“Making sense of how we define a coaching approach – Part 3 : differentiating leaders taking a coaching approach from internal coaches” by Doug Montgomery and Laurent Terseur


In our first two blogs of this mini series we explored what it took for us as former leaders and managers to expand our existing range of styles by adding a more coaching approach, and shared what we felt were the related benefits and challenges that may be of value to others. 

In this third and last piece of the series, we compare and contrast the roles of “coaching” leaders with the role of the internal coach (and by proxy external coaches who face similar dilemmas).

We define internal coaches here, as individuals who have trained as coaches and enter into contracted coaching assignments with other members of staff within the same organisation and alongside their normal day job. 

We observe that internal coaches often start out as leaders or managers who acquire coaching skills to use in their own work, and then decide to take this further with additional training to become internal coaches. 

We see both roles delivering important value to the organisation, in different ways, and want to share our insights, drawing from our respective experiences of these two roles in different large organisations.  We have identified 4 key areas defining key differences: 

  1. Agendas
  2. Consistency of Style
  3. Systemic implications 
  4. Power in relationships 


A fundamental difference we see between the two roles relates to their respective agendas, and how they impact the boundaries for coaching conversations. 

An internal coach spends some of their time coaching other members of staff, from outside their own reporting line and function, with the focus fully on the coachee and their coaching objectives.

We experienced that internal coaching works particularly well in large organisations, where significant organisational separation between coach and coachee is available to allow the internal coach to work outside their personal areas of line responsibility, knowledge and expertise. 

We see this organisational distance as desirable and in many organisations insisted upon, as:

  • it reduces the temptation for the coach to problem solve and mentor, rather than
  • it reduces the likelihood of the coach knowing people in the coachee’s story, hence better protecting confidentiality and eliminating potential conflicts of
  • it ensures that even if they share an interest in the organisations' success, internal coaches have no direct responsibility for the coachee’s projects, objectives or development, allowing them to create and hold a safe space in which the coachee can take responsibility for their actions and choices
  • it allows to provide the coachee a safe environment in which they can speak and explore honestly and openly without fearing possible repercussions. 

From our experience this last point can be a sensitive issue for coaches whose day job stretches across the organisation should reorganisations shorten the distance between coach and coachee. e.g. Doug knows of one internal coach and HR professional, whose responsibilities were changed to work in a division in which several of her former coachees worked.

Similarly, the “coaching leader” can acquire and use coaching skills to use as a leadership style and encourage the growth and development of their team members, build the confidence and find ways of achieving business goals.  

However, the team leader using a coaching approach with their direct or indirect reports has an ongoing interaction with those in their own reporting line and function, and has responsibility for their reports' projects, objectives, performance and development. 

Therefore the leader’s agenda is structurally more conflicted than that of the internal coach, as:

  • they are not in a position to guarantee the absence of implications for the team members, as they have an influence on their performance evaluation, development and compensation, hence they have (and are perceived to have) a vested interest and investment in the individual and situation
  • they are much closer to the action, often being subject matter experts, and having accountability for the overall outcomes puts a greater burden of accountability for progress on them than on an internal coach.
  • they are likely to find it more challenging, during coaching, to be non-judgemental and fully allow their team members to be in control of their own thinking about the work and to choose ways of moving forward that are not how the leader would have done it. 
  • they are responsible for assessment and judgement of their team members performance, whereas an internal coach can keep to a non-judgmental approach at all times.

We have come across examples of all these situations.  We hear leaders who want to take up a caching style express these as fears about the approach.   An open conversation about the intention of taking a coaching approach is, in our experience, the starting point for both leader and team member to work out how they get the best out of the style and manage these potential challenges. 

Consistency of Style

The second difference we notice is in the range of styles that leaders and internal coaches are expected to use.  

The coaching leader’s role, as we have described it in a previous blogs, requires the use of a wide range of styles across the spectrum from “telling” through “advising”, “sharing” to “eliciting”, as they adopt the role of teacher, expert, consultant, visionary, manager of plans and resources, mentor, or coach depending on the circumstances. 

From our experience, understanding what style is most useful for any given situation, is key to engaging in conversations with the appropriate mind set and approach needed to achieve the most useful outcomes.  

We see a lot of room to apply the coaching attitudes of trust and curiosity more consistently across all these leadership behaviours and styles, and some coaching questions at the outset of each conversation may help the leader diagnose what style fits best the situation.   For example they could use very simple and open questions with their team members such as; “So what is it you need from me?”  Or “what specifically are you stuck with?” to shed light on what the most useful style to adopt would be."

We also learned from our experience that a shift between styles during the same conversation can be appropriate. For instance, starting by setting a clear objective and expectation is part of a manager style, which could switch to a more coaching style to elicit options for how the individual could tackle the task and what actions they will commit to.  The conversation could end with a switch back to a manager style when approving resources and arranging times to check in on progress. 

The internal coach, on the other hand, has a different relationship with their coachee to that of the leader with their team members.  That coaching relationship is usually for a fixed number of sessions over a limited period of time.  Within each session, the internal coach can be expected to be consistent in their coaching behaviour and attitude, as they remain in their coaching role throughout the relationship.  The challenge for the internal coach is not so much to choose an appropriate approach, as to avoid slipping into non coaching styles, which can cause confusion and undermine the trust the coach claims to have in the coachee’s ability to think for themselves. 

Systemic implications

Our third observation is related to the systemic context in which the leader and internal coach operate. 

1.    Collusion with the Culture

Every organisational system has a culture.  This implicit expectation of “how it is around here”, sets the norms of how people behave and what is OK to say and do and what is not OK.  As parts of the system, both internal coach and coaching leader are part of the organisation’s culture and share in these norms; often unconsciously.

Both coach and leader may therefore fail to challenge the cultural assumption that their respective coachees and team members may be making, i.e. they may be unconsciously in collusion with each other in complying with the culture and miss potentially useful options and opportunities that could add value because they challenge the status quo.   

For the leader, there is usually no support to bring these collusions into their awareness.   Whereas, in effective internal coaching programs, coaches have access to coaching supervision, in which they are able to discuss their coaching work with an experienced practitioner who may be able to notice and raise awareness of such collusion.   An example of such collusion that we have seen is where the coach who gets so caught up in the organisational business in their day job, that they do not recognise the influence of that business on their coachee.   Both coach and coachee work under the assumption that being very busy is just the way it is around here, rather than challenging whether that is really true all, or some, of the time.

Of course, this challenge of noticing collusion extend to internal supervisors, who also need to be aware of their own collusion with the coach with regards to their common system! Since working as independents and worked across a number of different organisations across a broader range of services we can see here an important advantage offered by external supervisors and external executive coaches who are independent of the system because they have a more detached view of the system and draw from these experiences combined with training in understanding systems and their traps to offer that different perspective.

2.    Impact on relationships

Organisations are composed of multiple overlapping systems (groups, departments, teams, divisions, offices, etc.) and individuals belong to many of these.  The leader and the internal coach will be influenced by and have influence and impact in the many systems they are each part of.

From our experience the internal coach’s work with their coachee:

  • has an indirect impact of significant importance on their coachees' systems through the changes and actions their coachees choose to take;
  • has a much more marginal impact on their own systems, except for the time they spend away from their normal work and location. 
  • often provides the coach with satisfaction and fulfilment that energises them for the rest of their work.
  • provides the coach with insights across the organisation as they work with people from other parts of the organisation – and are often able to see emerging trends and attitude changes across the system.  

