Where will business coaching be in 2020?

Although we can’t say with any certainty, there are some indications of where the discipline is headed. Dr Sunny Stout-Rostron who will be speaking at the Coaching and Mentoring Conference next month, identifies five areas key to the future of business coaching:

1. Professionalisation

For the foreseeable future, it looks as if coaching will continue to “professionalise”, rather than become a fully-fledged profession. According to David Lane, Chairman of UK-based Professional Development Foundation (PDF), the current debates and disputes about status in the field of coaching mirror those around parallel fields such as psychotherapy. Lane suggests that unless coaches adapt and maintain a strongly collaborative approach globally, the result will be various schools of coaching each with their own standards body. If, however, practitioners train as coaches first and specialists second, an overall accrediting body could be created, with overarching standards and competences (Lane, 2013, pers. com.).

The message is clear – the more coaches can continue to work towards rigorous multidisciplinary co-operation, the more we will enrich the field through collaboration – rather than divide it into narrow areas of practice.

2. Education and development

Employees tend to acquire coaching skills through short-term programmes using coaching as a “dialogical” tool for continuing professional development (CPD), rather than as an area of professional practice. According to David Drake, Executive Director of the Centre for Narrative Coaching in Sydney and San Francisco, coaching will become integral to every job description, becoming a “verb” rather than a “noun”, referring to the way we do something and becoming the dominant model in the way we teach people to do things (Drake, 2013, pers. com.).

Coaching is increasingly being viewed as a leadership skill within organisations, with executives and other managers expected to coach subordinates, peers and teams as part of a management “coaching culture”. So, as coaching becomes integral to organisational management, graduate schools are including executive coaching in their curricula. As the wider field of coaching studies is not yet a distinct discipline, but draws upon traditional disciplines such as education, management science and psychology, the Graduate School Alliance for Executive Coaches (GSAEC) was formed to develop uniform curriculum standards for graduate schools. Wits Business School, for example, has aligned its business coaching programmes with the GSAEC.

3. Research

The value of primary, evidence-based research into best practices has been a key argument in favour of coaching becoming an evidence-based discipline. As a result, several professional bodies and business schools have dedicated themselves to research-led models, such as the Coaching Psychology Unit at the University of Sydney, the WABC in North America, the EMCC in UK/Europe, and the Institute of Coaching at Harvard/McLean Medical School.

The International Coaching Research Forum (ICRF) has worked to promote the value of research and critical, self-reflective practice, and support the development of a coaching knowledge base. In 2008 the ICRF published a set of 100 coaching research proposals on the website of the Institute of Coaching (http://www.instituteofcoaching.org/), with the aim of promoting new coaching research studies (Kauffman, Russell & Bush, 2008; Stern & Stout-Rostron, 2013).

Clearly, continuing research is critical if we are to build the knowledge base necessary to “professionalise” coaching, and enhance coach education curricula. Key questions we need to research are: What is visibly changing as a result of coaching in organisations, and what visibly needs to be addressed for business coaching to evolve?

4. Mastery of practice

For coaching to move forward towards 2020, we need to promote five cornerstones of professional practice:

  • Education and training programmes aligned with required coaching competences
  • Research into best-practice coaching by both academics and practitioners
  • Self-reflective practice and effective coaching supervision
  • Developing core competences through CPD and mastery of practice, and
  • Membership of a professional body with an enforceable ethical code.

According to Michael Cavanagh, Deputy Director of the Coaching Psychology Unit at the University of Sydney, there will probably be two changes in coaching. Firstly, coaching will remain linear and goal-driven. Secondly, coaches will increase their capacity to deal with complex, non-linear systems, building resilience and relationships within individuals and organisations. Coaches therefore need to think in systemic ways, and be part of the overall process – an important part of coaching education and development (Cavanagh, 2013, pers. com.).

We will never be without emergent leaders in society, government, education and business. Therefore, business and executive coaching will continue to grow, and mastery of practice in terms of the ability to manage complexity and complex systems will be a prerequisite. Buyers of coaching services will continue to become more discerning, and research will need to be not just evidence-based, but based more on observation of working coaching practice. And although psychology won’t necessarily take over coach education and training, it may become imperative that coach education programmes aim to develop psychological literacy in graduating coaches.

