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Coaching for the 21st century

Coaching for the 21st century

Coaching is widely recognized as a powerful force for development. According to research conducted by De Meuse and Dai (2009), the introduction of coaching resulted in improved individual performance for 96% of organizations. Additionally, 92% of organizations reported enhancements in leadership and management effectiveness.

Another study found that 77% of respondents indicated coaching had a significant impact on various business measures, with productivity (60%) and employee satisfaction (53%) being the most improved areas. These findings clearly demonstrate the positive impact of coaching.

To sustain and enhance this impact in the new business era, it is crucial for coaches to refine their skills and continually expand their repertoire. By staying updated with the latest research and incorporating evidence-based approaches, coaches can ensure their effectiveness and provide valuable support to individuals and organizations.

What characterizes the coming business climate?

In the emerging business climate, there are several factors that are dramatically reshaping the concept of leadership. One of these factors is the exponential growth in the volume of information that leaders need to comprehend and handle. Currently, the global population generates and transfers as much new information every week as was previously generated in an entire year.

The advent of the Industrial Internet and social technologies like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn has resulted in accelerated connections, which have raised expectations for leaders to effectively and coherently communicate across multiple communication channels. Leaders are now expected to manage the consequences of increased transparency and the overwhelming influx of information.

The speed at which change occurs in today’s business landscape is unprecedented, driven by the Internet and its associated technologies. This rapid pace affects various aspects such as time to market, fulfillment of demand, and processing of payments. Additionally, new business models, particularly from Asia, are gaining widespread influence and adoption (Hay Group, 2011).

To thrive in this dynamic environment, leaders must possess digital business skills and the ability to anticipate and prepare for multiple scenarios, which are identified as high-demand skills for the next five to ten years (Oxford Economics, 2012).

Amidst constant change and innovation, leaders must maintain a steadfast and enduring vision to keep their organizations focused. They must also effectively communicate clarity amidst the chaos and continuous flow of information. According to coaches’ feedback, key coaching needs for leaders in times of volatility and uncertainty include “clarifying purpose,” “articulating meaning,” and “creating and communicating vision.”

In the past, coaches may have helped individual leaders develop and articulate a vision. However, going forward, coaches recognize the importance of engaging a wider network of relationships to co-create the vision. This shift suggests that coaches should not only work with leaders to clarify vision and direction but also collaborate with their broader teams to establish shared meaning, coherent action, and agreed-upon practices (McKinsey, 2023).

New skills for new global realities.

In today’s contemporary businesses, leaders are increasingly forming teams that consist of individuals from distant and diverse populations. Since 1990, the number of multinational companies has more than doubled, indicating the growing global presence of organizations (Krell 2013).

The utilization of global talent across national boundaries has witnessed a significant increase of 42% in the past decade (Ernst and Young 2011). As businesses continue to integrate digital information and mobile applications, the impact of geographical location on expansion beyond cultural and national boundaries is diminishing (The Conference Board 2012; Ernst and Young 2011).

Notably, emerging markets, such as China and India, are expected to contribute to a doubling of the share of financial assets by 2020, accounting for 40% of the overall growth (National Intelligence Council 2012; Ernst and Young 2011).

The acceleration of global economic growth through innovation and information sharing across boundaries is supported by the growing importance of digital knowledge (Hay Group 2011). The interconnection of growth, innovation, and global leadership necessitates leaders who can navigate complex interdependencies while envisioning and effectively communicating a clear path forward.

Survey responses have emphasized the need for leaders and coaches to be culturally attuned to the differences in the global workplace, including cultural and generational aspects. The ability to maximize connections through virtual channels is crucial, as face-to-face interaction diminishes in importance (HBR Learning).

As leaders face the challenges of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), managing teams in a matrix and global organization becomes increasingly important. Leading in a virtual environment plays a pivotal role, necessitating the development of skills and credibility in virtual communication (HBR Learning).

Coaches provided diverse perspectives on supporting leaders in addressing global challenges. Some coaches suggested that gaining firsthand experience with global business and cultural realities is essential, while others emphasized the importance of fundamental coaching competencies such as open and unbiased inquiry and in-the-moment presence.

Both approaches hold merit, and their effectiveness depends on the specific client, coach, and contextual factors. However, the variety of responses indicates that coaches must also demonstrate learning agility, expanding their repertoire of approaches and understanding to effectively support leaders (HBR Learning).

The contemporary business landscape necessitates leaders who can effectively lead diverse and distant teams, navigate global complexities, and envision growth and innovation. Coaches play a vital role in supporting leaders by being culturally attuned, developing virtual communication skills, and demonstrating learning agility.

Coaching the 21st-century leader.

To foster a shared vision and achieve success across multiple lines of business, leaders must rely on their teams’ capabilities in spanning networks, gathering information, leveraging experience, and sharing intelligence. Going beyond their individual skills, leaders need to establish relationships, enhance team effectiveness, and promote transparency to enable shared ownership and accountability.

The global talent study conducted by Oxford Economics in 2012 recognized co-creation and brainstorming as essential skills for talent. This finding was supported by the coaches surveyed, who identified two primary coaching needs for individuals working in complex and uncertain conditions:

(1) The ability to work collectively and collaboratively, and

(2) Effectively managing distributed networks of knowledge and teams.