In contrast, we observe that leaders taking a coaching approach with members of their team are likely to create a significant and multidimensional impact on their own system: 

  • by the effect of empowerment, change and actions taken by the team members being coached,
  • by creating conditions for building trusting relationships within the team, as individuals experience being trusted and asked for their opinions
  • by changing the psychological distances between themselves and different members of their team if they vary the extent of their coaching approach between the various team members. For instance, team members not experiencing for themselves the level of trust placed in their peer, may feel undervalued or excluded from a special relationship. This can adversely affect their relationship with the leader and their peers.
  • multiple coaching leaders across the organisation helps to create a more coaching culture and enables a more empowered and engaged organisation.

How much “coaching leaders” are conscious of all or part of the likely impact of their own actions and related perceptions is a key awareness challenge. This should be easier for those ‘internal coaches’ who switches back to their normal leadership role, and at the same time this raises a question about how deeply into beliefs and values the leader should go with members of their team.   This takes us into our fourth differentiator between leader and internal coach.

Power in the Relationship

Leaders, whether they understand it, like it or admit it, hold an asymmetrical power in relation to those they lead since they make or influence decisions about who does what task or opportunity, who gets rewarded, and who gets promoted – or not.   So what is the personal and psychological depth to which a leader should seek to coach a member of their team? How do they enhance the level of trust and engagement rather than damage it? 

The most common situations in which we observed leaders effectively use a coaching approach include:

  • supporting the individual to solve a work problem for themselves, 
  • supporting others to deliver a tricky task, 
  • prepare others for a new challenge or new responsibility 
  • to build the self-confidence of others in how to think for themselves about a work project or challenge.

This is essentially about business-related content or transactions, in which a personal development aspect kicks in as the individual learns that they can think about different options and be creative, and are trusted to offer suggestions and opinions, and to challenge how things are normally done.  To use the “iceberg” metaphor often used in coaching, much of a leader’s coaching approach is on the surface or at or just below the waterline.  

To go deeper under the surface and have a conversation tapping into a team member’s fundamental beliefs, values, and personal history, requires appropriate levels of trust and confidentiality (quite apart from the skills and experience) to safely work at such depth. Such personal information and insights into vulnerability and emotional triggers have the potential to skew an already unbalanced power relationship further in favour of the leader. We are not suggesting that all leaders would take advantage of such a shift, however being aware of the potential for inadvertent unintended consequences we feel is important to point out here as a forewarning.

Contrasting this with the experienced internal coach, we observe far less asymmetrical power in the relationship with their coachee who is not in their management or organisational line. We acknowledge though, that internal coaches too can still hold or be perceived to be in an unbalanced power relationships by their coachee.  The internal coach may be, for instance, in a more senior role than the coachee and therefore be perceived to know more, or to hold some influence in the organisation that may be beneficial (or detrimental) to the coachee.  Alternatively, the coachee may be more senior and may not trust the coach with relevant but sensitive business information, or personal information about themselves or other senior executives. 

In the organisations we’re aware of that have internal coaching programs, the coach training includes significant emphasis on contracting, boundaries and how sensitive personal areas will be handled. [Hawkins and Smith 2011 describe coaching contracting content and skills].   They will have looked for obvious conflicts of interest at the chemistry meeting that may require an alternative coach to be sought (in some internal coaching programs this is a formal part of the coach – coachee matching process). Less obvious but possible conflicts may have been thought about and discussed by the coach and coachee, such as how the coach will behave, should the coachee’s name come up in committees, selection boards, job appointments, etc. that the coach is party to and vice versa.

These explicit coaching agreements creates the space in which the internal coach has permission to work with the coachee’s beliefs, and is in position to challenge their thinking, where these beliefs came from, and how they are impacting the future direction the coachee wants to go in. In this way, the experienced internal coach  is able to work at a level beneath the surface of the iceberg to support the coachee’s performance and development in an equal and co-created partnership.

Summary and questions to the reader

As we bring this mini-series on leaders taking a coaching approach to a conclusion, we are excited to re-acquaint ourselves with the powerful impact on individuals and organisations that such open and engaging leaders can make. By drawing out the comparison between these coaching leaders and internal coaches, we hope to help organisations and leaders understand the different value these two roles bring. 

By considering these four aspects of the roles - agendas, consistency of style, systemic context and power balance in the relationships - we hope that leaders, coaches and those that organise the training and management of coaching programs within organisations will be even better armed to develop their internal coaching offerings with greater clarity of each role.

We would be delighted to hear about your own experience as an internal coach or as a leader using coaching approaches, so please add comments? 

  • What is your perspective on their major differences between the roles?
  • What have you noticed about the value added and challenges faced?

To connect with Doug Montgomery and/or Laurent Terseur

Hawkins, P and Smith N.  2011, Coaching, Mentoring and Organisational Consultancy; Supervision and Development, McGraw Hill Education, OUP.   pages 209 - 211

Building Companies’ Sustainability Stories: A Role for Coaching by Geoffrey Ahern


Mobilising the company’s stakeholders on behalf of full sustainability entails the development of their stories about the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is our era in which we humans have an increasingly significant influence on the Earth. 

This article/blog outlines the most common Anthropocene stakeholder stories I am aware of. They vary greatly, and can aid or hinder sustainability. I have encountered each one in stakeholder contexts, mostly amongst senior employees. There is a large background literature (for a start, see the references). As I shall describe in the section that follows, these stories are rarely ‘pure’ but get mixed up. I aim to demonstrate that employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders are already acting them out.

In sharing my approach on how to recognise and develop them, I hope that the development of Anthropocene stories can be added to coaching’s unique expertise in helping clients build their visions. As coaches at different levels – individual and team – we already do development work by interpreting what’s going on through our blends of person-centred, cognitive-behavioural, psychodynamic, existential and other approaches. Anthropocene stories add to these a focus on sustainability.

Development of the stories – the single quotes in the bullets below − seems to me to fall into three groups: 

  • Relating future ‘doom’ and ‘utopia’ − i.e. apocalyptic dreads and hopes − to reason in the present. The challenge is to channel apocalyptic energies constructively now 
  • Adding to ‘back-to-nature’ stories so they can meet organisational realities. The challenge is how glimpses of paradise at the heart of stakeholder back-to-nature personal behaviour and feeling can complement organisational complexities
  • Integrating ‘geological fatalism’, ‘the technological fix’ and ‘ecology as a development of consciousness’ into a good (i.e. sustainable) Anthropocene. This is a challenge: the insight these mindsets bring tends to be isolated

Multinational and other companies can develop their global operations through the surfacing of their stakeholder’s sustainability stories, if only through understanding better how their location varies; for example, research demonstrates that apocalypse is deeply embedded in Western but not Asian culture.

This article/blog on companies achieving conscious sustainability competence completes the previous one in the good coach (July 19) on getting to conscious incompetence (itself a considerable achievement). My earlier blogs introduced this invited series (January 11) and went on to environmental science’s ethical consequences for coaching (March 20) and individual freedom’s exclusion from ecology (May 17).

Stakeholder stories about environmental science

Doing fieldwork as a sociologist of religion (before I became an executive coach), I became very aware of how diffuse our individual stories about the world are in practice; my or your take on life is not likely to be conceptually tidy. Worldview influence at the level of the individual is often weakly signalled, latent and overlapping. But frequently occurring diffuseness can combine into powerful patterns at a cultural level (hence the notion of ‘ideal-types’), not least when cultural railways carrying ancient stories merge with recent findings from environmental science. 

