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Coaching as second‐order observations: Learning from site managers in the construction industry

Alexander Styhre (Department of Technology Management and Economics, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 9 May 2008




Executive coaching has emerged as a widely used leadership development practice in organizations. To date, however, the literature on coaching is largely devoid of studies of how coaching works in practice and no unified comprehensive theoretical framework has been agreed upon which supports the practice of coaching. This paper aims to draw on the social systems theory of Niklas Luhmann and argue that the distinction between first‐ and second‐order observations is central to the practice of coaching.


The paper reports on a yearlong study of the coaching of site managers in construction projects. The study shows that coaching actively helped the site managers to relate to their previous experiences and modes of operating and to conceive of new and effective ways of leading their work.


The participating site managers looked upon the coaching program as being helpful both with regard to dealing with practical day‐to‐day problems and concerns and with regard to their development as managers. Above all, the site managers appreciated being provided with a space where they could articulate their problems and discuss them with an external interlocutor.

Practical implications

Coaching programs may be helpful for both site and other managers in the construction industry, and in other industries. Further research is needed to explore the benefits and limitations of executive coaching.


The paper contributes to the literature on coaching by providing a study of coaching wherein both coaches and coachees are given a voice and by means of references to Luhmann's work.



Styhre, A. (2008), "Coaching as second‐order observations: Learning from site managers in the construction industry", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 29 No. 3, pp. 275-290.



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