Each year at the AGM, ICF Calgary Board and Scholarship Selection Committee announce the year’s recipient of the Diane Bonneau Development Scholarship valued at $500 (CDN). The scholarship is intended to support the ongoing professional development of Calgary-based coaches, to expand their knowledge around core coaching competencies and related areas of study.

Our December 2016 award recipient, Wilma Slenders, has written this wonderful article to share some of her learning with the ICF Calgary Charter Chapter community from her conference attendance.

What is the future of coaching?

By: Wilma Slenders, PhD, PCC, CMC


Last October, I had the pleasure of attending the Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare Conference sponsored by the Institute of Coaching (IOC), offered by McLean Hospital, a Harvard Medical School affiliate. The conference was held in Boston, one of my favourite cities.

The attraction of this conference was the level of speakers, among them Marshall Goldsmith, Susan Cain, and Daniel Goleman, as well as the wide range of topics.

My attendance at this conference, in part, was due to the support of ICF Calgary who recently awarded me the Diane Bonneau scholarship to advance my professional development.

What is the future of coaching?

This was the most provocative question at the conference.

David Peterson, Director of Google’s Center of Expertise on Leadership Development and Executive Coaching, and Whitney Johnson, author of Disrupt Your Life: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation and Everyone Has an S-Curve: Driving Engagement by Developing Employees who Disrupt for a Living co-presented a session. It was titled: Executive Coaching on the cUsp of disrUptIOn: What’s up with the mashup?

You can tell by the title that this wasn’t your normal conference presentation!

Peterson and Johnson discussed the radical and disruptive change that we are experiencing in society and business, trends in coaching, impacts of exponential growth, and most important, for me as a coach, how those factors impact and influence the future of coaching.

We live in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) where things that were once certain, no longer are, and where our normal way of doing business, making products, marketing and leading are all under siege. Johnson observed that in stable environments, optimizing performance around current needs leads to success. However, in VUCA environments, it’s different. Sustainable success requires sub-optimizing current performance and investing in robust strategies that increase flexibility and adaptability to enhance future performance. In some cases, that means stepping back to grow, starting again, or approaching situations with a beginner’s mindset, something we as coaches are intimately familiar with.

Leaders understand that they need assistance in navigating the complex, challenging, and often unknown territory of the future. As a result, we’ve experienced an increased demand for coaching services. Peterson opined that we may be in the golden era of coaching, predicting radical disruption in the long term.

What will cause this disruption?

According to Peterson, there are seven drivers of disruption for the coaching industry. I’ve provided commentary and possible impacts to supplement key points made by Peterson.

  1. Self-directed learning. Leaders are increasing their learning agility. They realize that they need to be constantly learning and growing, but there is a recognition that learning does not have to be traditional or formal. Leaders will source out their own learning requirements, no longer reliant on the professionals they have engaged in the past. This includes HR professionals, leadership developers, trainers and coaches. With technology as an enabler, leaders can access more learning options than ever before and are not limited to the input of one or two people. Learning activities can occur when and where the leader desires.


  1. Everyone is a coach. Coaching can be embedded in other roles. Friends, peers, managers, and HR can all be coaches, and may, in fact, have had coach training. Programs such as ‘the leader as coach’ and ‘coaching for managers’ no longer makes the coaching relationship the purview of accredited, qualified, and trained coaches.


  1. Tools, apps, bots, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, gaming for learning and development. These technological advances can either supplement the work done by coaches OR take it over. They provide risk-free exposure to new situations and allow people to try out new behaviours in a safe environment. Leaders may use these tools to enhance their learning, and possibly might engage with a virtual coach to help them understand the experience. This will require different and more enhanced technical expertise and knowledge, as well as a shift in the definition of what a coach is. The underlying premises of how we “coach” may require fundamental revision.


  1. Performance enhancing drugs. There are products that enhance an athlete’s physical and mental performance. Some are legal, some are not. In the future, the same types of products will be available to the wider population. They will enhance memory, increase the speed of thinking processes, increase a person’s level of intelligence, and give them more energy. Maybe, even all with one product! How will coaches react to this? Will they get onboard and use the products themselves to keep up, or eschew them? What does this mean for the need for a coach? Greater or less?


  1. Physiological monitoring and real-time feedback. Biometrics, wearables, and even insertables will help leaders keep track of their stress levels and provide advice on how to adjust to experience optimal stress. These tools can even be used to monitor the audience when making presentations – noting when people are attentive or distracted, how many people are engaged, and even suggest how to change things up. David mentioned that the latter technology is already built into eyeglasses, with a small screen in one of the lenses that provide this information in real time. Given that mindfulness and stress reduction often are topics that are discussed with coaches, now you can use a device that, while it may not provide the same quality as a coach, will provide the same, or perhaps even better information.