It seems to me that probabilistic environmental science, once downstream of peer-review rigour, usually ceases to be science and becomes story. Thus the scientific accuracy which is necessary for us to secure the future tends to get lost.

I tend to use the term ‘story’ because it is imaginatively human. ‘Mythology’ as the word is used now –  for originally ‘mythos’ meant ‘story’ – might more exactly describe those stories which are deeply embedded, though not ‘myth’ in the sense of necessarily untrue. I avoid ‘narrative’ because it has become today’s public relations (PR) buzzword, and ‘sense-making’ because it can belittle rather than respect clients.

Much corporate PR banks on environmental science being interpreted as unscientific story. If, in contrast, companies embraced the Anthropocene, they could become a positive force for conscious sustainability competence. They already have many techniques in place for stakeholder networking and industry level collaboration.

The story themes follow. Diagnosing the implicit stories…

Relating future doom and utopia to reason in the present 

We should be careful about what we imagine.

Apocalypse has been defined as revelation in which there’s a single, final consummation in which the elect will live as a unanimous collectivity on a transformed and purified earth, while the human agents of evil will be physically annihilated or otherwise disposed of [1]. 

The ancient thought-form of apocalypse is making tracks today in the form of technological utopia and of environmental doom and gloom. This splitting of stories about the world into these two extreme opposites and projecting them into the future makes adverse circumstances bearable, but can too easily degenerate into avoiding taking reasonable responsibility in the present. 

Environmental doom 

Probabilistic scientific environmental predictions are sombre enough, but in the grip of eco-doom stakeholders add a further, mythological turn. For example, coaching clients may point to China’s huge pollution and, feeling overwhelmed and helpless, become ‘can’t do’. Ironically, this would overlook China’s hopeful side, its huge investment in clean technologies and a green future, for example through its panda-shaped solar farm for educating children http://shanghaiist.com/2017/07/04/panda-solar-farm.php.  Environmental doom collapses the ‘we can do’ approach we are familiar with into a stunned sense, outside usual historical agency, of inevitable geological disaster. Apocalypse has taken over.

There’s a danger, going beyond the salutary need to responsibly know what to avoid environmentally, that in the minds of company stakeholders – consumers, suppliers, employees etc − the capacity to act is paralysed by life imitating the annihilating images of apocalyptic disaster movies, sci-fi, literature and art. 

Ecology has been linked to doom in archetypal Western (pre-ecological) works of the imagination, for example:

  • Mark Lynas’ Six Degrees uses Dante’s architecture of eternal damnation (his Inferno) as an extended illustration of global warming
  • James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia (p.146) compares human-caused climate change to the breaking of the ropes of fate in Wagner’s Ring, the event which in the opera prepares us for the cataclysmic end of the world (Götterdämmerung)

Technological utopia

The California-based Breakthrough Institute imagines a life of abundance achieved through technology. The optimism of ‘eco-modernism’, going far beyond the 1980s neo-liberalism of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, envisages a utopia in which the environment will become an extension of mankind. This is through technological progress and acceleration, with the way there often being given a so-called Darwinian justification. For example, high-tech coaching clients might be in the grip of a belief that gene editing has no major eugenic problems. Elect eco-utopian assumptions about progress have taken over.

Eco-modernism even extends to a cybernetic fusion with biology which gives rise to a trans-human consciousness (‘singularity’). This software-inspired hubris is supposedly wonderful. It aims to transcend death without paying an all too human existential price. 

Order based on fantasy has become unrealistically split off from chaos. A narcissism indicator for this is often that realistic time-scales are replaced by magical thinking: for example, where environmental problems are forecast to be averted through the more efficient use of materials without any consideration of the speed of oncoming climate change. Or, as in the case of the cybernetic rapture of singularity, the environmental crisis may simply be ignored. Or in eco-modernist mythology, as in John’s Christian Revelation two thousand years ago, salvation may come about through the very struggle with catastrophe [2].   

The 3000-plus year tracks of apocalypse in the West

The formidableness of the apocalyptic thought-form, both doom and utopia, arises because it has been on-going in Western culture (though not Eastern) for 3000-plus years. It has gathered momentum and shaping force − in periods of great change it can be as if its imagery charismatically possesses us, dreams us:

  • The long-influential Revelation of John at the start of Christianity foretells a new heaven, a new earth. The apocalypse then and later operates through divine intervention, but in the industrial era apocalyptic mythology was also brought down to earth to manifest through history itself: in Marxism as a final withering away of the state; in Nazism as the Thousand Year Reich 
  • The apocalyptic thought-form was ancient even at the time of John. It became accessible through a branch of Judaism, through the influence on it of the dualist Persian Zoroastrian religion, and through the building up to these by developments in Near Eastern combat mythology [3]. 

Liberation from the dynamics of apocalypse

Thus apocalypse splits good and bad and projects both into the future. John’s Revelation speaks of “things which must shortly come to pass” (King James translation), and Ray Kurzweil’s singularity has a similar time-scale. The splitting of present reality and projection into the future have been explained as reactions to stress − under the persecutory Seleucid Greek and Roman empires; or through the destabilising environmental predictions of the Anthropocene.

Liberation from apocalypse would integrate these splits and projections into the present situation. Coaches are well-placed to enable this.

Beneficial influences of the apocalypse, for example, its sophisticated sense of time, can be retained while its imaginative grip on stakeholders is loosened, making more energy available for corporate sustainability ‘can-do’:

  • Emerson, a founder of environmentalism, himself understood that the veil of the apocalypse can be taken off in the here-and-now: indeed, ‘apocalypse’ originally meant uncovering
  • The transcendent ending of doom/utopia can be understood (among other interpretations) as a human drama occurring in every moment of experience

Liberation from the apocalyptic stories of some employees and other stakeholders would enable multinational companies to connect more fully with non-apocalyptic others. As a largely Western construct, apocalypse is alien to many in China and elsewhere in Asia: it differs from reasoned focus on the present in quasi-Confucian and post-Buddhist cultures [4]. 

Adding to ‘back-to-nature’ stories so they can meet organisational realities 

Many stakeholders, including coaching clients, are personally motivated to go back to nature: for example through hiking, white water rafting, keeping pets, gardening, yoga. Back-to-nature stories have become clichés in advertising: for example, linking the precision of new cars to mountain roads through rugged landscapes, or using images of baby-eyed mammals like seals (not flies!). In urban conditions there are a back-to-nature yearnings.

Companies will need to expose stakeholder back-to-nature energies to practicalities in order to harness them to sustainability innovation. Critically important issues include:

  • Responsible restraint of innovation, i.e. the ‘precautionary principle’, needing to consider the risks of not going ahead as well as those of doing so (for example, nuclear power in relation to global warming)
  • There not being enough Earth for organic farming alone to feed the vast human population
  • Restoration of wilderness having no easily identifiable point in time 

The genie of technology being already largely out of the bottle, mankind’s future might depend on new corporate ground-rules for when the stopper should be pulled out no further, or even put the genie back. This could involve a reformed capitalism with processes for agreeing slow down, acceleration, sufficiency or even re-enchantment. 

A more sophisticated back-to-nature seemingly appeals to some coaches and people developers: for example in calling for a metamorphosis supported by ground-breaking scientific discoveries as well as by tapping into ancient wisdom cultures [5].  Back-to-nature’s pantheism and mysticism − for example Spinoza and Goethean science from the West, non-dualist Vedanta and Jainism from the East – need to deploy sufficient differentiation to be capable of influencing companies and politics. Otherwise the unity of everything can justify anything, as with the Charles Manson murders. 

