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Executive Coaching Approaches, Their Pros and Cons

The effectiveness of coaching sessions depends on the approaches or theoretical frameworks used by executive coaches in order to help individuals achieve their goals. From this perspective, it is almost impossible to state that some approach is less appropriate than another because various approaches can be used in different situations to work with diverse clients (Stober & Grant, 2006). The comparison of approaches and the analysis of their aspects can be helpful to state in what situations it is relevant to use this or that theoretical framework.

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For the purpose of the comparison and analysis, such three approaches to coaching as the behavior-based approach, the adult learning approach, and the adventure-based approach can be chosen. In spite of the fact that the behavior-based, adult learning, and adventure-based approaches are different in relation to the role performed by coaches and clients in the process, they also have similarities in the used techniques oriented to improving activities.

Main Principles of Three Approaches to Executive Coaching

Different approaches to coaching are based on the theoretical frameworks that were developed in the context of other disciplines. These frameworks determine the tenets of the approaches and specific rules that should be followed by the coach and according to which it is possible to distinguish the approaches.

Behavior-Based Approach

The behavior-based approach is grounded on the idea of helping the client change his behavior in order to achieve the certain strategic goals in the corporate setting, as well as professional or personal objectives. In spite of the fact that the main focus is on changing the person’s behavioral patterns to achieve higher results, one more important principle is the active use of practice (Passmore & Fillery-Travis, 2011). It is possible to state that this approach is action focused as clients develop new behavioral patterns while performing tasks, solving problems, and taking actions. In addition, the approach is characterized by the practice of using specific rewards and punishments by coaches in order to motivate or reinforce clients to change their behaviors.

Adult Learning Approach

The coaching process that involves adults requires the use of specific strategies and techniques because of this age group’s characteristics. This principle is based on the theory of adult learning or andragogy (Harper, 2012). While working with adults, coaches should refer to the following tenets: adults need to understand the benefits or advantages of their learning in order to succeed; adults learn effectively when they can reflect on their actions and experiences; adults demonstrate high results when their learning is self-directed and when they need to address the real-life issues or problems (Stober & Grant, 2006).

Adventure-Based Approach

The principles of the adventure-based approach can be explained with the focus on the concept of “adventure”, according to which the coach creates the situations for a client when he can come out the comfort zone in terms of the professional and personal development and explore new borders in leadership, career, or education (Ellinger & Kim, 2014). The key principle is making the client try new approaches to solving problems, analyzing risks, and accepting new ways of thinking and acting.

The paradigm on which the adventure-based approach to coaching is grounded is characterized by concentrating on the person’s psychological readiness to act in a new way. However, the process of learning through the exploration cannot be viewed as only the set of actions or steps (Neves, 2014). Thus, the adventure-based coaching is the complex process of using psychological tools to expand the horizons of the client’s professional or personal growth.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Approaches

In order to understand in what situations each approach to coaching can be used, it is necessary to compare the frameworks in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.

Behavior-Based Approach

The main advantage of the behavior-based approach is in the opportunities for clients to develop new competencies and improve the behavioral patterns. Another advantage is the focus on real-life activities or practice that can lead to achieving the desired goals and facilitating the required behaviors (Stober & Grant, 2006). In this context, the behavior-based approach is similar to the adult learning approach, according to which the change is observed when the focus is on practicing and discussing the real-life problems. However, the behavior-based approach to coaching also has disadvantages because the change of behaviors means the creation of the uncomfortable situation for the client (McComb, 2012).

This detail allows comparing the approach with the adventure-based framework. The necessity to change behaviors and attitudes can make the client oppose to the coaches’ techniques, and the behavior-based approach can be ineffective if the coach does not use the reinforcement that is most appropriate for the concrete case.

Adult Learning Approach

There are many advantages associated with the adult learning approach and theory. First, coaches choose to motivate clients to learn new behaviors, activities, or practices while demonstrating the actual benefits for them. As a result, the probability of the success increases. In this context, the approach can be compared to the adventure-based approach because clients need to understand why to learn or why to risk. Second, the overall coaching process becomes more effective when the learning is self-driven, and the client is interested in developing and demonstrating the higher results (Harper, 2012).

Still, there are also disadvantages that include the extreme focus of learners on themselves and the necessity to reflect on experiences. If clients are highly self-oriented, it is difficult for them to assess their results objectively and follow the coach’s recommendations. Additionally, clients who have limited experiences cannot reflect on them effectively, and they can face barriers to learning.

Adventure-Based Approach

The adventure-based approach to coaching is similar to both the behavior-based approach and adult learning, but it also has such differences as the acceptance of risks. The advantage of the approach is in the possibilities for clients to come out their comfort zone, try new activities and behaviors, accept the changes, and orient to innovations. The disadvantages include the high levels of uncertainty and associated psychological problems (Stober & Grant, 2006, p. 279). It can be a challenging task for a client to explore the areas in his mind or activities that can be associated with the injury, risks, and discomfort. On the one hand, the personal and professional growth can be even more obvious as a result of using the approach than in cases of using other two strategies. On the other hand, the client’s psychological barriers to applying the approach can also be high.

