Freeing up our use of coaching! … contrasting the simple model of coaching with a more ‘open’ model for coaching by Jeremy Ridge (Guest Blogger)

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Let’s start our discussion ….  about the opportunities, and benefits, of a more ‘open’ approach to coaching; rather than just the simple –‘set piece’ model for coaching! Much of the thinking about coaching still even expects it to be behind closed doors – literally.… Is that really necessary?

Can we not just do it in the moment, whenever and wherever the opportunity arises?

First … the story of my introduction to coaching:   Coaching began for me when someone said to me ... 'Did you know that what you do is now called coaching? '

I had three responses to this ….

My first response was ... 'No problem ... I have been calling it whatever my client wants to call it …’

But it doesn't change what I do. Especially as It is always important to speak the language the other person uses ... And I have always been using all sorts of terms that describes what I do.

Now, this was in the early days of emerging 'professional bodies' - all setting out to lay claim to the territory… Like it was all new. At these times most of these bodies just had to say - ‘Send us a small sum of money and you are suddenly a member of a new - self appointed - professional body’

So not surprisingly, my second response was then to ask – ‘What did they mean by coaching?’

The answer left me quite surprised!

I was told ….  'Coaching is where you take a person into a private, and carefully controlled space, where over a number of sessions, over a number of weeks or months, you have time with them that enables you to do coaching. '

This did leave me slightly nonplussed! It appeared that coaching was more about the careful management of the physical and time conditions for the process than what you did in the space!

My third response was to understand, why this ‘simple’ set piece model was so central to the definition:

The response I received was ... 'Yes .. but we have to make what is done seem special by going to this formal separation, and special fuss about it, in order to make more about what we do as being 'special'.

And so coaching has been all about this sort of private and controlled space; and so often still continues to be separated this way.

Sometimes a controlled space is important:

For example, I might accept this when the person may be in some state of fragility. But I also thought coaching was meant for people who were in a positive and robust state already, rather than fragile.

Because it just does not appear real, to me, anyway, that the only way you can give quality attention to someone, can only be done in such restricted space.

One of my definitions of coaching is about  ….

‘Giving a quality of attention to another person ... More than what they are ever used to getting in the normal business of their lives, so that it creates an experience for them that they really value ...’

Even when you say very little... And [who] may add value by just being an opportunity, in their company, in all sorts of circumstances, for them to have space to catch up with themselves ...

How might this more open approach work in Executive Coaching?

Proper concerns for essential privacy matter …. The first thoughts that come to mind when it comes to Executive coaching are about concerns for creating the right conditions for that essential privacy – lest something is overheard and restricts freedom of expression.  We may think this is especially so in the confined space of an office – especially open plan … or working with a team of people who work together ….  

Getting out and about in the organisation… I have been invited by a lot of clients to get what I do out into the wider organisation, rather than hide it behind closed doors. Now how I do this has to be done carefully! ... However it then means I am often invited to roam, and meet a wide range of people, across all levels, in formal (e.g. meetings) as well as informally, just passing in the corridor, or the coffee point, even. Sometimes it’s even in a crowded bar after the work!

Team Coaching …. One of my typical jobs typically involves what is more often referred to as Team Coaching.  Teams can vary widely in the ways they work and connect. Sometimes they are working in different continents, and never ever meet in the same room!

This involves a much more challenging approach to the contracting and ethics involved ... But it is all there to be done. It can also very normally involve those private conversations among those involved, as well as then being with them when they are together.

Let’s recognise when the real coaching contract starts! …. The real contract is created in that moment where someone begins to respond to the quality of attention you are offering – not just when the organisation, and or the coachee sets out the formal agenda.

Multiple relationships, and the complexities involved, happen even with a single coachee ….. Even when there is just a focus on coaching with the one person, I still cannot see how the simple model should be so limited.  

Engaging with the immediate client representatives …. As soon as you engage with a single person, you are likely to have engaged already with the ' client/organisation ' through either the HR system, or through their hierarchy - their manager. And the dialogue involves them as well – even though they are often not formally up for the coaching, you are still given the opportunity to engage with them as much as anyone.

Engaging with the wider stakeholders in a person’s role in the organisation … People they have contact with as part of their everyday job … Similarly, in any coaching agenda, it involves other stakeholders directly in the conversation, or indirectly - as the coaches strives to make personal sense of themselves in the world they are in - including even their own wider world.

Sometimes this engagement with the wider stakeholders is very formally organised … For example, use of 360 feedback processes (i.e. a structured approach to gaining feedback for the coachee from people they work with … ) is one important route to stimulating coaching dialogues; and is increasingly popular.  This process can also immediately connect you directly with often a dozen or more of their colleagues; where you talk to them about their feedback to help make sense of it, and consider how best to present it.

In conclusion … I am suggesting that we may have more opportunities to use our coaching than we might realise. It can be at any time, with any person.

This doesn’t mean every time with every person – because there is still something about having the right conditions in place! That’s another topic!

I believe this sort of wider view already makes sense to a lot of people I meet and work with in the field. Does it make sense to you!?

This could be important as it really opens up much wider scope for the way we can use opportunities for coaching than in just that restricted space.

We can accept there will always be a place for the simple model of coaching. But can we also begin to appreciate the need to think more widely  - the more ‘open’ model for how coaching can contribute

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