The application of artificial intelligence coaching to improve resilience in organisational middle management

Abongile Sipondo

Fellow since February 2024

Abongile Sipondo is a PhD scholar at Stellenbosch University business school in Cape Town, South Africa. His dissertation explores the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in coaching for improved resilience in middle managers. He is a leadership and executive coach with nearly 20 years of leadership experience. He has worked in senior leadership positions in the social justice sector for South African and international organisations.

Abongile’s research interests are in the fields of leadership, executive coaching, and the application of Artificial intelligence in coaching. He is particularly interested in how the application of AI in coaching can be applied by executives and other leaders to support their personal and professional development. He is also interested in how AI in coaching can contribute to democratising coaching and ensure that it is accessible to larger audiences. His other research interests include the exploration of African (Ubuntu) leadership and how this leadership philosophy can contribute towards responding to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

Abongile holds a Master of Philosophy in leadership coaching (Cum Laude) from the University of Johannesburg, a Postgraduate Diploma in Enterprise Management (Cum Laude) from Rhodes University, a Master of Laws from Columbia University in the City of New York and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of the Western Cape.

The Research Project


The current business landscape adds a level of complexity for organisations and develops pressure for leaders to find innovative approaches of leading change, while developing agile organisations (Groysberg & Abbott, 2020). In addition to the challenges facing all leadership spheres, middle managers particularly have a unique set of challenges. Middle management positions within organizations are purposely meant to be linchpin positions that serve two groups with different expectations (Gjerde & Alvesson, 2020). Amid conflicts between the organisational competing cultures is the persistent demand by top management for middle managers to perform (Hermkens & Romme, 2020). Consequently, middle managers experience workplace stress, which is associated with negative personal outcomes such as burnout, anxiety and secondary traumatic stress (Rees et al., 2015) and are often de-energized and emotionally stricken because of the overwhelming pressure (Huy, 2002). Middle managers often attempt to adapt to this volatile organisational climate through unhealthy coping methods (Visagie et al., 2016). Psychological resilience becomes a crucial personal element to assist middle managers with capacity to mitigate their workplace stressors (Madden, 2013).

The importance of resilience at work has been emphasised (King et al., 2016) and literature has increasingly acknowledged that resilience is a critical quality in a professional setting (Hartwig et al., 2020). Coaching is one method organisations have used to improve psychological resilience. Various approaches to coaching have been proven to have influence on resilience (Lawton Smith, 2017). However, due to its proven efficacy, there has been an increase in the demand for coaching in recent years and this necessitates for adding technology in the practice of coaching to allow coaching offerings to be expanded on various organisational layers and on more people in the population, thus enabling coaching to scale irrespective of location and time zone (Kanatouri, 2020).

Technologies that involve Artificial Intelligence (AI) offer great possibilities for improving the lives of people in various areas (Graßmann & Schermuly, 2021). There are various benefits that have been associated with the application of AI in coaching. As coaching is expensive, organisations might consider using AI coaching for middle managers who may have not been considered yet for coaching due to coaching’s exponential costs (Graßmann & Schermuly, 2021). However, AI coaching is still a relatively new field of study. As AI becomes widely applied, new questions about where AI can be employed successfully are raised, thereby making advancing research on the applicability of AI in organisations critical (von Krogh, 2018). Given the overview of middle managers’ challenges, resilience, coaching and the current state of AI, a question that arises is whether AI coaching could also be used to assist middle managers to enhance their psychological resilience.


Even though technologists continue to develop new artificial intelligence coaching agents, there is limited empirical research on their efficacy (Ellis-Brush, 2021). Coaching is one method organisations use to improve resilience, however, due to an increase in the demand for coaching recently as well as high costs, it has not been available to many middle managers. AI coaching is one way that can allow coaching offerings to be expanded on various organisational layers. However, using AI in coaching is a research area that is relatively new, especially in organisational coaching (Terblanche, 2020). There is currently limited research on the acceptability as well as motivation for using AI coaches (Nadarzynski et al., 2019). Further research is needed to explore the efficacy of an AI coach in assisting coachees with various issues affecting them (Terblanche, 2020), including the issue of psychological resilience of middle managers.


This study aligns with the T2PRI’s mission to develop emotionally intelligent and purposeful leaders as the study seeks to develop an AI coach that aims to assist middle managers to develop self-regulation skills as well as personal and professional effectiveness in order to improve their psychological resilience. Middle managers work in a complex and volatile environment where they are faced with great challenges and must make decisions with agility and speed. To improve their leadership effectiveness, resilience is a crucial personal element to assist middle managers to deal with these challenges.


Can an AI Coach improve psychological resilience of middle managers?