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Now, Convert those Resolutions into Actionable Goals

David Rickabaugh

Every January, millions of us make “New Year’s Resolutions” with the hope of driving change in their lives… to lose weight, to save more, to drink less, to exercise more, etc.  And last month research was published sharing the sad facts about these resolutions, including that only about 9% of us succeed in achieving the outcomes we want.

They key problem here, is that a “resolution” is little more than a fantasy,  just positive thinking like prescribed by the likes of "The Secret", where we’re just supposed to believe that something good will happen. I’m a big believer in the value and power of positive emotions (more on that at in another post), but research shows that “positive thinking” alone isn’t just ineffective in helping us achieve our objectives.  It’s actually more likely to work against our achieving what we want.  

In order to achieve what we want, we need well-constructed actionable goals.

So, now that it’s February, and you’ve had a month to work on your resolutions, I challenge you to take each of your resolutions and convert them into actionable, achievable goals.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Goals: Effective, but require thought.

Actionable goals move us forward, and they are good for us. Research on “goal theory” shows that goals have an energizing function, they lead to greater efforts both behaviorally and cognitively, and they can motivate persistence toward goal achievement.  But crafting a goal so that it has these effects can present some challenges.  Consider the following five factors in goal attainment:

1.  Commitment: Do I want this?

Ask yourself these questions:  How committed to the goal are you?  Is it tied to a core value or to a larger over-arching goal?  What is the bigger outcome you are trying to achieve?

Goals without something bigger to anchor them in tend to suffer from “goal neglect” and get abandoned.  Anchor your goal in something more meaningful to you.

2. Confidence (or Self Efficacy): Can I do this?

It’s important that you feel able to actually perform the tasks to achieve the goal, and we’re not talking about discipline or habit here.  It’s about performing the tasks themselves, like knowing how to run, to construct a meal plan, etc.  If you don’t feel confident in the tasks required, find someone to train or coach you to develop the skills required.

3. Feedback: How will I know how I'm doing?

What kind of feedback will help you track your success, both in terms of effort (the behaviors required to reach your goal) and the desired outcome?  The better you measure both, depending on the goal, the more likely you will be to sustain motivation.  The good news is that there are lots of smartphone apps that will help you track habit development and goal progress.  Find one that works for you!  And don’t forget the human factor – friends and “goal buddies” can be very effective in providing positive feedback and sources of motivation.

4. Complexity: Have I broken it down enough?

It makes sense that the more complex a goal is, the more challenging it may be to achieve.  One key is to have more complex goals at the top of your “goal hierarchy” and break them down into smaller achievable goals.  Another key is to think of more complex goals as “learning” or “process” goals instead of “performance" goals — focus on the process of learning as you work your way through the complexity, not on the end result.  This essentially makes the “doing” itself the goal.

5. Action Plans: How will I actually do it?

A key difference between a resolution and a goal is that a goal has set of actions or steps to achieve it.  Break your goal down in a way that makes sense for you, that de-complexifies the effort, that enhances your commitment, and breaks it down into steps that make you feel more motivated and confident.

So, go for it.  Take one of your resolutions and make it a goal.  I bet you’ll end up in that 9% of us who actually achieve the outcome we want!

Stay tuned for more on goals through the month of February!

To Be a Successful Leader, Take Control of Your Job

David Rickabaugh

In my practice, one of the questions I am asked most frequently by my clients is "how do I get it all done?"  

Leaders are pulled in many directions: direct reports and other team members need attention and direction, peers need time for alignment, customers and partners need engagement – and family needs love and attention. And then there is the “real” work every successful leader wants to be focusing on: developing vision, devising strategy, generating thought leadership, producing content, and more.

So how do you find the time and energy to do everything expected of you?  My short answer is "You can't."  

Supporting Research

This recurring question from my clients reminded me of an article from the Harvard Business Review titled "Reclaim Your Job".  Written by two business and leadership professors in 2004, it is still critically applicable today.

The authors studied hundreds of leaders as they went about their daily work in a variety of settings over five years. What they found is that most leaders’ success is inhibited by "a deep uncertainty about acting according to their own best judgment." Rather than focusing on what they believe is the right set of priorities, 90 percent of leaders studied instead "spin their wheels doing what they presume everyone else wants them to do.” 

Despite having clear personal objectives and the knowledge required to fulfill their goals, these leaders found themselves focused instead on the expectations of others and lost sight of their own internal voice, compass, and agenda. 

The authors found that the most effective leaders in their study were purposeful, trusted their own judgment and adopted long-term, big-picture views to fulfill personal goals that align with organizational goals.

More broadly, they found that successful leaders were able to "break out of their perceived boxes, take control of their jobs, and become more productive" by managing demands, generating resources and recognizing and exploiting alternatives.

Need help?

Do you feel like you need to break out of your own box? Do you want to reclaim your internal voice, compass and agenda? My leadership development coaching can help you take control of your job, craft your organizationally-aligned agenda, and use your capabilities to drive it to completion. 