The hold of the back-to-nature story is partly explicable by its shaping in the era of early industrialisation. The Romantics recast Eden: Jean-Jacques Rousseau imagined his noble savage, and against the backdrop of new, grimy factories nature became sublime [6].    

Integrating ‘geological fatalism’, ‘the technological fix’ and ‘ecology as a development of consciousness’ into a sustainable Anthropocene 

I suggest below that further insightful stakeholder stories, which I shall outline, could be taken out of their isolation and integrated into the big picture of a good (I.e. sustainable) Anthropocene:

Geological fatalism

In Werner Herzog’s (2007) Antarctica documentary Encounters at the Edge of the World, participants explain the current dominance of mankind as just another evolutionary bloom in which ecological mishap is to be expected. The Earth will survive, humans are insignificant; in the light of the Earth sciences, to understand this is merely to discover what has been there all along.  

Such a ‘geological fatalism’ fails to make sufficient connection between human causation of the Anthropocene and human responsibility. No difference is perceived between human-caused extinctions today and natural processes in earlier extinctions. Educated, maybe poetically expressed, doom is somehow thought to get one off the hook of having to act. Geological fatalist employees are often clients of coaching.

Geological fatalism’s Sadean vision of the cruelty of nature contrasts with back-to-nature’s tendency to rosy sentiment, and if they are related to each other there’s potential for a more satisfying vision.

The technological fix

Reliance on technological fixes to solve environmental problems need not be utopian. It is often pragmatic, a one-dimensional decoupling of human development from natural resource use through intensifying farming, forestry, house-building, solar and wind energy storage, planning for asteroid mining etc. Sadly clients motivated by technological fix stories often do not see that sustainability solutions also involve morally considerable subjects with whole life engagement [7]. 

Ecology as a development of consciousness

A development of consciousness approach involving ecological agency, or responsibility transcending biological determinism, is a strand in much environmental thinking. Examples: the emergence of the shamanic personality through the development of consciousness; ‘ecosophy’, that is a personal worldview guiding decisions involving oneself and nature; eco-therapy; the earth awakening [8]. 

The downside is that where spiritually aware clients talk about developmental stages, other corporate stakeholders may sense elitism. It is difficult to rank human development on an ascending scale without implying that some people are more valuable than others. 

On the upside, consciousness is essential for achieving sustainability, and its development is, for some, an overall story capable of integrating apocalypse into the present, differentiating back-to-nature, adding responsibility to geological fatalism etc.

Towards each company making its own Anthropocene story

To summarise, collective motivation coming from the diversity of stakeholders is necessary for the company to be fully sustainable. Anthropocene stories of different kinds are already latently present. Through engaging with and integrating them each company has an opportunity to consciously shape its own. This will be around what is most material to its industrial, social and geographical context, crafting its particular microcosm of the planetary whole through continual dialogue.

Existing models include consumer’s concerns about the ethics of food production being addressed through consultation [9].  Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan https://www.unilever.co.uk/sustainable-living/ speaks of integrating sustainability into its brands, marketing and innovation, and of changing behaviour. Coaching may be uniquely well-placed to take the further step of motivational vision-building through enabling the surfacing of stakeholders’ sustainability stories.

Regional types of Anthropocene culture already seem to be emerging. Research in Northern European, post-Protestant cultures has linked environmental leadership to evolutionary, developmental, spiritual-unitive perspectives, including positive views about human potential, an emphasis on the internalisation of authority, and an integration of multiple modes of knowing [10]. 

As we have seen, stakeholders’ Anthropocene stories sometimes border on experiencing the sacred. In integrating its own story the company is likely to create a pragmatic platform which is acceptable to the pluralism of both revealed religions and secular outlooks. 

I wonder if what I have attempted to say here relates to the experience of other coaches.

To connect with Geoffrey Ahern

[1] Cohn, N. (2001), Cosmos, Chaos & the World to Come. The Ancient Roots of Apocalyptic Faith, 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press: 105,163,215.
[2] For the preceding on apocalypse see: in 2010 ed. S. Skrimshire, Future Ethics. Climate change and apocalyptic imagination, London: Continuum - Hulme, M. ‘Four meanings of climate change’, and Buell, F. ‘A short history of environmental apocalypse’: 21-22, 31; Danowski, D. and De Castro, E. (2017), The Ends of the World (tr. R. Nunes), Cambridge: Polity; Jonas, H. (1984), The Imperative of Responsibility. In Search of an Ethics for the Technological Age, Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 62-63; Macfarlane, R. (2016), ‘Generation Anthropocene. How humans have altered the planet forever’. The Guardian, Review pp.1-4, Saturday 02.04.16; Ridley, M. (2015), The Evolution of Everything. How Ideas Emerge, New York: Harper Collins; Desrochers, P. (2010), ‘The environmental responsibility of business is to increase its profits (by creating value within the bounds of private property rights)’, Industrial and Corporate Change, 19(1): 161-204; Pellizzoni, L. (2011), ‘Governing through disorder: neoliberal environmental governance and social theory’, Global Environmental Change 21: 795-803; Arnaldi, S, (2012), ‘The end of history and the search for perfection. Conflicting teleologies of transhumanism and (neo)liberal democracy’, in Neoliberalism and technoscience: critical assessments eds Luigi Pellizzoni and Marja Ylonen, Electronic book: Ashgate Publishing. 
[3] See Cohn, N. (2001) cited in 1 above; Hall, J. (2009), Apocalypse. From Antiquity to the Empire of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity.
[4] Hodder, A. (1989), Emerson’s Rhetoric of Revelation. Nature, the Reader and the Apocalypse Within. London: Pennsylvania Univ. Press: 24.33.71; Skrimshire, S. (2010), ‘’Eternal return of apocalypse’, Future Ethics. Climate change and apocalyptic imagination, ed. S. Skrimshire, London: Continuum: 223; Boyce, M. (1979), Zoroastrians. Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul: 84.
[5] Hutchins, G. (2015), ‘The next stage of organizational evolution’, Triple Pundit, Wednesday May 20th, www.triplepundit.com/2015/05next-stage-organizational-evolution.
[6]  Kumar, S. (2013), Soil, Soul, Society. A New Trinity for Our Time, Lewes: Leaping Hare Press; Armand, J. (2012) ‘The bringing together of technology, sustainability and ethics’, Sustainability Science 7(2): 113-116; Pellizzoni, L. and Ylonen, M. (2008), ‘Responsibility in uncertain times: an institutional perspective on precaution’, Global Environmental Politics 8(3): 51-73; Attia, P. (2013), ‘Mega-sized concerns from the nano-sized world: The intersection of nano- and environmental ethics’, Science & Engineering Ethics 19: 1007-1016.
[7]Matthews, F. (2011), ‘Towards a deeper philosophy of biomimicry’, Organisation & Environment, 24(4): 364-387.
[8] Berry, T. (1988), The Dream of the Earth, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books; Naess, A. (1989), Ecology, Community and Lifestyle. Outline of an Ecosophy. Tr. D. Rothenberg, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Jordan, M. (2009), ‘Back to Nature’, Therapy Today, April: 26-28; Russell, P. (1982) The Awakening Earth, London: Arkana.
[9] Korthals, M. (2008), ‘Ethical rooms for maneuver and their prospects vis-à-vis the current ethical food policies in Europe’, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 21(3): 249-273.
[10] Hedlund-de Witt, A. (2014), ‘The integrative worldview and its potential for sustainable societies: A qualitative exploration of the views and values of environmental leaders’, Worldviews, Culture, Religion 18(3): 191-229. 