  1. Artificial intelligence. “AI is intelligence demonstrated by machines, in contrast to the natural intelligence displayed by humans and other animals. In computer science, AI research is defined as the study of “intelligent agents”: any device that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chance of successfully achieving its goals. Colloquially, the term “artificial intelligence” is applied when a machine mimics “cognitive” functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as “learning” and “problem-solving” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence). Sounds a bit scary, doesn’t it? AI has already caused disruption to many industries. Coaching will not be an exception.


  1. Changing nature of leadership. Leaders will need to change as quickly as the world around them. Many coaches are experts on yesterday’s leadership, which does not serve their clients well. Leaders will require something different from us. Staying ahead of the curve and on top of recent developments in leadership and business will help coaches stay relevant. Skills such as visioning, strategic foresight, and learning from the future as it emerges, an Otto Scharmer concept, will become even more critical in setting direction and being effective.

Seven paths forward

Based on Peterson’s view of the new world, what do coaches need to do? How will they survive? He posits seven paths forward.

  1. Stay ahead of the market. “Solve for clients their most complex, difficult, changing needs.” Leaders are not changing as fast as the world is changing. As coaches, we need to understand their challenges and needs before they do and be prepared to help them. Stretching and challenging ourselves will help us do that with clients.


  1. Get serious about true professionalism. Some coaches have built a successful business by being good coaches. Others have created co-dependent relationships with their clients, ensuring a consistent revenue stream. Maister (1999) makes the case for always putting the client first and relentlessly seeking out new ways to add value. It is my belief that well trained, excellent coaches who are on top of their game, constantly learning and improving, are superior to a technological program or even a drug-enhanced leader.


  1. Cultivate deep insight and expertise in the art, science, and mechanisms of accelerating development. Coaches need to be more than people who ask REALLY good questions. Good questions are table stakes for our profession. Coaches need to become experts in helping leaders grow faster and perform better. What are the mechanisms to create quicker change? How does an understanding of neuroscience facilitate greater learning? Let’s not rely on the old tried and true methods without stepping outside of our comfort zone to take more risks. To coach leaders, we must model great vision and leadership ourselves.


  1. Transform transformational development. Change is a constant. Leaders will need to accelerate their development, reinvent themselves, and transform to higher levels more quickly. Normal development is 5 to 7 years per stage. Coaches will need to help compress those stages by providing transformational experiences to reduce the developmental timeline.


  1. Embrace and leverage emerging technologies. Study, learn, and adopt new technologies; how they impact the leader’s role and what might support the individual in being a better leader.


  1. Commit to reinvention or fast followership. Coaches will be challenged to keep up with the advances. It may be prudent to specialize and focus, rather than try to become knowledgeable about them all. It will be all about being role models of innovation and adaptability. Personal reinvention and transformation will be required.


  1. Create your own path to the future. Embracing one, many, or all these paths may not be enough. Predicting the future is not an exact science. Coaches who continue to be successful will be proactive, take initiative and find their own path.

The future is now

You may believe that these new developments and rapid disruption are far in the future and there is no need for concern. On the contrary, many of these disrupters already exist, are being tested, or will be developed shortly.

Clayton Christensen, the father of innovation and disruptive thinking stated: “The pattern of industry disruption is familiar. New competitors with new business models arrive; incumbents choose to ignore the new players or to flee to higher-margin activities; a disruptor whose product was once barely good enough achieves a high level of quality acceptable to the broad middle of the market, undermining the position of longtime leaders and often causing the ‘flip’ to a new basis of competition.”

To thrive in the future, coaches need to disrupt themselves, and not be complacent, using the same techniques, methods, and thinking patterns that made us successful in the past. The time to change is now.

What is your future?

I’d like to leave you with these questions:

  1. How could the disruptors discussed above, or others not yet identified, impact your coaching business?
  2. What are you doing to stay ahead of the curve?
  3. How are you continuing to add value to clients whose needs are changing on almost a daily basis?



Artificial Intelligence (ND) Wikipedia, retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artificial_intelligence) March 6, 2018.

Peterson, D. & Johnson, W. (2017). Executive Coaching on the cUsp of disrUptIOn: What’s up with the mashup?, Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare conference, Boston, MA.

Maister, D.H. (1997). True Professionalism: The Courage to Care About Your People, Your Clients, and Your Career, Touchstone, New York, N.Y.


Wilma Slenders, PhD, PCC, CMC is a highly skilled executive coach and strategic advisor with a proven success in helping leaders transform themselves and their organizations. Dr. Slenders’ blend of academic background with studies in executive coaching, trust, advising, and leadership, combined with over 25 years’ business and consulting experience, gives her with a unique perspective on the business world and the challenges that leaders face. Her leading edge research, exploring CEOs and their trusted advisor relationships, provides insights that she applies to leaders at all levels of the organization. Wilma is a past President of the International Coach Federation Calgary chapter and the Co-Lead of the ICF Coaching Science Community of Practice.