Fielding Graduate University News

Why the Science of Coaching Matters

Posted by Hilary Edwards on Thu, Feb 20, 2014

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Why the Science of Coaching Matters: A Q&A With Francine Campone, EdD, MCC, of Fielding Graduate University

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FrancineCampone1 resized 600Francine Campone is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Master Certified Coach with more than 15 years of experience coaching leaders in the corporate, education and nonprofit sectors. She directs Fielding Graduate University’s Evidence-Based Coaching Certificate Program and is a founding faculty member of the coaching certificate program in the University of Texas at Dallas’ Graduate School of Management. She is a past chair of the ICF Research Committee.

Francine will present on “What’s Happening in Coaching Research?” at ICF Advance 2014: Science of Coaching May 29 – 31, 2014, at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel in Atlanta, GA, for this targeted educational event. ICF Advance branded events are designed for coaches, trainers, researchers and coaching decision-makers who want to take their skills and knowledge to the next level. ICF Advance 2014: Science of Coaching is an intensive, interactive 2½-day educational experience that will bridge the gap between scholarship and practice, delivering in-depth content covering the theories that underpin coaching.

Event information and registration details are available at

Here, Francine answers some frequently asked questions around the science of coaching and its impact on organizations that use coaching to enhance human capital.

Q: Why is it so necessary for external and internal coaches alike to cultivate an awareness of the science of coaching?

A: Science is a part of coaching’s legacy. The founders of this field called coaching were heavily influenced by the social sciences from other disciplines, including psychology and organizational consulting. Science is an integral part of the foundation of coaching. I think it’s important for professional coaches to reconnect with that part of their history, because when you understand the foundational sciences of coaching, you have the basis to make informed decisions.

Organizations spend millions of dollars a year on coaching. If I were spending that kind of money, I would want to know that the person I’m hiring to help develop my leaders and my team has a foundational, fundamental knowledge of the field and has the ability to take a scientific approach to the work he or she does with my people.

As director of Fielding Graduate University’s Evidence-Based Coaching Program, I’ve met a number of students who have been charged with the task of creating their organizations’ internal coaching programs. They’ve found that getting grounded in the foundational theories of coaching enables them to do several things for their organization. When they hire external coaches, they have solid, empirical selection criteria. You really need substantive guidelines for hiring external coaches, and the only way to do that is by understanding foundational theories and principles. Secondly, in internal coaching programs in particular, you are charged with training the people who will do the coaching. If you want them to be responsive in their interactions, to have a broad repertoire of skills and strategies, and to exercise good judgment in their coaching engagements, then you need to have a scientific understanding of coaching and a scientific approach to coaching.

Q: What are some recent trends you’ve observed in coaching research?

A: Coaching really started as a derivative field, borrowing heavily from other sciences. Up until about 10 years ago, coaching research focused on those foundational sciences. In the last decade, however, we’ve seen a growth of peer-reviewed literature on the science of coaching: How do those sciences roll over into coaching? What are the necessary adaptations, for example, to make the shift from applying cognitive behavioral principles in psychotherapy to applying them in coaching? The research now is much more about coaching than about where coaching came from.

We’ve also made a turn to the practical, because research is now being done by coaching practitioners and less often by scholars who are in a field removed from coaching. I try to do studies that I think will somehow be useful, and I think that is an attitude that many coaching researchers take.

A decade ago, I dined at an ICF event with an experienced Executive Coach who told me, point-blank, “I don’t need research. I know what works, and I don’t need to know the data.” I don’t hear that from coaches anymore. I don’t hear people saying that research is irrelevant. As the profession matures, we are seeing an increase in the number of experienced coaches who recognize the need to understand the science behind coaching.

Q: What would you say to an organizational decision-maker who questions the investment in a pool of coaches well-versed in the science of coaching?

A: I would encourage them to look to other professions. Would you hire an attorney who knew all the technicalities of filing briefs but hadn’t bothered to study the history and evolution of the law? My guess is no. So why would you hire a practitioner who has a tool kit of coaching skills but hasn’t sought to understand the principles and theories behind those tools? As you choose a coach for your organization or for yourself, you’re no doubt seeking someone smart, informed, substantive and knowledgeable. More often than not, those are traits of coaches who understand the scientific principles behind what they’re doing with their clients.

In A Guide to Third Generation Coaching, Reinhard Stelter writes about how complex the world has become, how complex organizations are, and how complex the people and relationships within organizations are. These organizations need coaches who are themselves complex. A scientific approach to coaching as a field is what’s going to help us have the knowledge base, the judgment base and the skills to manage and be responsive to the increasing complexity of the world in which we are functioning.

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Tags: evidence based coaching, fielding graduate university, coaching