Building my practice around self mentoring – especially when having had to self-mentor myself through some exciting challenges by Marsha Carr (guest)

Being honest with yourself as a form of self mentoring! 


When I first wrote about self-mentoring five years ago, I was just beginning an interesting journey that chose me and has been leading the way ever since. I am the developer of the practice of self-mentoring. I own the registered trademark so by business standards, it belongs to me. It belongs to me because I lived it – I used self-mentoring to survive. I now run a successful start-up that focuses on the delivery of self-mentoring to countless individuals in and outside of the United States.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Here is my story…

Those early months during my first year were instrumental in my success

“I am a survivor”. I survived my first year in a new profession, a new position, and what I perceived as a hostile environment. I not only survived it, but I was successful in finding my passion while meeting my expectations. I look back now and realize that those early months during my first year were more instrumental in my success than I ever anticipated.  How often, as a society, do we monitor the daily operations during the first several months of an incoming president in office? These are the impressionable months where opinions are developed and scrutiny surfaces. I was not a stranger to public inspection.

After serving for 30 years in public and private education, the last decade as a school superintendent in the US, I was ready for a change. During this ten-year administrative span, I served under the direction of nine different boards, and developed a strong central office administrative team. As the first female superintendent hired in the county, I worked a minimum of 80-hours per week, which included many public engagements that absorbed my weekends. I lived for my job. There was literally no time for anything outside of this routine.

As my contract came to a close, I was ready for a new role that included a decrease in work hours and less politics, something more time-manageable with added rewards and incentives. After reading a Forbes Magazine 2014 Internet poll rating a college professor as the least stressful employment position in the US, I decided upon higher education.

I packed up and moved three states away from my former residence to a warmer climate and a new culture. I swapped the North for the South. It was exhilarating. Happy to find a sanctuary from the public eye as an administrator, I wanted obscurity in my new environment. I wanted to be inconspicuous – I was going to be an invisible leader.

Reading for this new adventure

I was so ready for this new adventure that I cast aside all my years of leadership experience and saw my future only in a positive light, neglecting to recognize the imposing dark clouds that loomed in the distance.

Upon my arrival, I was greeted with smiles and warm welcomes and quickly assigned a mentor. My mentor, by all standards, was exceptional as a decorated sage with an expert track record in publishing, speaking, teaching, and research. He was funny and personable. I absolutely treasured him. However, despite my mentor’s exceptional qualifications and my past leadership experiences, there was a chasm that could not be bridged over time. As talented as my mentor was, he had been in higher education his entire career and I came from a different world, one that practically spoke a different language.

The challenge felt insurmountable at times.

Within just months of my hiring, the department chair vacated the position and for the remainder of the academic year, our department fell under the guidance of the dean who, while extremely capable and competent, was already overwhelmed with duties. And to compound the situation, I recognized shortly after my arrival that two existing factions within our small department were in silent war. One faction hired me. This angered the other faction, who then, before my arrival, attempted to thwart my final employment.

As each barrier was revealed, I wanted to become less and less visible in reaction to the turmoil of my surroundings. I was no longer in a friendly environment and I was terrified, not knowing in whom I could trust. I was suddenly alone in a foreign land. I was reminded of the scene in the movie, Titantic, when Leonardo DiCaprio was holding onto the floating headboard that kept Kate Winslet adrift and safe from the freezing waters but would inevitably contribute to his death. I was his character, Jack Dawson, and my demise was imminent. To have any chance of survival, I would have to find my own headboard if I were to persevere (or push Kate aside and take hers??).

Assessing my skills as a leader, I called upon my strengths. What skills would benefit me the most and what were the impediments?  I did what I knew best – I organized. I looked beyond my oppressing walls and called upon my prior experiences to formalize a plan.

Taking action from a position of strength

In the first semester after my arrival, I had to create two courses from scratch using an online platform of which I had no familiarity. Terrified to reach out to anyone but my mentor, whom I learned didn’t teach online and was without the means to provide assistance, I called upon university services and attended trainings during the year to ensure that I was a stronger online developer and facilitator in future courses.

To battle my inadequacies in research, I reached out to others in the field that were successful and shared my passion. I spent the year establishing an external network and resource chain to help me navigate within this new environment that was very different than I anticipated and quite foreign to my leadership training. I spent as many hours reflecting on my writing and direction as I did in the company of others who provided different perspectives and shared their wisdom.

One of my early encounters was with a veteran professor from a neighboring university who was amenable to professional conversations. Within one year, I co-authored a book under his guidance. I soon realized that I had the skills to maneuver within my environment and manage my own personal development. Still, other weaknesses surfaced. I was without departmental support, so networking opportunities with local administrators and other necessary supports that were provided to other colleagues were not available to me.

I had to create my own opportunities – no one was going to hand me anything. And so self-mentoring evolved like a phoenix from the ashes of despair.

My passion to succeed

Self-mentoring grew from a seed of necessity – my passion to succeed. My first presentation on self-mentoring was so well received that I began presenting and sharing my journey with others who were piqued with curiosity. I realized I was not alone. There were countless individuals with similar stories who felt that self-mentoring could be the headboard that Jack Dawson needed for survival.

“Individuals, attending my presentations, wanted to know how they could learn to self-mentor. At the time, I didn’t know the answer, but I was willing to explore the possibilities. I conducted a pilot study in a local, interested school district. This first study focused on a small group of volunteer teachers. The group spent a year learning about self-mentoring and implementing it under my tutelage. In turn, I was permitted to collect data, analyze the results and determine if self-mentoring was an efficacious practice. The results of the study were startling, even to me and suggested that self-mentoring increased confidence and augmented self-efficacy among teachers in and out of the classroom.  There were other influences but these remunerations were more individualized and could not be identified as established patterns without additional support. I celebrated. But I needed more evidence, so additional studies began immediately. And over the years, self-mentoring has emerged as a viable support to mentoring and coaching as well as the perfect practice for some who want to go it alone.” (excerpt from Self-Mentoring: The Invisible Leader).

So, we might ask? What exactly is self-mentoring? For technical purposes, self-mentoring is an individual of any age, profession, gender, race, or ability – YOU – willing to initiate and accept responsibility for self-development by devoting time to navigate within the culture of the environment in order to make the most of the opportunity to strengthen competencies needed to enhance job performance and career progression.

Self-mentoring is simply you ‘coaching’ yourself to achieve your goals.

There is nothing more rewarding than to believe in what you do and know that it benefits others that share your struggles and frustrations.

I love my role in life.

I give others confidence to achieve their goals. I don’t teach them how to reach their goals – I simply share a process that promotes confidence and self-efficacy. That is my gift to others! That is my gift to the world!

To connect with Marsha Carr

Marsha Carr.PNG

Marsha L. Carr serves as Interim Chair of the Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Marsha previously served as a superintendent of schools in West Virginia. Presently Carr leads research and serves as an international consultant in self-mentoring®, a leadership development program she designed and trademarked.

For her work in self-mentoring, she received the 2015 UNCW Entrepreneur Start-Up Award and the 2016 NC Coastal Entrepreneur Award for professional Service. She is the author of numerous books on self-mentoring that include, Self-Mentoring: The Invisible Leader (also in Spanish).

