Come Together: Connectedness in Executive Coaching

By Neil Jacobs and Dr. Taylere Markewich

A changing world for leadership and coaching

Executive coaching has been a growing field since the 1980s[1] becoming a $14.1 billion industry in 2024[2]. During this time, the demands and expectations on leaders have changed, in step with the evolution of society. Today’s executives are held accountable for creating organizational vision, driving innovation, shaping organizational culture, making best use of the latest technology, and engaging internal and external stakeholders. Just delivering doesn’t cut it anymore. The how of leadership often matters as much as the what.

Furthermore, modern day leaders face novel challenges and operate in a complex, ambiguous environment, stretching their capabilities and decision-making. These three headwinds are good examples of this: return to office/hybrid working[3], the end of cheap capital[4]and, of course, AI[5].

In that same vein, as leaders and practitioners in the field of executive coaching and leadership development, we are continually thinking about what’s next. We regularly ask ourselves the question, “How do our offerings need to change to ensure they meet our clients’ shifting demands and challenges?”

Evolving executive coaching

With that question in mind, over the last year we’ve been exploring what’s next in executive coaching. Through a combination of research, consultation, and experimentation, we have been making sense of:

  • Executives’ jobs-to-be-done[6]
  • Their barriers to success
  • The future for leaders and leadership
  • Leaders’ motivations for coaching
  • The value leaders derive from current coaching experiences
  • What leaders are missing  

Jobs-to-be-done, in the context of leadership, is a fundamental evaluation of the tasks leaders are trying to accomplish, the goals or objectives they are trying to achieve, and the problems they are trying to resolve. There are three main types of jobs-to-be-done, functional (the tangible outcomes), social (how leaders want to be perceived), and emotional (how leaders want to feel). Using an appreciative inquiry methodology to better understand executives’ drivers, we determined their functional, social, and emotional jobs-to-be-done.

Based on these jobs-to-be-done, we produced a coachee persona, an archetypal executive seeking coaching. The persona helped us pinpoint the needs, experiences, and goals of leaders who enter into an executive coaching engagement. The next step in our research was to identify a number of options to meet these needs and in doing so, evolve executive coaching offerings. We mapped the offerings against the Innovation Ambition Matrix,[7] dividing them into three categories:

  • Core: optimizing and enhancing existing offerings
  • Adjacent: tailoring and extending existing offerings based on changing needs
  • Transformational: new and/or radically different offerings to meet new needs or a new client base

Using a focus group format, we tested these options with recipients and commissioners of executive coaching.

A need for connection

One of our main findings from the research was the desire executives have to learn from other leaders and to develop themselves in the company of other executives, being guided by an expert coach. There is a groundswell of leaders seeking a community where they can share and validate experiences, achieve growth, and develop meaningful connections. Put simply, in an age of loneliness, leaders take immense comfort from having someone in their corner. In fact, over 71% of our sample indicated that this collective coaching approach would add value to their development beyond one-to-one coaching.

This finding is consistent with an ever-growing body of research exploring loneliness. In 2017, the then U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy declared an epidemic of loneliness. The following year, the United Kingdom introduced a world’s first, the Ministry of Loneliness headed by Tracey Crouch. Starting in 2020, the COVID pandemic thrust loneliness front and center into the global spotlight. Loneliness, as distinct from solitude (a choiceful endeavor without feeling lonely), results from perceptions of isolation or inadequate meaningful connections. We’ve all likely know what is feels like to be lonely. To quote the U.S. Surgeon General, “ isolated, invisible, and, insignificant.” We also know there is a strong association between loneliness and a range of health and well-being outcomes. Loneliness has links with increased risks of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, dementia, stroke, depression, anxiety, cognitive functioning, and premature death.[8] One startling study revealed that being socially disconnected is as bad as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.[9]

Governments are taking loneliness seriously because of the impact not just on individuals but on societies as a whole. Social connectedness, support, cohesion, and social capital (the resources to which individuals and groups have access through their social networks[10]) influence factors as far ranging as civic engagement and economic stability.

In the context of leadership and organizations, workplace connectedness is associated with higher levels of job satisfaction, employee engagement, trust, knowledge-sharing, quality of work output, innovation, and productivity. As such, it’s no surprise that companies have been dedicating more attention, time, and money to creating a sense of connection at work through their vision, strategy, values, culture, community building, leadership development, and well-being initiatives. This has been especially front of mind as organizations wrestle with post-pandemic ways of working.  

Coming full circle, all this may explain what’s underlying one of our research findings - leaders wanting a place to reflect, learn, and grow with other leaders.

Keep an eye out for our new group coaching offering, The Collective, which we’ll be launching later in the year. If you are an executive interested in group coaching, please contact Neil Jacobs or Taylere Markewich for advance information.  


[1] Sherman & Freas, “The Wild West of Executive Coaching”, HBR November 2024

[2] IBS World, “Business Coaching in the US – Market Size, Industry Analysis, Trends and Forecasts (2024-2029)” February 2024

[3]Trevor & Holweg, “Managing the Tensions of Hybrid Work”, MIT Sloan Management Review, December 2022

[4] Mankins, “Capital is Expensive Again, Now What?”, HBR March 2023

[5] Berkley ExecEd Insights, “The Future of Work & Leadership in The Age of AI”, n.d.

[6] Christensen, “The Theory of Jobs To Be Done”, Harvard Business School Working Knowledge, October 2016

[7] Nagji, B. and Tuff, G. Managing your innovation portfolio. Harvard Business Review, 2012

[8] Office of the Surgeon General. Our epidemic of loneliness and isolation. The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community, 2023

[9] Holt-Lunstad J, Robles TF, Sbarra DA. Advancing social connection as a public health priority in the United States. Am Psychol, 2017, 72(6):517-530.

[10] Moore S, Kawachi I. Twenty years of social capital and health research: a glossary. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2017;71(5):513-517