How Coaching is becoming an essential basis for much bigger scale interventions by Sue Young

UPDATED 26 July 2016

Post-Brexit, the themes in this blog are just as, if not more relevant, for people carrying out coaching who take it as an approach to Life, part of something bigger. I include in this the role and intrinsic value of a ‘coaching approach’ in organisations, as a way of operating.

I was inspired at the time of writing (Dec 2015)  by the positive role ‘coaching behaviours’ played in the achievement of reaching the Paris Climate Change agreement - e.g. off-line conversations where individuals were actively encouraged to fully express their concerns and were genuinely listened to. The traditionally power-disadvantaged countries were effectively led in getting their collective act together and getting their Voice heard. The result of all the hard work was achieving a real consensus. See the story of how final agreement at the Conference was reached on

I am struck now by the contrast of the negative style of communication  in the very recent Brexit campaign, resulting in fear, closed minds, defensiveness and lack of demonstrated respect for other perspectives. The negative impact on the aftermath has been a sense of polarisation, disorientation, and massive uncertainty across the entire UK population, leading to an unprecedented post-war political crisis.

A salutory reminder of the role of core coaching attributes of respect, empathy and openness, leading to the real listening that is essential to achieving consensus.

The volatile global environment we live in today requires both motivation and readiness to take on more flexible, attentive and more individualised ways of working and learning together. Organisations are already picking up on this and this article shares a number of ways this is already happening in organisations.

I describe this action as taking ‘a coaching approach’ in reality, and share 'headline' examples from my work:

  • Coaching behaviours are becoming central in some organisations to the process of strategy development, where there is a need to engage and gain contribution and leadership from a wider range of people at all levels to the process of strategic thinking and planning, both inside and outside the organisation.

  • Successful outcomes require use of a high degree coaching skills e.g. good questioning and deeper levels of listening.

  • It’s an on-going personal and organisational learning process – and this is a definite trend in the wider environment that is only going to grow in its importance!

  • Finally, making constructive use of differences to achieve a bigger goal, rather than seek to divide off the differences towards achieving smaller goals.

First posted 17th Dec 2015

I have just been watching the final speeches from the Paris Climate Change Conference and was struck by the scale of the Task and achievement. 195 countries and their representatives, the national interests, the translators, negotiators coming to an agreement, and there was a strong sense of strong personal and individual connections having been made.

Where Coaching involves special and careful use of essential behaviours:    I was also struck by the different style and attention to personal relationships conventionally untypical of such large scale international conferences. For example,

  • A real sense of handling and working with individual differences and attention been given to ensure that the voices of the traditionally weakest were heard.

  • An explicit recognition that the nature of circumstances and challenges involved are very diverse.

  • There was clear demonstrated respect, empathy and trust amongst the players at the end.

The urgent non-negotiable imperative of climate change and increasing demand from democratic nations populations, is driving use of behaviours (most of which are taking place in individual conversations in ‘safer’ space behind the scenes) that we very much associate with coaching – mutual respect, active listening, helping others articulate their perspective and rapport building between individuals with different interests and perspectives.

Seeing the scope for these special behaviours:    I see strong parallels between such large scale world events and trends I see in use of a ‘coaching approach’ in organisations. This goes way beyond the traditional coaching format of confidential one to one sessions which may be contracted for in a particular contexts, e.g. Executive, Sport, Health e.t.c.

Coaching behaviours can be a natural choice:    They have always been there as part of the interaction mix of people in a society context. The Diplomat, the local 'wise' woman or man, who is regarded as source of wise counsel, the local priest or vicar as a source of confidential 'space'. The difference today is the explicit attention to this form of interaction as an organisational behaviour, operating not only with individuals, but teams and, increasingly, as a key part of some organisational cultures.

Getting these quality behaviours into organisations is still a challenge:   Coaching has been increasing hugely in popularity in recent years - see the good coach and Yvonne Thackray's recent market trends review. Coaching skills and a coaching 'mindset’ are becoming increasingly regarded as an important part of leadership and management. The awareness is there, but the readiness, by individuals and organisations to make the adjustments required is still a major issue occupying the growing number of organisations seeking to integrate more of a coaching approach as part of their culture.

Examples of how they are beginning to become a fundamental part of wider organisation interventions:  So what is driving this wider attention to the subject of coaching, and use of such behaviours? Wide reference is made in writing and research to the impact of such factors as the pace of change, greater global connectivity, increased uncertainty and volatility. There is a greater requirement for managers to quickly learn, and to be able to do this collaboratively with a wider and more inter-dependent, complex range of stakeholders. All of this at a relentless pace. As a coaching practitioner and facilitator I hear about and work first hand with how this plays out in organisations on the ground.

So what are these still elusive coaching 'qualities' that all of these example interventions illustrate and represent as a direction in the future for coaching? There is a multitude of definitions of coaching (see How we can define coaching - 'Define It For Yourself' by Jeremy Ridge.) All of these focus in on the nature and qualities of the coaching process.

I would see the following as underpinning wider themes that define an organisational- wide 'coaching approach' moving into the future:

  • Recognising it is a continuous learning, not a simple formula approach: the recognition that there are no 'quick fix' solutions; an iterative evolving approach is required as on-going learning, both individually and collectively is going to be crucial to organisational and business success.

  • Attention to creating a learning environment: where the design and testing out of new approaches is seen as critical and individuals are actively encouraged to experiment; there is no failure but what matters is the learning we're taking forward from this experience. That is seen as the only thing that truly matters

  • Actively seeking to engage individuals, in a manner appropriate to each individual’s needs, and gaining the value of their knowledge and experience, as core to any change initiative or programme. Leaders and managers abilities to do this well is regarded and assessed as a major performance measure.

  • The ability, motivation and courage to put wider organisational priorities before a narrow more self-interested priority. Coaching capabilities and values of staying open, genuinely respecting and valuing differences, building rapport and good questioning and active listening are the skills underpinning this fundamental orientation.

  • Use of feedback e.g. 360, team reviews, and as a way of working is widely used

  • Learning is regarded as synonymous with change

  • Coaching support is available in a range of formats suited to the range of context requirements. This is regarded as an integral part of Organisational Development, Learning and business strategy, and needs to be tailored to the circumstances, stage of development and resulting needs of the organisation.

We should recognise where and how this is happening – spontaneously. In writing this, it's emerging in a way that could sound idealistic. I contend that all these elements are presently in place in different mixes in different places. There is currently a clear direction present for those with eyes to see it, if they raise their outlook to a bigger picture perspective. It requires those of us involved in coaching, in all its different manifestations, to see what we are already doing is part of something bigger.

For example, I am reminded of the ‘mindset’ power embedded in Steve Jobs comment to John Sculley. At the time Jobs was trying to entice Sculley to leave his high profile comfortably successful role in Pepsi to join Apple, then a small fringe player in the computing world

"Do you want to sell sugared water all your life, or do you want to change the world?"

We can all in coaching choose to have our own personal vision of how we see the future of coaching and take this into our practice whether we be leaders, managers, independent coaches, organisational coaches, or even just do coaching as part of what we do.

Achieving the potential coaching has to offer happens in millions of events and interactions already. Bringing these individual voices together into professional and organisational communities in a way that raises the dialogue to this bigger picture perspective will massively add to the speed of embracing all that a coaching approach is capable of achieving. I see ‘the good coach'  ( mentioned above ) as potentially one of these communities, representing what experienced coach practitioners can bring to the table to build these differences into a bigger whole. 

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