Coaching the coaches: Lessons learned from a new study on coach training

In the article titled “Competencies of Coaches that Predict Client Behavior Change,” published in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science in 2024, the authors, led by Richard Boyatzis, address the significant gap in coaching research and practice concerning the effectiveness of coaching competencies in fostering client behavior change. This study is particularly valuable as it grounds the understanding of coaching effectiveness in empirical research rather than the prevalent approach of competency models based on expert opinion or client feedback.

The practice of coaching has seen a considerable surge in recent decades, propelled by an increasing demand for personal and professional development. Traditional methods of development, such as education, training, and developmental assignments, often fall short in effecting sustained behavioral change, leading organizations and individuals to turn towards coaching as a viable alternative. Despite this trend, the competencies deemed essential for effective coaching have largely been identified through subjective means, such as opinion surveys, rather than empirical research linking specific competencies to coaching outcomes.

The study focused on behavioral, emotional, and social intelligence competencies of coaches, assessed not through self-evaluation but via external observation, in predicting client behavior change over two years. A sample of 240 coach-client dyads involving 60 different coaches was analyzed. The research also sought to disentangle the effect of general mental ability (GMA) from that of specific competencies in contributing to effective coaching outcomes. The competencies examined include achievement orientation, adaptability, emotional self-control, empathy, organizational assessment, and influence, alongside conflict management, coaching/mentoring, and teamwork.

The findings indicated that specific competencies, namely achievement orientation, adaptability, emotional self-control, empathy, organizational assessment, and influence, significantly predict client behavior change. Interestingly, GMA did not emerge as a significant factor when controlling for specific coaching competencies. In a subset of the sample, conflict management, along with near-significant findings for coaching/mentoring and teamwork, also contributed to client behavior change.

These results underscore the importance of specific emotional and social intelligence competencies over general mental ability in coaching effectiveness. The study suggests that competencies facilitating emotional regulation, adaptability, understanding, and influence are more critical in achieving client behavior change. This challenges the current coaching certification and training programs to pivot towards empirical evidence in defining essential coaching competencies.

Implications for Training Mentors
The study’s implications extend to the training and certification of coaches. Training programs must emphasize the development of key competencies proven to impact client behavior change, moving away from models based solely on subjective assessments of competency importance. By focusing on these empirically validated competencies, coaching training can become more effective and aligned with the actual drivers of coaching success.

In conclusion, the study provides a much-needed empirical basis for identifying the competencies that truly matter in coaching effectiveness. As the field continues to evolve, grounding coaching practices in solid research will be paramount in ensuring that coaching not only remains relevant but also maximally effective in fostering genuine and sustained behavior change in clients.


Boyatzis, R., Liu, H., Smith, A., Zwygart, K., & Quinn, J.. (2024). Competencies of Coaches that Predict Client Behavior Change. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science60(1), 19–49.