Marsha can be reached at carrm@uncw.edu or twitter: selfmentoring

Carr, Marsha (2015), Self-mentoringTM: The Invisible Leader, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Introducing “Leading the way into the personal knowledge bases of everyday practitioners” (Book 3 of the Translating Coaching Codes of Practice series)

What a great time to take stock, and celebrate this considerable collective achievement of the good coach community!

"...such a wide range of people and ways of practice …"
"Each article is very quick to read with a lot of ground covered!"
"This sort of openness certainly helps me think about my practice and how it works - sometimes the same, and sometimes very differently from others."
"It really opens your eyes to the big wide ranging topic coaching is about!"
"I’d like to say thank you to all these coaches who have contributed such a wealth of their thinking about their practices"
"Wow! seems very academic...!"

These are just some of the comments we've received so far since releasing Book 3, 'Leading the way into the personal knowledge bases of everyday practitioners' (of the TRANSLATING Coaching Codes of Practice series) on the 29th September 2017.  To share what's in store in Book 3, which holds and acts as a practitioner reference for over 80 written pieces by 33 authors, here is the Preface. 

The Preface


Having the opportunity to year-on-year publish a new book as part of the ‘Translating Coaching Codes of Practice’ series gives the good coach community both validation and confidence that the good coach approach is making positive headway in delivering a sustainable and robust approach that is slowly reaching its vision; to touch 1 percent of the global population with inspiring, and effective, coaching conversations. 

We believe it is only through the rich and diverse contributions from each and every coaching practitioner’s to willingly engage in and share their personal experiences of professional practice that makes this project possible. Altogether we make up the good coach community. A space for experienced, as well as mature, practitioners to individually benefit from the principles underpinning the good coach, and a place where we are all collectively contributing through the good coach to a practitioner knowledge base that serves the broader community. 

Representing the community, we bring together these individual reports and accounts from the front line of every day coaching practitioners - whether as narratives, stories, cases, and other ways of professional reporting. Collectively, they begin to provide evidence that more fairly represents the diversity of approaches that exist. Each coaching practitioner is unique, with their own patterns of behaviour that they recognise as demonstrating their codes of practice from their personal knowledge base formed from all of their experiences. 


In Book 2, Insights from the leading edges of every day practitioners, we shared an example of technological ingenuity from the field of biosciences the Human Genome Project (HGP): an ambitious international effort to sequence the three billion nucleotides within thirteen years that would revolutionize health and welfare benefits. As the research progressed, less than 3 percent of the DNA of a human genome was sequenced whilst the remaining 97 percent was labelled ‘junk’, unfortunately, by no less a molecular luminary than Francis Crick, co-discover of DNA’s double-helical structure.  The term initially suggested that there was a lot of non-relevant material, however as later studies progressed they turned out to be a long way from junk and morphed into the ENCODE project!

For the field of coaching this is a useful example of a cautionary tale. In traditional science, particularly natural science (which HGP belongs to), strict laboratory conditions and methodologies are fundamental in how they describe, predict and understand natural ‘stable’ phenomena. Their disciplines are typically supported by a knowledge base that incorporates mechanisms such as peer review and repeatability of findings to ensure the validity of scientific advances. This has reached a level of efficiency after thousands of years of debate and consensus-building.  And yet, any scientist, or expert in the field, who attempts to suggest that they’ve fully understood the phenomena and that knowledge is now complete are quickly exposed. 

In coaching, we’re still in the very early stages of articulating, identifying, understanding and appreciating which knowledge is more relevant, and directly contributes to, enabling our practice.  There is still more to learn, explore and be curious about. Setting arbitrary boundaries (or what scientists unfortunately referred to as ‘junk’) of what is considered to be the real knowledge base for coaching in this multidimensional and multifaceted world dominates coaching. This is why the good coach continues to choose to adopt an approach to ownership that is in-line with best practice for achieving real independence (similar to those traditional institutions that values independent knowledge creation). Furthermore, there are big implications for an approach that aims to respect the diversity of codes of practice of each practitioner, across a very diverse range of circumstances

Coaching is, by nature, dynamic from each moment to moment. Attempting to apply a traditional scientific approach that starts with isolating factors that can then be tested to get to some acceptable results, is ambitious. It creates a ‘superficial’ understanding of coaching, which is actually complex and messy. Instead a more open and inclusive approach is required that allows more opportunities to connect those words with (patterns of) behaviours that more accurately captures how each practitioner makes coaching work for them in their context. With time, and as recognizable patterns begin to emerge, it provides us with opportunities to start exploring, debating and building consensus as a community from a common framework. 


Translating Coaching Codes of Practice - Leading the way into the personal knowledge bases of everyday practitioners. 

An edited volume from a series of blogs first published on the good coach. 

Over thirty established practitioners (both new and regular contributors) share their insights, experiences and patterns of how they are making a difference through their coaching approach. They may be working from within an organisation - as a manager, leader, internal coach (individual, group and/or team) - or from a portfolio of service contracts with professionals (individual, group and/or team) in various organisations. 

Together with our current practitioner-authors, it has led the good coach to its most important insight, even confirmation, to date, as we can show in this publication: the leading edge in practice comes from every day practitioners who draw on their experiences and skills, whilst adapting relevant theories where appropriate, that constitutes their personal knowledge base. 

Each coaching practitioner speaks from:

  • A diversity of contexts: They work in a different context and in different locations around the world. They have developed their credibility and reputation for delivering a professionally tailored learning space that meets the objectives of other stakeholders involved in their market. 
  • Their unique Practice: They share how they are leading the way in “making it work”. Their practices are typically hard for another individual to fully replicate because they have their own words infused with their own personal meaning to talk about what they are doing. 
  • Setting their standards of practice: They demonstrate how they are leading the way in being “fit-for-practice”. This involves, in various degrees, comfortably engaging in the words used by their clients, diagnosing the individual and the situation to appropriately engage at the client’s level of readiness, a willingness to provide alternative and independent perspectives, and to ask the right questions, all whilst continuously creating and maintaining the conditions for coaching. 
  • Connecting their knowledge to others: They readily draw from their personal knowledge base that connects their living experiences with, and where appropriate, to a broad array of currently available knowledge from the wider context. The breadth of their personal knowledge base is also compelling because it suggests that the current resources for finding relevant coaching knowledge is still too simple for the realities which practitioners operate in. 


We continue to be interested in finding those patterns that may eventually lead to similarities from the realities of the diverse practice that already exist. We’re not interested in rushing to ‘a final solution’. We’re still in those early stages of learning and appreciating the unique differences between each other’s practice that’s covered sweepingly under this broad term ‘coaching’. The level of detail required to begin reaching consensus particularly around definitions amongst a small group, let alone the 1 percent of coaching practitioners the good coach is looking to engage with, makes this a long-term project. 

All the practitioners that choose to engage with the good coach are contracting to engage in a meaningful and rigorous process that helps them to continue to make sense of how they practice as they write up and report on it through the medium of a blog/blog-article. 

The idea of Blog remains essential as a form of personal written expression; to talk about their practice, to increasingly want to write about their practice in the wider context of the field, and other coaching practice as they know it.

The various parts of Practice can be reported in different ways,

  • Key events that have been important experiences that have influenced how they apply their coaching approach, 
  • Immediate situations or challenges they are facing in their current assignments, 
  • Reviewing past situations in order to improve their current and future practice, 
  • Patterns of behaviours as a result of an accumulation of learning experiences over a period of time (a month, six months, a year, even a life time). 

