What do executive coaches and their clients talk about?

A study from Oxford Brookes University[1] found 40 topics that occurred frequently in coaching assignments. In order of frequency at first meetings, they were:

  • Managing people
  • Developing presence and impact
  • Confidence
  • Effective communication
  • Being strategic
  • Organisational culture and expectations
  • Career planning
  • Exploring personal history, psychology and triggers
  • Managing stakeholders
  • Developing others
  • Time management
  • Understanding the big picture
  • Relationship challenges
  • Change management
  • Demands of a new job role
  • Emotions
  • Self-care and burnout
  • Understanding self/identity
  • Preparing for promotions
  • Understanding context and situation
  • Delegating
  • Processing feedback and psychometrics
  • Developing skills and behaviours
  • Personal development planning
  • Difficult situations
  • Motivation and drives
  • Personal growth
  • Fit between role and self
  • Identifying strengths and resources
  • Work-life balance
  • Personal branding
  • Preparing for specific events
  • Personal well-being
  • Specific decision-making
  • Uncertainty and change
  • Sense of wider purpose
  • Values and integrity
  • Building resilience
  • Networking
  • Celebrating success

Notably absent from this list is systemic thinking, which may represent the lack of relevant skills among the coaches surveyed. The survey also did not address how the coaches responded – for example, “pure” coaching, mentoring or a blend of the two.

A hypothesis arising from coach supervision is that the coaching agenda will be partially influenced by the coach’s interests.  They may gravitate, consciously or unconsciously, towards clients with particular issues; or they may unintentionally steer the conversation more towards topics they feel most competent in addressing. This is an area where research is much needed!

[1] Tatiana Bachkirova and Peter Jackson (2024) What do leaders really want to learn in a workplace? A study of the shifting agendas of leadership coaching Leadership Vol 0(0) 1-20

©️David Clutterbuck 2024


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