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Executive coaching in practice: what determines helpfulness for clients of coaching?

Erik de Haan (Ashridge Centre for Coaching, Ashridge Business School, Berkhamsted, UK)
Vicki Culpin (Ashridge Centre for Coaching, Ashridge Business School, Berkhamsted, UK)
Judy Curd (Ashridge Centre for Coaching, Ashridge Business School, Berkhamsted, UK)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 16 February 2011




Executive coaching is gaining in popularity, both as part of personal or organisational development programmes and as a tailored form of individual consulting. The purpose of this study is to examine how various aspects of the executive coaching intervention make a difference to the clients of coaching themselves.


The study involved a web‐based questionnaire (163 closed and three open questions) completed by 71 executive coaching clients shortly after the beginning of their coaching contract and by 31 of those again approximately six months later.


The research found that clients' appreciation of coaching was high. In response to the research question “What determines helpfulness for clients?” a picture emerged of a client valuing the relationship with and the qualities of the coach, while making little distinction between specific interventions of that same coach. The findings support the idea that common factors are at work in executive coaching, so that helpfulness is much less predicted by technique or approach than by factors common to all coaching, such as the relationship, empathic understanding, positive expectations etc.

Research limitations/implications

For further quantitative research into the effectiveness or helpfulness of executive coaching it will become increasingly important to explore the relative effectiveness of the various common factors.

Practical implications

The findings show that professional executive coaches would do well to enhance the common factors in their work, such as the quality of their empathic understanding, the quality of the coaching relationship as perceived by the client, and the expectations of their client.


This research shows that a broad range of techniques are deemed helpful, and equally so. It is therefore not the preference for a specific technique that makes a difference, but rather the ability to employ many techniques, to use them well and at the right moment. This is clear support for a common‐factors perspective on executive coaching



de Haan, E., Culpin, V. and Curd, J. (2011), "Executive coaching in practice: what determines helpfulness for clients of coaching?", Personnel Review, Vol. 40 No. 1, pp. 24-44.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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