Please feel free contact me for a complimentary conversation about your challenges and how I can help.


What is Evidence-based Coaching?

David Rickabaugh


The notion of “coaching” as a method of one person helping another goes back almost two centuries when it was first used in the early 19th century to describe a tutor at Oxford University who could carry a student through an exam, and it was first used in the context of sport several decades later in 1861 (Harper, 2014), and the term has been primarily used in the context of athletics since that time.  Over the last several decades, the definition and the way we think about coaching has begun to evolve more rapidly, particularly with the rise of “evidence-based coaching” over the last decade since the First Evidence-Based Coaching Conference, which took place in July 2003 at the University of Sydney, Australia.   This essay seeks to define and understand evidence-based coaching as well as discuss the strengths and weaknesses of an evidence-based approach to coaching.

Defining Evidence-Based Coaching

In order to understand the definition of “evidence-based coaching” we first need to explore more basic definitions of coaching, and then we need to better understand what the implications of basing the practice on evidence mean. 

What is coaching?

The term “coach” originated from a name to describe a large type of carriage from the village of Kocs in Hungary, dating back to the fifteenth century (Harper, 2014).  From about 1831, as mentioned above, the term began to be applied to a person who helped another person accomplish a goal (e.g. pass an exam) or improve performance, as in sport.

Over the last century, coaching has been primarily associated with sport and athletics, but since the early 1990s the term has been used increasingly applied to improving human performance and wellbeing more generally, and the number of practitioners has multiplied dramatically.   In 1992, Whitmore (p. 18) defined coaching as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.” And several years later Hudson (1999) defined a coach as “a person who facilitates experiential learning that results in future-oriented abilities.”

Understanding ”evidence-based"

Using empirical research, based on observation or experience, as a scientific approach to guide clinical or practical applications, in medicine and psychology, for example, is not new.  Using clinical trials to justify and define medical treatments dates back at least to the 1940’s (Crofton & Mitchison, 1948), but the term “evidence based” appears to have evolved more recently, in the 1990’s in medicine (Eddy, 1990; Seshia & Young, 2013).  It appears that the rise of an evidence-based approach was about standardization and to some degree a higher degree of professionalism, moving away from a more individual practice-based approach that incorporated individual experience a consensus of group experience based on individual and group clinical practice, to an approach that also includes “the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research.” (Sackett, Rosenberg, Gray, Haynes, & Richardson, 1996)  In their paper, Sacket et al. defined evidence-based medicine as “the conscientious, explicit, and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.”

An evidence-based approach in psychology did not formally emerge until after 2000 (Bauer, 2007; Goodheart, 2005), when the APA Presidential Task Force on Evidence-Based Practice defined evidence-based psychological practice as “the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture, and preferences.” ("Evidence-based practice in psychology," 2006, p. 1)

Based on the literature from the time, it appears that the push for an evidence-based approach may have arisen from a more corporate or institutionalized approach to medicine, which demanded more evidence for clinical treatments, and it may have also been driven by the emergence and development of technologies to make broader empirical research and clinical trials more feasible and to more easily share and disseminate the results (e.g. via the internet), allowing practitioners to become more information-literate (Gibbs & Gambrill, 2002). 

It also appears that at the time, there were individuals in the professions who were accustomed to following a more and who resisted the incorporation evidence from more rigorous research and testing into their practice. But it is difficult to argue against an evidence-based approach.  Why would a profession based in the life or behavioral sciences reject such an approach, given that their fields are based on evidence gained from experience?  As long as an evidence-based approach includes both empirical data and professional experience as part of the delivery model, it is hard to argue against an evidence-based approach, because it leverages the best of both sources of professional and clinical knowledge.

Applying "evidence-based" to coaching 

Drawing from, or in alignment with, the discussions in medicine and psychology, Grant (2005, p. 7) argues that evidence-based coaching is “the intelligent and conscientious use of the best current knowledge in making decisions about how to deliver coaching to clients and in designing and teaching coaching training programs”.  This approach aligns with approaches put forward in both medicine and psychology, and is our next subject of discussion.

Why evidence-based coaching?

Over the last several decades, the field of life and workplace coaching has exploded, but with few professional standards and without any real governance.  Individuals can call themselves a “coach” without any certification or training, and they can use whatever approach they choose.  Organizations like the International Coach Federation and the Association for Coaching have emerged as interest groups and certifying bodies, but they lack the legal recognition that medical and psychological associations do.  In most developed countries people can’t legally claim to be medical doctors or psychologists unless they are certified by a professional governing body or licensing entity, but the same is not true for coaching. 

In order for coaching to mature into a credible and reliable field and proactive, we must leverage and evidence based approach, using supporting evidence from the four key domains that directly relate to coaching:  business and economic science, the behavioral sciences (including psychology and sociology), adult education, and philosophy (Grant, 2005).  An evidence-based approach to coaching is important to the field and to coaching professionals both because it adopts an informed-practitioner model (Grant, 2005) that helps coaches to better predict the outcomes of our interventions, making us more effective, and this effectiveness, in turn, enhances our credibility.