Using Approaches to Coaching in Various Situations

In order to conclude about the approaches to coaching, it is necessary to analyze how each model can be applied in practice.

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Behavior-Based Approach

Coaches choose the behavior-based approach when it is necessary to help clients solve the concrete problem that requires changes in attitudes and behaviors. This approach can be discussed as rather directive and solution-oriented because the coach usually works with such problems as the improvement of the leadership or communication style, the enhancement of monitoring, assessment, or coordination skills, and the improvement of the actual performance among other situations (Passmore & Fillery-Travis, 2011, p. 72). Thus, the approach is used when the concrete change can be achieved through directions and guidelines of the coach.

Adult Learning Approach

In situations when the gradual development of competencies and skills is necessary, the behavior-based approach can be ineffective. The adult learning framework is used in these cases. The focus is on helping clients reflect on their experiences, successes, falls, visions, and methods. This approach works when a client is ready to learn and reflect, and when the development of leadership skills requires the focus on motivation (Stober & Grant, 2006). For instance, such developmental approach is effective to help leaders learn the aspects of the team and project work.

Adventure-Based Approach

The adventure-based approach is similar to the behavior-based approach in relation to focusing on the psychological factors and using the coach’s directions. However, this approach is developmental in its nature, and it is similar to the adult learning model in this context. Coaches use this approach when it is necessary to prepare clients for important changes in their professional life such as the promotion or taking the position in a company’s subsidiary abroad (Stober & Grant, 2006). In these situations, persons need to receive the guidelines and directions from coaches, but they also should develop their potential while accepting the risk or “adventure.”

Theory in the Process of Coaching

Coaches use different theories in order to support their techniques and strategies in order to achieve the highest results while referring to the evidence-based research and practice. Thus, utilizing the behavior-based approach, a coach can guarantee that the desired behavior change will be achieved, and this situation will be beneficial for a client because he will demonstrate new skills in the certain area of communication, leadership, or management.

The utility of the adult learning approach means that a client will develop his potential while being highly motivated and oriented to results (Harper, 2012). This approach is effective in most cases when a client demonstrates the high commitment to the organization and wants to be promoted. Referring to the adult learning theory, a coach uses its basic principles to motivate employees for the development.

When the problem is rather difficult, and it includes the necessity of the personal development, a coach can use the adventure-based approach (Ellinger & Kim, 2014). It is not appropriate for many employees, but it is important to help clients adapt to challenging and new situations. From this perspective, the use of theories in the process of coaching depends on the situation, the client’s characteristics, the set goals, and the coach’s competencies.


Although the behavior-based approach, the adult learning model, and the adventure-based approaches are appropriate to be used in the coaching sessions independently, coaches often adapt these approaches to the clients’ needs and add some methods in order to fill in particular gaps associated with these strategies’ disadvantages. From this point, the recommendation for improving the behavior-based approach is to adapt the directions to change the behavior to the clients’ needs while combing the methods of the behavior-based and cognitive approaches to coaching. This technique will decrease the risk of opposing to strict directions or unexpected changes (Good, Yeganeh, & Yeganeh, 2013).

The recommendation for the adult learning approach is based on the necessity to combine the self-directed and self-oriented practices with the elements of adult development approach to achieve the desired progress. The techniques of the adventure-based approach can be modified with the focus on practices used in the cognitive coaching when the exploration of the personal potential through addressing the challenging situations is observed along with the client’s change in his visions and perceptions to decrease the tension.

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The behavior-based, adult learning, and adventure-based approaches to coaching can be viewed as both similar and different. Although these approaches have various theoretical backgrounds, the used techniques and expected outcomes can be the same. The task of the coach is to recognize advantages and disadvantages of different approaches and select the strategy of working with a client that is most applicable to the concrete case. Having analyzed the psychological profile and behavioral patterns of the client, the coach can choose to modify the approach in practice in order to make it more efficient.


Ellinger, A. D., & Kim, S. (2014). Coaching and human resource development examining relevant theories, coaching genres, and scales to advance research and practice. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 16(2), 127-138. Web.

Good, D., Yeganeh, B., & Yeganeh, R. (2013). Cognitive behavioral executive coaching. Research in Organizational Change and Development, 21(1), 175-200. Web.

Harper, S. (2012). The leader coach: A model of multi-style leadership. Journal of Practical Consulting, 4(1), 22-31. Web.

McComb, C. (2012). Developing coaching culture: Are your coaching relationships healthy? Industrial and Commercial Training, 44(4), 232-235. Web.

Neves, L. (2014). Coaching and ethical leadership: A competence executive coaching model for the development of ethical leadership. Psychology Research, 4(4), 12-24. Web.

Passmore, J., & Fillery-Travis, A. (2011). A critical review of executive coaching research: A decade of progress and what’s to come. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 4(2), 70-88. Web.

Stober, D. R., & Grant, A. M. (2006). Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting best practices to work for your clients. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc. Web.

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