Executive Coaching Future Trends


What will be the most likely trends in the executive coaching industry in 2020–2022?  Will accreditation be mandatory?  Will coaching fees decrease?  Will robots replace coaches?

The industry-wide research study Executive Coaching for Results surveyed nearly 1,000 organization coaching practice managers, internal coaches and external coaches on a variety of topics.  Participants were asked, “How likely are the following trends in the executive coaching industry in the next three to five years?”


brian underhill research chart


All respondents agreed that Leadership development programs with additional coaching will be the most likely ensuing trend over the next few of years. This matches my own experience. I see more organizations designing coaching into existing leadership development programs.

On average, Leader-as-coach training (training leaders in organizations on coaching skills) was the second most likely trend. Third was Team coaching—coaching all members of the entire team and/or developing that team as a team.

Artificial intelligence will eventually replace human coaches was seen as the least likely future trend (38 percent), with a predicted commoditization of coaching fees rated as slightly more likely (55-57 percent of respondents).

There are some major differences between the three respondent groups.  As a few examples:

  • Coaching for millennial leaders was seen as much more likely among external coaches (85 percent) and internal coaches (82 percent) than among organization practice managers (71 percent)
  • Internal coaching was favored more by internal coaches (No. 3, 84 percent) than by organization practice managers (No. 8, 72 percent)
  • Ranked No. 4 by organization practice managers, Organizations centralize/streamline executive coaching under fewer vendors, contrasts with seventh place rankings from internal and external coaches


Other Trends Based on Various Studies & Publications

1. Rise Of The Automated Coach

They say, in real estate, success is based on location, location, location. Well, in coaching, we will be saying technology, technology, technology. Coaches will differentiate themselves in the future by connecting through platforms and being able to meet almost anywhere and anytime regardless of their physical location. Coaches will engage clients through micro-learning sessions, gamification and will add value by providing clients access to content beyond their counsel.

2. Intersection Of Industry Skills And Coaching Methodology

At least in business and executive coaching, I believe we will see more coaches who have strong industry and line experience. As leaders face increasing pressure to deliver results in the short term and create exciting futures for the long term, all while developing leaders, they themselves will require coaches and advisers who can help them think deeply through this range of complex issues.

3. Increasing Regulation Will Define Different Coaching Types

The coaching industry is currently non-regulated, which means anyone can call themselves a coach. Increasing regulation will likely begin to define various types of coaching. From career coaching to life coaching to executive coaching, required standardized training and credentials will likely become the norm.

4. Coaching Will Overtake Consulting

It might take the full 10 years, but coaching will begin to rise in popularity over consulting. Aging demographics will demand a vast transfer of institutional, industry and professional wisdom. Consulting augments gaps in knowledge, but coaching emphasizes the transfer of wisdom. Smart young leaders will seek to learn, as talent becomes harder to “rent.”

5. Ability To Demonstrate Measurable Results

What will set successful executive coaches apart from others in the coming years is their ability to demonstrate measurable results. Savvy clients will only choose executive coaching organizations that can clearly demonstrate how they helped their coachees move the needle. Pre- and post-360 interviews, structured feedback and other tools will be used to quantify and qualify results.

6. Greater Acceptance By Executives

It’s not uncommon for industries to spring up and have a long acceptance period for the public. Executive coaching is one of those arenas where frequently, only those met with challenges have embraced its value. In the next five to 10 years we will see coaching become a necessary focus among executives respecting the ROI and wishing to propel themselves further faster.

7. Experience Coaching Will Gain Prominence

Experience is the best teacher. In the future, executive coaching will move from explaining to experiencing. People will desire to learn in a format that is memorable and fun. Breakthrough thinking and new information will be driven by executive individualization based on what experience the executive needs in order to achieve new patterns of action.

8. Increased Focus On Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is the scientific study of what’s right with people, of what makes people thrive and flourish. In the coming years, executive coaches will be using the scientific principles of positive psychology to help their clients create more positive, more productive, and more profitable workplaces, and also apply these principles to their own lives.

9. Laser-Sharp Focus On Interpersonal Skills

A lot has been written about how the future of work will focus on artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, etc. Some describe a future where most of the work still done by human beings will require strong interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. Since organizations will be placing a premium on those skills, it’s very likely that executive coaching will be in high demand and focus even more on those types of skills than today.

10. Content Over Process

Asking insightful questions to help people achieve their goals will always be central to good coaching. However, it is insufficient. We will see more operators with deep industry or leadership experience serve as coaches. The demand for “been there, seen that, done that” coaches will continue to rise, as they are better positioned to help leaders look around the corners.

11. Relationships, Results, And Rewards

Clients will seek-out coaches with practical wisdom they can quickly weaponize against their most pressing concerns. Time frames for success and expected gains will be tighter. The demand for pithy insights and proven strategies anchored by relationships, results, and rewards will increase. A coach’s ability to build mutually accountable relationships quickly will be paramount to their success.

12. Working With A Coach Will Be Norm

Because of shows like “Billions,” the need and desire for coaching has expanded tremendously. The idea that someone can help you build muscles in the gym is now relating to someone coaching a C-suite executive through pivotal decisions while managing stress. Now that is huge progress. Who wouldn’t want less stress and more productivity in their lives?

13. Digitalization Of Coaching

As our culture changes, so will the delivery methods of coaches to clientele. The days of in-person coaching are dwindling. Webinars, online training, and digital coaching delivery methods for clients will become the norm. Professionals will want coaching that is easily accessible and fits into their schedule. Be prepared to diversify in order to remain valuable and relevant.

14. Specialization Will Take Over

I believe coaches will be hired for more niche work as the coaching industry becomes more integrated into corporate and professional life. Saying you’re an “executive coach” will likely lead to questions like, “What specialty?” much more than they do now.

15. Executive Coaching Not Just For The Elite

Due to the increase in certified coaches, the improved ROI that results from pairing coaching with leadership training, and the normalization of coaching rates due to a supply and demand shift in the market, coaching will become more commonly used in employee and leadership development at all levels. Coaching will no longer be viewed as something that is only available at the executive level.