Toward an evidence-based approach

Critics of an evidence-based approach in medicine have objected because they claim the approach denigrates clinical experience, ignores patients’ values and preferences, and that it promotes a “cookbook” approach based on ivory-tower concepts (Stober, 2006, p. 4).  But these objections appear to be more based on a fear that the “art” of the practice and the personal and shared experience would be lost in clinical practice, a fear of change, and a fear of learning new skills.  But these concerns have failed to clearly justify real weaknesses in the evidence-based approach, unless, of course, practitioners become too rigid and lose site of the importance of individual and group experience as part of the equation.  And evidence-based approach doesn’t mean that everything approach must be supported by an empirical study, it just means that coaches need to make best use of the information currently available, and some of that will only exist in their own experience. 

It is understandable that coaches already in practice would react the same way, especially given the historical dearth of coaching-related literature upon which they can base their work, and based on the highly personal nature of their work.  But the available literature is growing.  Grant’s (Straus & McAlister, 2000) survey showed that there were 2-3 times more coaching-related peer-reviewed papers published in the 1990’s (41 papers) than any prior decade, and this century started off with even faster growth with 52 such papers published by 2003.  A similar but informal review of the literature using PsychINFO now shows 520 such papers published since 2000.  So it appears safe to say that both the available evidence for coaches is growing rapidly and dramatically, and that there is a growing trend toward a more evidence-based approach.

If the trend is toward an evidence-based approach in coaching, what do coaches, coaching associations, and academics need to do realize an evidence-based coaching industry?  It appears that there are 3 primary things that need to be done.  First, more training programs need to embrace the approach and train their students to use evidence-based methods.  This is beginning to happen.  Second, the coaching associations (ICF, AFC) need to include evidence-based approaches in their certifications of coach training programs (given the current state of the industry, with many coach training programs not addressing evidence based approaches, this may need to be phased in over a number of years).  And finally, more needs to be done to educate potential clients of coaching about evidence-based approaches and why it works, in order to stimulate more demand for evidence-based coaching, which will in turn, drive demand for more evidence-based education and certification programs.


Based on the discussion above, we now understand more clearly what an evidence-based approach to coaching is, what the rationale behind the approach is, and what the relative merits of the approach are.  We also have a better understanding of what the current state of evidence-based coaching is, and what steps the industry would likely need to take to more fully adopt this approach.


Bauer, R. M. (2007). Evidence-based practice in psychology: Implication for research and research training. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63(7), 685-694.

Crofton, J., & Mitchison, D. (1948). Streptomycin resistance in pulmonary tuberculosis. British Medical Journal, 2(4588), 1009.

Eddy, D. M. (1990). Practice policies: Where do they come from? JAMA, 263(9), 1265-1275. doi: 10.1001/jama.1990.03440090103036

Evidence-based practice in psychology. (2006). American Psychologist, 61(4), 271-285.

Gibbs, L., & Gambrill, E. (2002). Evidence-Based Practice: Counterarguments to Objections. Research on Social Work Practice, 12(3), 452-476. doi: 10.1177/1049731502012003007

Goodheart, C. D. (2005). Placing psychotherapy case studies within the framework of the APA evidence-based practice in psychology (EBPP) model. Pragmatic Case Studies in Psychotherapy, 1(3), 1-10. 

Grant, A. M. (2005). Evidence-based coaching, Vol 1: Theory, research and practice from the behavioural sciences. In M. Cavanagh, A. M. Grant & T. Kemp (Eds.), (2005) Evidence-based coaching, Vol 1: Theory, research and practice from the behavioural sciences x, 206 pp (pp. 7). Bowen Hills, QLD, Australia: Australian Academic Press

Harper, D. (2014). Online Etymology Dictionary.   Retrieved 23 August 2014, from

Hudson, F. M. (1999). The Handbook of Coaching: A Comprehensive Resource Guide for Managers, Executives, Consultants, and Human Resource Professionals: Wiley.
Sackett, D. L., Rosenberg, W. M. C., Gray, J. A. M., Haynes, R. B., & Richardson, W. S. (1996). Evidence based medicine: what it is and what it isn't (Vol. 312).

Seshia, S. S., & Young, G. (2013). The evidence-based medicine paradigm: Where are we 20 years later? Part 1. The Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences / Le Journal Canadien Des Sciences Neurologiques, 40(4), 465-474.

Stober, D. a. G., A (Ed.). (2006). Evidence Based Coaching Handbook. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Straus, S. E., & McAlister, F. A. (2000). Evidence-based medicine: a commentary on common criticisms. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 163(7), 837-841

Whitmore, J. (1992). Coaching for Performance. London: Nicholas Brealey.