5. Coaching in society

During 2010 I conducted a series of interviews reviewing the impact of coaching on leadership aimed at large-scale systemic change. This highlighted the need to develop coaching practice at the highest level, embracing a new perspective on leadership coaching for real transformation. What also emerged was the need for visionary leadership to shape the future not just of organisations, but of our increasingly complex, interdependent societies (Stout-Rostron, 2011).

According to Cavanagh, the world is creating more and more complexity, and leaders today need to move from solving national to international problems – but are struggling to cope with complexities inside their own organisations, and with rapid rates of change. (Cavanagh, 2013, pers. com.). If we have a conviction as a budding profession that we have something to offer in terms of leadership support and development, then perhaps our greater challenge is: Does coaching also have a positive role to play in society as a whole? Each country has its own challenges, and I don’t think we can prescribe what the answer may be in any country. The question many coaches in South Africa are asking is: Should coaching be limited to the top executives of large corporations? Many institutions are realising that the people who might gain the most from coaching are a little lower down the ladder in the hierarchy, with equal if not greater talents. Although deprived of education and opportunity in the past, with the aid of coaching and mentoring they can soon catch up. That’s a real contribution coaching can make.

So my last question is more philosophical: How can we take coaching from inside organisations out into the wider community – to deal with major social concerns? Keeping coaching limited to business doesn’t fully reflect what this discipline is capable of offering society as a whole.

Join Dr Sunny Stout-Rostron at the Coaching and Mentoring Conference from the 11-13 June 2013 at The Fairway Hotel and Golf Resort. This conference will feature leading experts within the field of Coaching and Mentoring – individuals from various organisations, consulting firms, academic institutions, and more. To learn more – click here now.

Dr Sunny Stout-Rostron

Dr Sunny Stout-Rostron’s new book will be available for purchase from Knowledge Resources in the second half of 2013.


  • Drake, D. (2013). Personal communication, 13 March.
  • Global Coaching and Mentoring Alliance (GCMA) (2011). Professional Charter for Coaching and Mentoring. (Webpage URL: http://www.eesc.europa.eu/self-and-coregulation/documents/codes/private/142-private-act.pdf, accessed April 2013).
  • Global Convention on Coaching (GCC). (2008). Dublin Declaration on Coaching Including Appendices. Global Convention on Coaching. Dublin, August.
  • Johnson, W. (2013). Personal communication, 11 February.
  • Kauffman, CM, Russell, SG & Bush, MW (eds). (2008), 100 Coaching Research Proposal Abstracts, International Coaching Research Forum,
  • Cambridge, MA: The Coaching and Positive Psychology Initiative, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School and The Foundation of Coaching.
  • Lane, D. (2013). Personal communication, 15 January.
  • Lane, DA & Corrie, S. (2006). The Modern Scientist-Practitioner: A Guide to Practice in Psychology. Hove: Routledge.
  • Lewis, L. (2013). Personal communication, 5 March.
  • Spence, G. (2013). Personal communication, 6 March.
  • Stein, IF & Page, LJ. (2010). Graduate study in executive and organizational coaching: Considerations for programme development. Journal of Psychological Issues in Organisational Culture, 1(3):56–64.
  • Stern, L & Stout-Rostron, S. (2013). What progress has been made in coaching research in relation to 16 ICRF focus areas from 2008 to 2012? Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, DOI:10.1080/17521882.2012.757013.
  • Stout-Rostron, S. (2011). How is coaching impacting systemic change in organisations? International Journal of Coaching in Organisations, 8(4):5–27.
  • Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC) (2013). WABC Professional Standards for Business Coaches. (Webpage URL: http://www.wabccoaches.com/includes/popups/ professional_standards.html#preamble, accessed April 2013).
  • Whyte, A. (2013). Personal communication, 14 March.

3 thoughts on “Where will business coaching be in 2020?

  1. Pingback: Where will business coaching be in 2020? | Goodnews's Weblog

  2. I would like to appreciate you the way you have shared the post with us. It is really hard to find the quality post, but you have done this job nicely man

  3. Business coaches are often called in when a business is preceived to be performing badly, however many smart business owners these days see the benefit of business coaching even when the business is healthy.

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