Importantly, it is how they describe these events-patterns through their use of ‘I’.  Each practitioner-author has a different starting point as they engage in their reporting yet what is consistent, and becomes apparent for all, is acknowledging who the real audience is for their piece. 


Writing has important advantages. For example it creates a mechanism of expression that has proven to be have important advantages for sharing; as well as an important basis for proposing and agreeing meaning for others; and to begin engaging in broader conversations that could eventually lead to building consensus. 
This process of writing is also evolving in the material our community is collecting:  

  • The initial focus: Our authors value practitioner knowledge as a means of progressing their understanding and use of coaching. That is why the first draft is for the author. 
  • The second draft is for the good coach community: Here, our central, core group of blogatorial members help to represent the good coach community and provide important editorial (blogitorial) support
  • The published version, through the good coach web site distribution, is for the much wider audiences of readers: Feedback from wider audiences again illustrates the wide range of interests in the wider community for what catches their attention. 

We have also directly received positive feedbacks from the practitioners themselves that the benefits of writing about their practice has helped them to deepen their awareness, confidence and reflection around their client work. A greater authority over their practice. A usable resource that becomes part of their portfolio and branding in client development, and most importantly it has added to their development as a practitioner. 

Moreover, it’s through the process of writing that we begin to learn more about the contexts in which coaching takes place, which is more important than the content itself. For eventually, context will be what allows practitioners to more openly compare their practices with others. the good coach encourages practitioner-authors to write about their practice and asks them to more thoroughly consider, explain and ground how their practice is formed from their experiences (some might even call this coaching coaches). And importantly, it incorporates the discipline of providing definitions, as well as revealing all those subtle and significant reciprocating behaviours that are as much as part of the conversation as the words spoken themselves. 


Curating this ‘growing’ collection of writings straight from the front lines and those published through the good coach that affords us to share some key trends from applying the good coach approach.

Book 2 referred to ‘Insights from the Leading Edges of Everyday Practitioners’. We consider there is a growing confidence in the way that Coaching practitioners are finding more coherence in their Practices. Albeit while still covering a very broad range of circumstances.

Book 3 refers to ‘Leading the way into the personal knowledge bases of everyday practitioners’. We consider the continued learning, collected from a range of materials, starts with coaching practitioners being the first to acknowledge that this is part of their Practice (and review of their ‘fitness-to-practice’). How they are making the most of their experiences in Coaching, as well as progress in establishing the territory where coaching can contribute.

We have grouped the current material into four themes:

  1. Leading Edge: Influences on Practitioner's Learning and Development
    Part 1 brings together material broadly around the subject of how Practitioners live on their own edges of continually making sense of their coaching circumstances – continually learning and developing their Practice.
  2. Cutting Edge: Investigating patterns from Practitioner Experiences
    Part 2 focuses more on the challenges of the external conditions that have to be appreciated, and how Practitioners have to marshall their experience of these immediate circumstances.
  3. Opportunities at the Competitive edge: Branding, professional development, societal needs
    Part 3 talks about how Practitioners also work to link what they are doing to a wider context.
  4. What's next: Practitioner research
    Finally, Part 4 is a collection of material where Practitioners are thinking forwards, both for themselves, as well as wider ways of connecting, researching further how to make the most of what they bring.

And we share the 8 key trends that has emerged from evolving the good coach process:

  1. Emphasis on actual practice descriptions. There is a trend towards coaching practitioners using individual examples and cases as representative of their overall approach to practice, and even the shape and identity of their practice.
  2. Detail about the actual context in a specific case as well as the wider field, with an acceptable level of disclosure to the extent that the descriptions are personal rather than over generalized.
  3. Diversity factor of how authors are increasingly unashamed in expressing their own focus rather than feeling they must conform to some approved focus in how they talk about their practice.
  4. Extraordinary diversity of material. No two coaches write about the same things because of the lens they are looking through, however, some themes are beginning to show themselves.
  5. Trend towards writing a series on their practice. They are seeing the personal benefit that far exceeds the simple marketing benefit.
  6. Coaching in an organisational context offers more support, and gets to a level of coherence that practitioners are interested in, due to the very nature of an organisation’s focus on process and output which makes process and output easier to talk about (compared to coaching individuals on a wider basis).
  7. Length. Practitioners are writing longer pieces because they are beginning to look at their practice, their practice in comparison with others, and giving more attention to some of the wider field. 
  8. References are used as a more overt inclusion of connection to the wider field that’s typically used in the traditional sense of reference to available publications in which knowledge basis is formed and some measurement of knowledge formation is possible i.e. by the no. of references to any material across the field.

Importantly, this informs us that there is a growing awareness and deepening of confidence about how much there is still to do in making the most of each coaching practice.


the good coach aims to continue developing the concept of practitioner research and make it a more accessible approach for everyday practitioners. Broadly speaking the three areas we want to carry on investigating are: 

  • The real researchers are the practitioners, themselves. The emphasis being on the practitioners themselves learning to report on their own research - their real-life experiences of applying their coaching approach in their own words - using best practices of reporting from traditional institutions where more formal research is typically carried out. Sharing those experiences through a blog or blog-article emphasizes the expression of a personal view that also consider the audience. It enables practitioners to feel freer to talk about their personal experiences from their practice, and it gives them the opportunity to write about how they view what they are doing with some depth and understanding. 
  • Practitioner research is about exploring the wide range of factors, data, and contexts that better represents the complex reality that each individual lives and works in. It’s moving out of the laboratories where isolating factors in stable and simplified conditions dominates. It’s all about having the confidence and capacity to describe, predict and understand how each practitioner’s personality has learnt to connect with others, particularly those individuals who they work better with, in their situation and context to do good coaching. 
  • Validity of practice can thus be measured through those behavioural patterns. They can typically be predicted once the practitioner is aware of how and why they are using them (cause-effect) and shown to produce fairly similar results when those same behaviours are applied across a range of contexts and individuals. Writing about practitioner experiences and observing where similar behavioural patterns emerge across them is where practitioner research really begins to inform and give shape to a practitioner’s practice, and how it compares with another coaching practitioner’s practice and the wider field of practice. 

Each practitioner continues to build their personal knowledge base, and in parallel contributes to building up a quality body of practitioner knowledge that truly represents the diversity of unique practices and leading edges of everyday practitioners. This is where we continue to believe the real knowledge lives. We just have to continue finding ways to get to it that eventually becomes reproducible by others.

Finally, if you would like to order your copy of any of the books currently available in the TRANSLATING Coaching Codes of Practice series, just click here, and purchase at our online print-on-demand, self-publishing and distribution platform Lulu.com. Or, if you are ready to share how your practice works contact us now.

The idea of a coaching culture - making a start on establishing coaching as a part of how the organisation works by Sarah Kivlin (guest)

1. My developing interest around coaching in organisations

I’ve wanted coaching to be recognised as a viable way of developing people in this organisation for several years.

I have now started a definite plan for this, and it is a great opportunity to use ‘the good coach’ as an open forum for reporting, and considering how this fits into the wider picture of Coaching, and how it gets established in organisations.

I will take the opportunity, here, to outline how this is starting; and expect to then use the same approach in some short articles, to keep track of how it is going.

