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Enhancing clients’ self-awareness is a catalyst for change and growth

As Wisdom Weaver Dr. Ellen Van Oosten explains, “the central premise [of] coaching is fundamentally about change.” The coaching relationship offers unique tools to guide clients through self-reflection and define personalized growth.


Change can be difficult for coaching clients to embrace


Self-acceptance enhances a client’s self-awareness


Coaches can help clients take ownership of their aspirations

Wisdom Weavers

The coaching relationship offers new perspectives and builds confidence

Using the foundation of change in coaching as a guiding principle, Wisdom Weaver Dr. Ellen Van Oosten measures “change at three levels: the ideal self, the real self, and the relationship.” Specifically, Ellen discusses the value of “self-awareness and self-insight around a person’s sense of their ideal self-core values: purpose, identity, personal vision being elements of those real-selves.”

Ellen explains that the “discovery of awareness and insight around strengths and struggles, as well as actions and behaviors [i.e.] what a person is demonstrating or seeking to demonstrate, would come underneath [the real-self] umbrella.”

Finally, relationships are “salient and central to a person’s ability to change. We’re curious about the presence of a relationship and the quality of it.” These views provide “a jumping-off point to consider both the ideal self into real self, certainly as starting points but not limited to that,” says Ellen. 

Ellen’s research is aimed at understanding how work experiences shape identity: “Dumi Dar is one of our doctoral students, and he is doing his dissertation on the effect of work experience on shaping the ideal self of individuals over time.”

Self-acceptance is a key first step for women

Dr. Andromachi Athanasopoulou

Wisdom Weaver Dr. Andromachi Athanasopoulou shares her research on women CEOs and the leadership journey of self-acceptance, self-development, and self-management. As women move towards positions of power, their mental outlooks must evolve to prepare themselves for new types of challenges.

Andromachi explains, “the first one is the theme of self-acceptance, and this has to do with women realizing early in their career that they really want to become leaders; they really want to pursue leadership positions. They have a sort of decision to take active ownership of their leadership ambitions, and they realize that there are a lot of trade-offs in that regard, but they are ready to accept that.”

Andromachi emphasizes that all women CEOs “have to go through self-acceptance in order to get to the other two themes, and that’s quite critical—it’s the first step in the process.”

The second theme is “self-development [which] has to do with how women work with themselves to identify leadership styles they feel comfortable with. And the literature talks a lot about the sort of androgynous leadership style where women compare sort of coping male behaviors. We found that actually women might sort of peak or blend aspects for male behavior leadership behaviors in their own style, but they sort of developed what we call the dynamic leadership style,” says Andromachi.

Andromachi explains the “final theme [is] the self-management theme which has to do with how women monitor careers, but also manage themselves and their demeanor and try to find a way to translate leadership in a way they feel comfortable where they can see whatever they want, they can lead and inspire people and get people to do things for them. . .in a way that they feel they are not becoming aggressive to the extent that the environment is actually responding negatively to them.”

Coaches can help clients embrace their leadership aspirations by:

  • Emphasizing the importance of self-acceptance
  • Encouraging clients to prioritize self-development
  • Helping clients monitor their careers through self-management

Research reveals a potential difference between men’s and women’s coaching needs

Wisdom Weaver Dr. Scott Taylor shares self-assessment research that illuminates key similarities and differences between men and women. New data reveal that a legacy “gender difference in terms of how they self-assess has eroded, fortunately. Men and women [now] tend to assess themselves as leaders very similarly,” says Scott. 

However, a distinction between men and women leaders remains. Scott explains,

“When asked to predict how other people experience their leadership, women will predict very differently than men. They will often see themselves and their leadership capability in similar demand, but when asked to predict how others are experiencing their leadership, whether it be peers, direct reports, bosses, customers, clients, etc., they will significantly underpredict, paired to how they self-assess, or also how they’re actually assessed by others.”

Dr. Scott Taylor

Understanding women leaders’ tendency to “underpredict” how others experience their leadership style can help coaches probe male and female leaders to better understand their self-perception. 

Coaching and the United Nations Global Goals

Effective coaching is informed by the individual nuances of the clients’ selves. The vast amount of research on the topic of self in the field of coaching highlights gender differences. This conversation is related to United Nations Global Goal 5, which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The research reveals the cracks in our society and illuminates the areas coaching can assist personal growth.

About this Convening

Forty-one Wisdom Weavers from across the globe gathered to share their thoughts and observations on Shaping the Future of Coaching across three separate Future of Coaching Convenings in September 2021. Learn more about the participants and topics covered in this Convening.

For the complete report and research recommendations, see Boyatzis, R.E., Hullinger, A., Ehasz, S.F., Harvey, J., Tassarotti, S., Gallotti, A., & Penafort, F. (2022). The grand challenge for research on the future of coaching. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. DOI: 10.1177/00218863221079937

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