A large-scale study of coaching behaviours has revealed significant variations in perceived behaviour according to differences in age, gender, nationality, whether people identify as managers, consultants or coaches, or as a client of coaching

By Erik de Haan


The study was carried out by Ashridge Business School among 537 coaches, 196 consultants and 559 manager-coaches from 54 countries, and 221 of these coaches’ clients. It used the latest version of its Coaching Behaviours Questionnaire (CBQ), which has 72 items, mapping three ‘push’, coach-centred (directive) sets of behaviours – Prescribing, Informing and Confronting – and three ‘pull’, client-centred (non-directive) sets of behaviours – Exploring, Supporting and Releasing.

In addition to showing that the CBQ is reliable and valid, the study highlighted systematic differences between various groups of coaches and also between coaches and their clients. These include that women score themselves higher on the non-directive interventions and lower on the directive interventions than their male counterparts, while they do not differ significantly in the amount of “challenge” and “support” they think they give clients.

Executive coaching has often been called a ‘female profession’ as it’s geared towards receiving the client, nurturing the ideas and development of the client, and helping to look after the client’s agenda. These are perceived to be traditionally and biologically more female roles, so it’s interesting if these self-perceptions can also be picked up as different behaviours in practice.

In addition, older coaches/consultants/managers score significantly lower on directive interventions than their younger colleagues. They also reported giving less active Support while their emotionally Releasing interventions are more prevalent in their self-scores.

Meanwhile, job role influences scores too: manager-coaches, consultant-coaches, and ‘professional’ coaches self-score progressively lower on directive and supportive interventions while they score themselves progressively higher on non-directive (Exploring and Releasing) interventions.

And there are some significant differences in scores when measured against country of origin, with the highest number of Confronting interventions reported in The Netherlands, mid-level in Belgium and lowest in the UK, while the highest number of Exploring interventions were reported in the UK, with lower levels in Belgium and The Netherlands.

The study also revealed that clients of workplace coaches are scoring coaches significantly higher on directive interventions and significantly lower on some non-directive interventions, and that the differences in self-perceptions of coaches are not replicated by their clients, namely for the ‘gender’ and ‘job description’ dimensions where this could be tested.

  • Next issue: a full-length report on this study
  • Prof. Erik De Haan PhD, Ashridge Centre of Coaching
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