two women in business coaching situation

As we celebrate our 15th anniversary, we’re publishing a series of articles about how our business has changed over the years. This month’s article focuses on the evolution of coaching.

Imagine it’s 2008. The workplace is largely in-person, rife with interpersonal dynamics not unlike the caricatures depicted by the popular American sitcom The Office, then in its third season. Water cooler conversations are actual events, not analogies about culture. Compensation and benefits matter are what job seekers talk about the most because job flexibility and autonomy aren’t really discussed. Employers are largely the arbiters of employees’ career development, providing skills training, learning opportunities, and coaching on the organization’s terms.   

Organizational coaching in 2008 

Coaching as a field is well-established, and as a practice conducted mostly face-to-face. Books such as Organizational Coaching and Coaching in Organizations focus on guiding professionals toward better coaching practices. Many employers reserve coaching resources for employees whom they identify as high potentials. 

Debates abound about the differences between coaching and mentoring and how coaching is distinct from therapy or training. Many organizations treat coaching primarily as a solution for performance issues, rather than an effective tool to enhance employee learning and develop leaders. 

Executive coaching is gaining momentum as higher education explores its legitimacy as an academic discipline. Organizations are beginning to consider this specialty to be more than an intervention or role, but a true profession. 

Organizational coaching in 2023 

Within this context, we can better understand how far coaching has come during the past fifteen years. We’ll unpack five major trends that have shaped the evolution of the coaching profession in the past decade and a half. 

The rise of virtual coaching 

Like many workplace practices, coaching has gone virtual. This transition exploded especially in the last five years, with Forbes reporting that “coaching individuals and teams remotely was the biggest trend in coaching in 2022.” Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, coaching from external providers—many of which used virtual platforms—was on the rise. A study by International Coaching Federation (ICF) reported that the number of coach practitioners around the world grew by 33 percent between 2015 and 2020, with a 46 percent increase in use by leaders and managers in organizations. 

This trend encompasses the entire field, applying to individual, group, leader, and executive coaching. Organizations realized they could cut costs and scale their coaching practices globally by going virtual. This enabled many employers to integrate coaching more seamlessly into their learning and development functions and provide the opportunity to a broader employee population. 

Integration of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access 

The coaching profession has embraced the diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) space in the last decade and a half. Coaching is an effective practice for organizations pursuing broader representation in their workforces. The role of DEIA coach has become more prominent as employers seek to develop inclusive and authentic leadership. 

According to Devex, the association for global development professionals: “Coaching, by emphasizing nonjudgment, self-awareness, and communication is also an asset to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Coaches help leaders discern what they want from life, take massive action to get there, and release blocking thoughts along the path.” Coaching helps to shift power dynamics by championing historically underrepresented talent to attain and excel in leadership roles. 

Prioritizing psychological safety and personal boundaries 

Defined by the Center for Creative Leadership as “a shared expectation held by members of a team that teammates will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for sharing ideas, taking risks, or soliciting feedback,” psychological safety is a leading trend in today’s workplace. Because it is a function of teams and flourishes (or languishes) interpersonally, team coaching can drive psychological safety in organizations.   

Boundary setting is another movement arising from the COVID-19 pandemic as people began considering their existing margins and resetting them. While relevant for men and women, the coaching field is finding that more women seek help with setting boundaries than men. And as the lines between work and life continue to blur and employees seek greater meaning and purpose from their jobs, coaching has grown to address a broader number of holistic factors for an individual’s development.  

Next-skilling virtual leaders 

Only one in five leaders rated themselves as effective in leading virtual teams according to DDI’s 2021 Global Leadership Forecast. As the workplace has changed, leaders are asking: What does it look like to be an effective leader today? How do I manage employees who are working remotely? 

Because of this skills gap, coaching has refocused leader development on a whole new set of capabilities needed for success in positions of influence. These new skills include establishing a culture of trust and moving from tracking productivity to emphasizing performance and results. Additionally, many employees today care more about autonomy and flexibility at work than compensation or benefits; coaching as a practice has pivoted to help leaders be better influencers in a new workplace.   

Emphasis on executive presence  

Coaching has centered around executive presence during the past 15 years. Jedidiah Alex Koh, founder of Asia’s leading coaching firm, Coaching Changes Lives, defines executive presence as “the leadership ability to be fully aware and conscious to co-create a transformative relationship with the team and stakeholders, employing an approach or style that demonstrates confidence and is curious, flexible, open and respectful.” Executive presence is more than charisma; it is influence that permeates an organization systemically. 

Today executive coaching has evolved to mean “be human.” One recent Talent Development Leader article by ATD even proposes that executive humanness is the new executive presence. Whatever you call it, coaching as a field has evolved to support executives who seek to be more authentic, transparent, and collaborative.  

What’s next in the evolution of coaching?

Fifteen years ago, we thought conducting coaching sessions over Zoom was revolutionary. Consider the very likely possibility that soon we’ll be coaching in the metaverse. As trends come and go, Brighter Strategies remains committed to serving organizations through coaching. We believe the coaching process is a partnership that helps leaders and potential leaders create awareness, generate action, and facilitate learning and growth. The Brighter Strategies coaching team focuses on improving performance and effectiveness by helping individuals to develop and sustain new perspectives, attitudes, skills, and behaviors. Contact us today to learn more. 

Questions to Ask Before Hiring an Executive Coach

Professional coaching can be a meaningful tool for professional and executive development. But in order to benefit from a coaching experience you want to make sure that you are ready for coaching, and that you choose the correct coach. We’ve developed 10 questions to help you assess your own readiness, and the fit of a coach.

cover of book with question mark