Leadership development through executive coaching: The effects on leaders' psychological states and transformational leadership behaviour

Finn, Fran A. (2007) Leadership development through executive coaching: The effects on leaders' psychological states and transformational leadership behaviour. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Executive coaching has been described as a multibillion dollar enterprise (Ennis, 2004) costing some organisations up to $15,000 (USD) a day (Berglas, 2002). Executive coaching has also been reported as the second fastest growth industry (Wasylyshyn, 2003). Despite these astounding figures, empirical executive coaching research is still limited, thus more randomised, controlled studies are required (Grant, 2005). There is a fundamental need for high quality research to demonstrate the effects of executive coaching and provide justification for the level of commitment expended. The current research program addressed this need through three studies which together provide empirical evidence as to the psychological and behavioural effects of executive coaching.

In the first study, twenty-three leaders from a year long transformational leadership development program volunteered to participate in six sessions of executive coaching. The study examined the effects of executive coaching on leaders' psychological states, specifically, their self-efficacy, developmental support, positive affect, openness to new behaviours and developmental planning. The study had an experimental design with random assignment of leaders to training and control groups which provided a rigorous basis to distinguish the effects of executive coaching from the effects of other leadership interventions in the program.

Comparison of the training group (after six executive coaching sessions) with the control group (who had not received coaching) revealed that the training group reported significantly higher levels of self-efficacy, developmental support, openness to new behaviours, and developmental planning compared with the control group.

No significant effects were observed for positive affect. Further analysis, however, revealed that the significant differences between the training group and the control group were due to a decrease in the control group before they commenced executive coaching, rather than because the training group increased on the psychological measures after participating in executive coaching. It was proposed that this pattern of results occurred because the pre-coaching measures were obtained at the end of a two day training workshop, when the psychological measures may have already been relatively high. Thus, the effect of executive coaching was to sustain the impact of the workshop for the training group.

A longitudinal analysis was also carried out in Study One to examine whether the effects of executive coaching on the psychological variables were sustained over time. The pattern of change was examined at three time points: time one, prior to the commencement of executive coaching, time two, after the completion of six coaching sessions, and time three, six months after the completion of the six coaching sessions. This analysis was also affected by the training group's high precoaching measures, but when the analyses were restricted to the control group (n=6) – who by this stage had received executive coaching, significant change over time was observed on all of the study measures, which was sustained up to six months after the completion of regular coaching sessions. However, because the control group sample was small, these findings were tested again in Study Two.

The primary aim of Study Two though was to evaluate effects of executive coaching on transformational leadership behaviour, measured with self, supervisor and team member ratings. Twenty-seven leaders participated in this study. In the first instance, an experimental design was used to investigate whether leaders in the training group, who had been exposed to executive coaching, received higher ratings in transformational leadership behaviour compared with leaders in the control group.

In the second instance this study examined whether there was change in transformational behaviour over time, observed in the area that was the focus of leaders' developmental efforts. Both approaches yielded similar findings in that the team member feedback identified significant improvement in leaders' transformational leadership behaviour after executive coaching. There were no significant changes in leaders' self or supervisor ratings after executive coaching.

When the psychological effects of executive coaching were re-examined in Study Two, the expected differences were observed between the training and control groups. However, once again, the data from the training group failed to show the anticipated pattern of improvement over time. This failure was attributed to the small sample size and low statistical power. Consequently, a final analysis was conducted combining the data from leaders who participated in Study One and Study Two. This analysis measured change in leaders' psychological states from pre-to post-executive coaching and confirmed that after executive coaching leaders experienced effects in the five psychological states measured. Thus, overall, the data from the two studies supported the psychological impact of executive coaching.

In Study Three a qualitative approach was employed to triangulate the quantitative results from Study One and Study Two. Eight leaders were randomly identified from the Study One and Study Two samples, and interviews were carried out with these leaders, their supervisors, two team members and their coaches (a total of 40 interviews). The interview data confirmed the effect of executive coaching on the previously investigated psychological variables and also identified coaching as providing leaders with a sense of greater control. In terms of transformational leadership behaviours, all participants in the study identified improvements in leaders' behaviour, particularly in communication, and the transformational leadership dimensions of intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation and individualised consideration. One further aim of Study Three was to investigate the environmental conditions to determine the impact they had on the effectiveness of executive coaching. Constant change and high work load were most frequently identified as restricting participants' ability to benefit from executive coaching.

Overall, this program of research has demonstrated leadership development through executive coaching. The studies revealed that executive coaching positively enhanced the psychological states of self-efficacy, developmental support, positive affect, openness to new behaviours, and developmental planning. Impressively, the results also showed that executive coaching had sustained effects on some of the psychological states, and on team members' perceptions of their leader's transformational leadership behaviour. Practically, these findings justify the use of executive coaching in organisational settings. Theoretically, these outcomes augment the limited body of knowledge in this area.

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ID Code: 17001
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Mason, Claire & Bradley, Lisa
Keywords: Executive coaching, transformational leadership, leadership development, self- efficacy, developmental support, positive affect, openness to new behaviours, developmental planning, communication, greater control, sustained improvement
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 17 Dec 2008 05:45
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2017 14:40

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