To support clients in building more effective integration, collaboration, and communication across networks and systems, coaches highlighted several valuable approaches and skills. These include systems thinking, the ability to navigate between the big picture and practical realities on the ground, and mastery of technologies that facilitate real-time coaching in today’s fast-paced world.

Coaches play a vital role by serving as a sounding board for the anxiety that accompanies change and uncertainty. They then challenge their clients to chart a clear, coherent, and viable path forward. This requires coaches to assist leaders in accepting the discomfort of not knowing while simultaneously articulating a sense of direction for the organization despite uncertainty. The coaches surveyed emphasized two key needs in addressing this challenge:

  1. Modeling the ability to deal with ambiguity by striking a balance between inquiry, discovery, advice, and guidance.
  2. Challenging leaders’ mental models and assumptions, helping them identify beliefs and patterns that are no longer beneficial while introducing new mindsets.

Leadership development research suggests that while building skills and competencies horizontally is crucial for leadership effectiveness, it is insufficient to address the complexities of emerging contexts. Leaders must continually adapt their thinking, actions, and ways of being to respond to changing realities. Coaches are instrumental in introducing the transformational dimension of vertical development, which challenges leaders to expand their understanding of their role, themselves, their context, and their options.

The learning agility framework is particularly valuable for coaches, as it allows them to identify new behaviors and mindsets that enable leaders to adapt to new and complex situations. Learning agility refers to the willingness and ability to learn from experience and apply that learning in different contexts. Empirical evidence links learning agility with success following promotion.

To build a collaborative and communication-rich culture within teams, it is essential to prioritize collaborative communication. This involves seamlessly exchanging information, discussing topics as a team, and working towards a common goal. By fostering a culture of collaborative communication, teams can prevent tasks from falling through the cracks and achieve greater success.

In summary, to integrate a common vision and achieve success across multiple lines of business, leaders must rely on their teams’ capabilities in spanning networks, gathering information, leveraging experience, and sharing intelligence. Coaches play a critical role in supporting leaders by promoting collaboration, challenging mental models, and facilitating vertical development. By implementing effective coaching techniques and fostering a culture of collaborative communication, leaders can navigate complexity and uncertainty more effectively.

Coaching in a 21st-century context.

Recent forecasts indicate that talent turnover in the United States is emerging as a significant concern, particularly with regards to voluntary job-changing and high-performing individuals (PricewaterhouseCoopers 2013). Compared to pay and promotion, recognition, values alignment, and a sense of purpose and pride will increasingly play a vital role in talent retention (Circle Research 2012; Hay Group 2011).

The key leadership competency required to cultivate these talent magnets is the ability to “develop others.” However, data from years of competency assessment conducted by Korn Ferry consistently places developing others at the bottom of the list. Neglecting this area is no longer an option for leaders (Korn Ferry).

In a survey conducted by coaches, the importance of improving a leader’s practice in motivating and engaging personnel was validated, with two of the top ten coaching themes for all levels of leadership being “motivation and engagement skills/leading with vision and purpose” and “mentoring and developing others.” Coaches view the coaching dynamic as a valuable “learning lab” due to its focus on the relationship between coach and client.

This environment allows leaders to build awareness and practice the necessary skills for engaging and developing others. Coaching incorporates key elements such as empathy, active listening, and clarification of motivation and purpose, enabling leaders to gain firsthand experience of these skills in action.

Coaches also identified various methods for providing objective feedback on a leader’s impact on others, including simulations, live interviews, 360-degree assessments involving direct reports, peers, and managers, self-reflective exercises, and shadow coaching (observation of the leader on the job).

While these techniques are not new to coaching or leadership development, there will be an increasing demand for approaches that target real-time behavior observation, feedback, and change.

Given its ability to tap into an individual leader’s motivation and purpose and provide personalized and relevant feedback, coaching offers a uniquely valuable learning opportunity suited to the needs of 21st-century leaders.

The contemporary environment’s intensity, volatility, and speed call for leaders and coaches to confront these challenges and opportunities more boldly and in the moment. By collaborating effectively, leaders and coaches can strive for high levels of success (Korn Ferry).


De Meuse, K. P., & Dai, G. (2009). Evaluating the effectiveness of coaching: Beyond ROI? Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 2(2), 117-134.

Anderson, M. C. (2001). Coaching that counts. Training, 38(7), 34-38.

The effectiveness of workplace coaching: A meta-analysis of learning and performance outcomes from coaching. (n.d.).

McKinsey. (2023, June 27). New leadership for a new era of thriving organizations.  

The Leader as Coach – Harvard Business Review.

Global Leadership Tips: What Global Leaders Need to Remember  

How can leaders better respond to global challenges? – People Management.

Overcoming the Toughest Common Coaching Challenges. (

PricewaterhouseCoopers. (2013). Talent turnover forecast.

Circle Research. (2012). Talent retention strategies.

Hay Group. (2011). Importance of recognition in talent retention.

Korn Ferry. Competency assessment and talent development.

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