Research debunks one of the myths of coach selection

A dilemma for many coaching clients at the commencement of a coaching assignment is how to select their coach.  Often the fallback is to select on the basis of shared professional experience or specific industry experience.  Other criteria that clients may adopt include the coach’s academic qualifications, coaching certifications, nationality, or gender.  While all may be valid criteria, surprisingly there have been no studies on whether particular criteria correlate with the effectiveness of the coaching. This anomaly has been addressed to some extent with a study emanating from the McColl School of Business at Queens University (US).

The authors of the study tested two hypotheses:

·       Is there a correlation between a coach’s professional experience and the degree of client goal achievement?

·       Is there a correlation between a coach’s industry experience and the degree of client goal achievement?

The study participants numbered 206 and in 82% of cases, the participants had selected their coach rather than had one assigned to them. The research was quantitative only and responses were elicited by a survey of 14 questions.  

Following an analysis, the authors found that regardless of to what degree the client selected their coach based on professional experience or industry experience, there was no correlation with their ratings of goal achievement.  Therefore, the authors conclude that the study supports the proposition that subject matter expertise arising from shared industry or professional experience is not a critical factor for selecting a coach.

The study does not attempt to identify the criteria that does correlate with goal achievement but is a valuable piece of research as it questions a commonly held conception that shared coach-client experience is essential.  The misconception may lead to the overlooking of coaches who may have ultimately been an ideal match. 

If shared experience is not the best criteria for coach selection, then what could be? Well, anecdotal evidence from our coaches suggests that two criteria are important:

·       The extent of the coach’s experience in coaching and whether that experience has been with clients at a similar professional level to the subject client.

·       The relative stages of adult development between the coach and client – ideally, the client should not be at a later stage of development than the coach.

Interestingly, the findings vindicate the recommendations in a white paper published by Madston Black in 2012, Lifting the veil: How to select executive coaches for your business.  In the paper, we suggested that the professional coaching experience and the coach’s versatility in approaches were more important selection criteria than shared industry or professional experience.


Chin, A.T, Richmond, J. P. & Bennett, J. L. (2015). Walking a mile in an executive’s shoes: The influence of shared client-coach experience on goal achievement.  International Coaching Psychology Review, Vol. 10 No. 2, 149-160.

Please contact us for a copy of the white paper, Lifting the veil: How to select executive coaches for your business.


Posted by: Louise Kovacs