I have been very aware, and keep in touch, with how initiatives – based on this idea of Coaching - have started in a very wide range of other organisations. I am also aware of the challenges that can be involved in embedding Coaching as an established ‘organisational function‘ like all the other established functions. I can still remember when Personnel Management was the normal term before the change in emphasis was made to refer to people as ‘ resources!‘ i.e.  Human Resources!

Coaching has been going on a long time. It’s not a wholly new concept, but up until a short while ago it was seen primarily as remedial; something that gets done to someone if they’re not performing.

2. Early signs of important momentum 

Now, I hear CEOs talking about their coaches and sharing their experiences with other senior managers. It’s no longer being kept a secret – it’s out there and people are listening.

The trends that resulted in this shift were also happening quietly, as part of natural changes taking place over time. For example,

  • Several senior leaders retired within a couple of years of each other and with new blood came new ideas.
  • Also, came a desire to change the culture of the organisation – to make it less bureaucratic and hierarchical.
  • To encourage managers to spend more time getting to know their staff, to ask them what sort of climate they created for their people. 

3.  Appreciating the existing organisational Culture

While it is possible to get excited about movements, it is also important to appreciate that we don’t want to get rid of some of the important features of our culture that will continue to be important going forwards. Even though they may initially seem to work against some of the ideals of the idea of Coaching.

Our organisation has a substantial history, over many many decades, with long links to a world renowned educational body. Proud of its heritage, the organisation takes its reputation extremely seriously and, as such, is relatively risk-averse. The culture tends to be bureaucratic and hierarchical. 

Some areas of our business are heavily regulated and there are limited solutions to problems, therefore a coaching approach seems artificial and, often unrealistic. This environment can cause some managers to believe they should always have the answers, which, in turn stops them asking questions. Part of our strategy is to open minds and show managers how liberating it can be to help their people find their own answers. There is a push to become less bureaucratic and hierarchical and many of the HR initiatives are designed to contribute to that shift. 

Our organisation has always invested heavily in people development but there has been a substantial increase in that investment and, in particular, leadership development. Part of that has been greater use of coaching as an approach. At last coaching has become well and truly on the agenda. 

4. Starting with my own role

a) The HR context

The HR leader is already a qualified coach and a great ambassador for the development of our managers so that they have the confidence as well as the skills needed to have coaching conversations. 

We don’t want them to put themselves under pressure to become coaches, instead our approach is to encourage them to ask more questions and do less telling. For some of them, a consultative style is more natural which makes for an easier transition. 

For others, it’s a long journey from the solution-finding, “just do it” style they’re used to; either from a reportee perspective and/or a management one to a coaching style. 

b) My particular role

My role has been for some time in training and development, generally. So I already have an established portfolio, and network.

I have been able to start my own portfolio of Coaching assignments. This is also still very much a start and I have made important progress in establishing this.

I then moved on to considering how part of my re-designed role was to put together a strategy for developing a coaching culture in this organisation . This was a really exciting opportunity for me to focus much of my energy on a huge area of interest. 

It sounds simple, but actually ..

  • What would a coaching culture look like here? 
  • Where would the support come from? 
  • Who would be involved?

5. The Internal Coach idea as a basis for a strategy

The important factor in establishing coaching seems to depend on some straight forward factors:

  • Establishing the relevance of the special knowledge involved. This differentiates what is involved as something different from what might already happen invisibly.The type and nature of knowledge involved was a challenge in a field still evolving its articulation and consensus around what is involved.
  • Establishing a resource inside the organisation that held the capabilities and offered practical options for registering, and delivering this knowledge.
  • Again, this depended on a practical approach of finding resources who would commit to the value added  for themselves in their roles/careers – without being a special budgetary burden – given the intangibility of outputs still.
  • Design a process for bringing the two together in a practical operational formula.

6. The start – progress to date

A group of people from across the Group were convened to start working towards a coaching qualification. 

Each of them undertook 3 coaching assignments on their journey to being qualified and are turning out to be passionate advocates for coaching.

Finding people to take part in the first accredited coaching programme was easy. There was a great deal of interest in attending the set of workshops involved; and completing subsequent portfolios to achieve a recognised qualification. There was also much enthusiasm to take on the three coaching assignments required to achieve the qualification and, going forward, each internal coach agreed to coach at least three people per year. 

The key process involved

Although this technical start was important, momentum has been really established by continuing dialogue among this group.

We get together regularly in group supervision sessions to support each other and share any challenges that we’re facing in our coaching relationships. In an organisation where the prominent management style is more authoritative than coaching we have much to discuss and work through, for example:

  • We share stories; successes, challenges and what ifs? I notice the different styles and personalities emerging; the contribution each coach makes to their colleagues’ learning in those sessions is invaluable. 
  • We’ve discussed boundaries and whether we keep coachees to work-based issues or whether we coach on more personal topics. The consensus was that it’s important to work with the whole person and that one area of their lives is likely to impact on others. 
  • We have agreed that there may be times when the coachee decides to leave the organisation and that line managers would need to accept that this might be the best option for the individual and ultimately the organisation. 
  • We’ve talked about unwilling coachees and how we could possibly find ourselves sitting with someone who didn’t know why they were there and couldn’t see the value in coaching. I shared the age-old problem in any learning and development department where managers send staff along to an event to be ‘fixed’. We’ve agreed that there needs to be some initial conversations to understand how the coachee came to be presented with a coach. 

All the time, that we’re honing our skills, we’re streamlining the process of coaching in the organisation. And we’re working to make it a credible proposition to managers. 

The freedom to develop personal coaching styles will come with further development as we invite other coaches to talk to us and train us in different techniques. With that will come an increase in confidence to support the development of our coaching culture.

7. What next..?

So what next? I’m getting ready to run the coaching programme again this year and accredit another group of internal coaches. This group will join our established coaching community and we’ll continue to support each other and share our experiences. 

We’ll continue to raise the awareness of coaching by running regular events; giving colleagues the opportunity to experience coaching and gain an understanding of the benefits.

However within this the key factor is still hidden - it’s my belief that every one of these internal coaches will develop their own style and they need the encouragement and freedom to be able to do that. I already see those who like the structure of models and enjoy solutions-focussed coaching. I see others as enjoying a more fluid style. Whatever the style, there will be more development for each coaches. 

8. Conclusions and next steps

I am satisfied that a good foundation has been established. It has taken time, as well as a lot of work to get this far.

I want to continue to build how Coaching works in a similar manner – providing those involved with the support and circumstances that enables the people involved to learn at an appropriate pace, and establish how it best works for them in their circumstances.

There have been a number of important lessons from even this start, and I will want to ensure these are carried forward, and developed further, as we progress towards that ultimate goal of that coaching culture.

Sarah K..jpeg

Passionate about the development of people, I have worked in the area of learning and development for over 25 years. The focus of my current role is to identify and design development opportunities to support the careers of our high potential people. I’m able to integrate two areas of particular interest; coaching and mentoring; both of which form an integral part of the organisation’s talent strategy. 

My introduction to learning and development was through my role as an IT trainer which led to my studying and qualifying in Human Resource (HR) Management. Whilst operating as an HR generalist gave me a sound insight into different organisations, people and cultures, my heart has always been in learning and development. Going back to my specialism gave me the opportunity to formulate the learning strategy in a number of organisations and establish learning and development departments in two of them. I started coaching about 15 years ago as, what seemed to me, a natural addition to my work as a facilitator in leadership and management development. I’m currently building a community of internal coaches within the organisation with a view to raising awareness of the benefits of coaching and advocating it as the default management style for our people.