages of any
counseling relationship. Short-term therapy is becoming increasingly popular in the world of counseling.
Corporate coaches should anticipate that some of the
greatest gains will occur within the first sessions of
coaching on a given topic, and that there will normally
be a leveling off in the change process on that topic.
Coaching, like the broader disciplines of leadership
and management, will always contain many characteristics of an art form. No two people will practice it
exactly the same way. The applications are so complex
and different, merely being responsive to the situation
calls for new and different behavior. It will never be
a pure science.
The world of coaching in business organizations and
large public agencies can gain a great deal from embracing good ideas and practices from every source,
including the major helping professions. Only in that
way will it ever achieve its potential contribution to
THE CLEMMER GROUP
Leading with STRENGTH
The CLEMMER Group is Zenger Folkman’s Canadian Strategic Partner. Jim Clemmer was co-founder of The Achieve Group
(which became Canada’s largest leadership training firm) when they worked with Jack Zenger’s previous company, Zenger Miller.
Elevating Leadership Strengths
We specialize in leadership and performance development that directly drives an organization’s profitability. Founded on pioneering
empirical research using 360-degree assessments and other surveys, we’ve built one of the world’s largest collections of leadership
research data – hundreds of thousands of feedback surveys on tens of thousands of managers.
Using powerful techniques that focus on building strengths using implementation tools and personalized coaching, our approach
lifts the performance of leaders, coaches and individual contributors in the differentiating competencies shared by those who are
among the world’s most successful people. Our proven, practical methods create a clear picture of how leadership drives profit and
the ways to put it to work within organizations.
If you are interested in discussing how your organization can increase profit through extraordinary leadership, please contact
Zenger Folkman. We welcome the opportunity to talk with you about how your organization can develop extraordinary leaders
who have the competencies to maximize profits for your organization!
John H. “Jack” Zenger, D.B.A., is the co-founder and CEO of Zenger Folkman, and is considered a world expert in the field
of leadership development. A highly respected and sought after speaker, consultant and executive coach, Jack was honored in 2011
with the American Society of Training and Development’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Workplace Learning and Performance. He
is the co-author of seven books on leadership and teams, including the best seller: The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers
into Great Leaders (McGraw-Hill, 2009).
Kathleen Stinnett is a Senior Consultant with Zenger Folkman and has earned the Master Certified Coach credential through
the International Coach Federation. She works as an executive coach and passionately believes in the power of coaching to help
individuals achieve greater performance and fulfillment. She is a master trainer with Zenger Folkman and co-designer of the Extraordinary Coach program.