Executive Coaching as a Developmental Experience: A Framework and Measure of Coaching Dimensions

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The widespread and rapidly growing practice of executive coaching (Berglas, 2002) has evolved as a practice outside of the context of any academic discipline. While the literature on executive coaching is voluminous, there has been no attempt to systematically outline and operationalize the important dimensions of coaching practice. This lack of empirical foundation has made it difficult assess coaching in any meaningful way, for example, to determine what aspects of coaching are critical to effectiveness, or if it is even effective at all. In order to begin to fill this gap in the research, I sought to understand the important dimensions of executive coaching. To this end I reviewed the literature on coaching, and relevant research literatures, to get a better understanding of what coaches likely do to promote development, to develop a more grounded conceptualization of the dimensions of executive coaching, and to begin exploring the theoretical bases for these dimensions. I proposed six dimensions of coaching activities: assessment, challenge, emotional support, tactical support, motivational reinforcement and promoting a learning orientation. Second, I operationalized these dimensions by creating items based on the literatures reviewed, as well as input from subject matter experts, and based upon my own expertise. Finally, I administered the scales to 188 coaches and 32 executives, and evaluated the scales for their structure, reliability and validity. In the resulting factor structure, four of the dimensions were found as proposed, but challenge split into three factors and tactical support into two factors, resulting in nine dimensions of coaching activities, with reliabilities ranging from .75 to .91, averaging .84. Finally, some analyses of convergent, divergent and criterion-related validity of the dimensions were conducted, resulting in some preliminary indications of the construct validity of three of the scales, and providing information of where future validation work should be done. Interestingly, levels of engagement in seven of the dimensions varied meaningfully and predictably amongst coaches according to their education and training, which could have widespread implications for coaching selection and training. The resulting dimensions and measures open the door to further study of coaching, advancing both research and practice.