Which Individuals Benefit Most From Coaching - Ideas for Leaders
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Which Individuals Benefit Most From Coaching

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The individual personalities of coachees impact the success of coaching interventions. Individuals who are open to the new and the different, who have low self-esteem and other low core self evaluations, or who tend to set goals focused on avoiding failure are those more likely to benefit from coaching.


Personality traits can impact how well people learn. For the Big Five personality traits, for example, previous research has found that Conscientiousness, Extraversion and Openness (being open to new ideas and experiences) will enhance an individual’s learning or training experience, while Neuroticism hampers learning. The fifth personality type, Agreeableness, has in previous research shown no impact on training or learning. 

A study published in Applied Psychology focuses specifically on one-on-one coaching and the influence of individual differences on its effectiveness. The research, based on performance evaluations of the study’s participants before a series of coaching sessions and twice after the sessions (immediately and three months later), examined the correlation between four of the Big Five personality types—Agreeableness was not included—as well as two other personality characteristics:

  • Low core self-evaluations (CSEs), that is, how individuals view their self-esteem, self-efficacy, locus of control (whether circumstances are considered within or outside of one’s control) and emotional stability
  • avoid goal orientation, that is, the tendency to set goals intended to avoid failure; thus, individuals rated high in avoid goal orientation set goals focused on avoiding incompetence in relation to others; individuals rated low in avoid goal orientation, on the other hand, set goals that will help them acquire competence in relation to others. 

Underpinning the research are the unique characteristics of one-on-one coaching that differentiate coaching from group and other types of training and learning, and which can influence which personality traits are more likely to respond to coaching.

One-on-one coaching differs from other training and development programs in four ways. First, coaching is led by the coachee—that is, it is based on the coachee’s personal agenda and is tailored to the coachee’s needs and ambitions. Second, coaching is goal-focused, with goals that are set by the coachee. Third, coaches use a broad range of tools and methods, both conventional and innovative, to achieve the desired outcomes. Finally, performance improvement and learning in coaching is achieved through coachee self-reflection, facilitated by the coach.

The results of the study reveal that with these unique characteristics, coaching benefits different personalities in different ways:

  • Openness. Previous research indicates that individuals open to new ideas and new approaches gain more from learning sessions than individuals sceptical or fearful of the novel and unfamiliar. However, this study reveals that individuals with low Openness benefit more from coaching because the one-on-one attention and guidance from a coach can help these individuals overcome their fears and concerns.
  • Conscientiousness and Extraversion. Previous research links Conscientiousness and Extraversion to successful learning in all situations; the researchers expected that coaching would be equally productive for these individuals. This study, however, failed to show any positive (or negative) correlation between Conscientious or Extraversion and performance improvement after the coaching sessions. 
  • Neuroticism. Earlier research indicates that any kind of training and learning is problematic for individuals who display neurotic tendencies—that is, individuals who tend to be anxious, depressed, angry, emotional, or insecure, for example. The authors of this study expected that coaching would be different: that self-reflection would help individuals to overcome their neurotic-driven barriers. However, as with Conscientiousness and Extraversion, the results failed to show any positive or negative correlation between Neuroticism and performance improvement after coaching.
  • Low CSEs and high goal avoidance. For these individuals, group training and development sessions tend to increase their anxiety and fear. Such individuals tend to ruminate—that is, they focus on the negative, including their chances of failure. Past research has shown that individuals with high CSEs and low in avoid goal orientation benefit from both coaching and training sessions. One of the most illuminating results of this study, however, is that while individual with high CSEs and low in avoid goal orientation do benefit from learning, individuals with low CSE and high in avoid goal orientation benefit even more when that learning is presented in the format of one-on-one coaching. With the help of an individual coach, these individuals can learn to reflect rather than ruminate—that is, to focus on their strengths rather than weaknesses, and to think past the potential failures. Coaching, unlike other types of training and development methods, is best suited to overcome the traditional barriers that individuals with these personality types must battle.


This study introduces a factor that many organizations may fail to consider as they make training and development decisions for their personnel: the individual characteristics of their employees. To ensure the best return on their training and development spending, organizations should consider screening employees based on individual differences, and offer one-on-one coaching opportunities to those who exhibit low Openness - low CSEs and avoid high goal orientation. 

The study also has implications for the design of coaching interventions. At the beginning of an intervention, coaches should have an understanding of the individual characteristics of those they are about to coach. If, for example, coaches know that their coachees are low in Openness, they may begin the sessions with familiar interventions and then build up to novel or unusual methods and ideas.

Individuals who have low CSEs and avoid high goal orientation are the most likely to benefit from coaching. Coaches aware of these characteristics in those they coach will emphasize the strengths of coaching—including the personal guidance they can offer in increasing through self-reflection the self-awareness of coachees. With the help of their coaches, these individuals can develop insight into their personality, recognizing their blind spots, uncovering overlooked strengths, and challenging the self-limits that in the past inhibited them and prevented them from setting goals that increased their competence and self-esteem setting goals that increased their competence and self-esteem.



  Rebecca Jones’s profile at Henley Business School
  Stephen A. Woods’ profile at University of Liverpool
  Ying Zhou’s profile at University of Surrey
  Henley Business School Executive Education profile at IEDP


The Effects of Coachee Personality and Goal Orientation on Performance Improvement Following Coaching: A Controlled Field Experiment. Rebecca J. Jones, Stephen A. Woods, Ying Zhou. Applied Psychology (August 2019). 

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Idea conceived

August 3, 2019

Idea posted

Mar 2021
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