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The Evolution of Leadership Coaching

How executive coaching has changed in the last 20 years.

Key points

  • The perception of coaching has shifted from signaling failure to signaling a catalyst for success.
  • Humility has been on the rise. Acknowledging improvement areas is a cornerstone of leadership.
  • Coaching can help fill in gaps in leadership skills.

Over the past two decades, the landscape of executive leadership has undergone a significant transformation. Gone are the days when seeking help from a coach was seen as a sign of failure or weakness. Thanks to a paradigm shift, the perception of coaching has evolved to become a hallmark of high performance, similar to how Olympic athletes rely on coaches to refine their skills and achieve greatness.

From Taboo to a Transformational Tool

Not long ago, the idea of a successful executive needing a coach was often met with skepticism. Many believed that only those who were struggling or failing required such assistance. This view created a stigma that discouraged leaders from seeking guidance, fearing that it would tarnish their reputation. However, times have changed, and the narrative around coaching has shifted remarkably.

Today, the best leaders recognize that just like elite athletes, they require constant refinement to stay at the top of their game. Acknowledging areas for improvement is a testament to their commitment to growth and development, not a reflection of their shortcomings. The once-taboo concept of coaching has evolved into a transformative tool that helps leaders bridge the gap between their current abilities and their aspirations.

The Power of Humility in Leadership

Humility has emerged as a cornerstone of effective leadership, serving as a catalyst for growth and improvement. As a coach, I've observed that true leaders display humility by acknowledging that they have areas they need to work on. In fact, when I ask leaders what they need to improve in their behavior, and they claim they have nothing, I often assign them "humility" right away! This simple act of self-awareness sets the stage for transformational growth.

Contrary to the earlier belief that admitting to needing help equates to failure, humility is now celebrated as the foundation of great leadership. Leaders who are open to learning, unafraid of their vulnerabilities, and eager to refine their skills lead with authenticity and inspire their teams to excel.

The Need for Guided Leadership Development

One of the most striking shifts in executive leadership over the last two decades is the recognition that effective leadership requires intentional development. Too often, individuals are elevated into management roles without proper training in leadership. They find themselves leading teams, shaping company culture, and driving mission and vision, without a clear roadmap for success.

This void in leadership training has given rise to the need for coaching. A coach guides leaders through the nuances of setting company culture, nurturing careers, delegation, and other essential leadership functions. In a world where self-taught methods may not be sufficient to reach the next level of success, coaching bridges the gap between potential and achievement.

The Holistic Role of Coaching

Coaching is not merely about imparting strategic knowledge or succession planning. It is about fostering effective leadership that elevates teams, cultivates a thriving organizational culture, and creates a positive work environment. As a coach, my passion lies in helping leaders realize that their role extends beyond achieving personal success to nurturing the growth and success of others.


The evolution of executive leadership over the past two decades reflects a fundamental shift in perception: from viewing coaching as a sign of weakness to embracing it as a transformative tool for success. Humility has emerged as the bedrock of effective leadership, enabling leaders to identify areas for growth and development. As leaders navigate the complexities of their roles, guided leadership development through coaching has become indispensable in shaping an environment where teams thrive, organizations flourish, and leaders reach their highest potential.

More from Marshall Goldsmith Ph.D., M.B.A.
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