Dr. Jennifer deCoste, President of ACT Executive Coaching

Dr. Jennifer deCoste is the President of ACT Executive Coaching, leveraging over 25 years of experience in education and leadership. With a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction / Gender Studies from Penn State University, Jennifer has excelled in roles including Senior Vice President at RW Jones Agency and Vice President for Leadership Strategies at Credo Higher Education Consulting. Her expertise spans executive coaching, strategic planning, diversity initiatives, and organizational development. A former Vice-Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer, Jennifer has a track record of driving institutional growth and fostering inclusive environments. She is passionate about empowering leaders and organizations through innovative coaching and consulting approaches.


This article presents a compelling case for adopting executive coaching in higher education leadership development. Drawing from empirical studies and practical insights, learn how executive coaching enhances leadership capabilities, fosters organizational change, and contributes to institutional success in the complex landscape of higher education. This article synthesizes evidence on behavior change, performance improvement, and return on investment while offering practical steps for implementing effective coaching programs. It serves as both an academic review and a roadmap for higher education executives looking to leverage coaching for personal and institutional advancement.

The Leadership Imperative in Higher Education

Higher education institutions are facing a distinct set of challenges in the 21st century, necessitating a unique approach to leadership development. The need to adapt to shifting student demographics, navigate technological disruptions, manage financial pressures, and meet evolving societal expectations (Altbach et al., 2019) is not just a matter of survival—it’s a call for innovative leadership. Executive coaching, a proven tool in various sectors, offers a unique promise for higher education (Cruz & Rosemond, 2017).

This article addresses three critical questions for higher education leaders:

  1. How can executive coaching transform your leadership capabilities?
  2. What tangible benefits can you and your institution expect from coaching?
  3. How can you effectively implement coaching programs in your institution?

The Transformative Impact of Executive Coaching

 Fostering Long-Lasting Behavior Change

The ability to adapt and evolve is paramount as a higher education leader. Executive coaching offers a path to not just personal growth but sustainable personal growth. A landmark study by Boyatzis et al. (1995) found that coaching led to significant behavior changes in leaders, persisting for up to two years post-intervention. Imagine the impact of continually refining your leadership approach, staying agile in the face of new challenges, and modeling adaptive behavior for your entire institution. As an action step to coaching, consider areas where you need help to make lasting changes. Executive coaching can provide the structured support required to overcome these hurdles.

Accelerating Performance Improvements

Continuous improvement is a necessity in the competitive landscape of higher education. Peterson’s studies (1993a, 1993b) have shown that targeted coaching interventions can propel performance from the 50th to the 93rd percentile. For you as a leader, this could mean a significant boost in your skills in strategic planning, resource management, or academic governance—areas that are crucial for institutional success in higher education. When considering executive coaching, identify key performance areas crucial for your role and institution. A tailored coaching program can help you excel in these specific domains.

Delivering Exceptional Return on Investment

In an era of budget constraints, every investment must be justified. The good news? Executive coaching offers an impressive return. McGovern et al. (2001) found that executives valued their coaching at 5.7 times the initial investment. Improvements spanned productivity, quality, organizational strength, and profitability—all critical for higher education institutions striving for excellence and sustainability. When considering coaching programs, factor in tangible and intangible returns. The benefits often extend beyond the initial scope, influencing your entire institution. This reassures you that your decision to invest in coaching is not only wise but also a confident step towards the future success of your institution.

Enhancing Emotional Intelligence: The Cornerstone of Effective Leadership

In the complex interpersonal landscape of higher education, your emotional intelligence (EI) can make or break your effectiveness as a leader. Goleman et al. (2002) have consistently linked EI to superior leadership strategies. Executive coaching, with its focus on self-awareness and interpersonal dynamics, is an ideal vehicle for developing this crucial skill set. Cherniss (2008) argues that leaders with high EI excel in managing diverse teams, navigating complex relationships, setting and achieving ambitious goals, and communicating with clarity and impact. These skills are invaluable in an academic environment where collaboration and transparent communication drive success. Reflect on your emotional intelligence. Are there areas where you could improve? Executive coaching can provide targeted strategies to enhance your EI, making you a more effective and empathetic leader.

Implementing Executive Coaching in Your Institution

Building a Coaching Culture

Consider fostering a coaching culture within your institution to maximize the benefits of executive coaching. Cruz and Rosemond (2017) highlight how coaching can play an integrative role in advancing higher education by supporting organizational change and fostering a teaching and learning community. Start with leadership: Demonstrate your commitment by engaging in coaching yourself. Then move to provide coaching opportunities at various levels of leadership. Incorporate coaching skills into leadership development programs. Finally, encourage peer coaching and mentoring programs as a way to sustain the coaching culture.

Selecting the Right Coaching Approach

Not all coaching is created equal. It is crucial to select an approach that aligns with your institutional culture and individual needs. Look for coaches with experience in higher education or related complex organizations. Consider a mix of internal and external coaching resources. To help ensure the coaching methodology aligns with your institutional values and goals, establish clear objectives and metrics for measuring coaching success.

Overcoming Potential Barriers

Implementing a coaching program may face some resistance. Common concerns include time constraints, skepticism about effectiveness, and budget considerations. Address these proactively by communicating the ROI and long-term benefits through pilot programs that demonstrate value. Integrate coaching into existing leadership development initiatives to maximize resources. Share success stories and testimonials from peer institutions.

Your Path to Transformative Leadership

As a higher education leader, you have the opportunity and responsibility to evolve and enhance your leadership capabilities continually. Executive coaching offers a powerful, evidence-based approach to achieving this goal. By investing in coaching, you’re not just developing yourself but laying the groundwork for a more adaptive, resilient, and successful institution.

The evidence is clear: Executive coaching can be a game-changer for higher education leadership, from sustained behavior change to tangible performance improvements and impressive ROI. As you face the complex challenges of modern academia, consider executive coaching as your strategic partner in navigating change, inspiring your team, and driving your institution toward excellence.



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