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Following up on our first post “Brexit: In the wake of the UK referendum, how important and valuable is coaching now? Have your say…” we’re really delighted to be sharing some of the views from all around the world including UK, France, Hong Kong, Germany, Netherlands, South Africa, United States.
Over 25% of tgc readers responded through surveys, one-on-one and peer conversations (both face-to-face and virtually), via email, and even a few readers/practitioners have followed up by writing their own post and even one of them making it a family affair.
Many of the tgc readers represent professionals working in a range of industries at different levels, as a permanent member of staff, or as consultants to a range of organisations. Over 70% who responded to the survey were personally 'worried’ or ‘sad’ following the results, and those who were observing from outside of the UK had some very wise words to share about democratic voting,
“We need to do what we can to foster belief in democracy WHILST at the same time making sure that undemocratic forces do NOT highjack the system. But simply not liking the result of a democratic election is not a good enough answer. I would encourage - and do encourage - everyone to go vote…”
“I would strongly push for minimizing the 'they are all racists and uneducated dumbos' reflexes and start a debate on the root cause of the issue - and the unhealthiness of our system in general, where people - like most of my clients - are on the winning straight (albeit believing that they are are also losing out) whilst the people in the north - the areas where there was a strong out vote are indeed and since MANY years suffering from actually being left behind.”
“We (Netherlands) are interdependent. Although the system has failed, it is not wise to wish for the past. This result causes a scar, a separation between the old and the young, between so much more...”
What the good coach has learnt from our readers: Our top 3 learning and reflections
- With a shrinking economy, there could be less work available because coaching isn’t seen as a high priority within organisations. Some do see opportunities to provide more specific services especially around strategic and operational coaching, and potentially collaborating with trusted peers to deliver these new deliveries to work alongside the new business cycles.
- Overall there is a strong sense of how each practitioner is offering a glimpse of their coaching approach to support their clients, individuals and/or teams, rather than offering a simple model of coaching to handle complex issues.
- A strong learning mindset is unequivocal amongst all who responded. They’ve all responded with the opportunities and potential that coaching can provide themselves, their peers and clients to make sense of all the information and chart an even more meaningful direction that’s absorbing the changing landscapes.
A sample of responses following our survey:
What do you think the impact on your practice might be?
Overwhelmingly over 90% were concerned or very concerned about the impact, and this is what some of them had to say,
“Less work; delays to projects.”
“The impact is likely to be economic - less work.”
“A cut in discretionary budgets will mean fewer contracts. Money is more likely to be spent on relocation, redundancy, consulting...”
“The search for, and roots, for the causes of why this hashappened coincide with the search for and roots of why this coaching thing matters. This was more a protest vote about something still hidden ( not what it is said to be a protest about.) Such as people lacking the wherewithal, and support, to become something that matters for themselves - compared to how they now perceive others. Previous generations were more happy with their small ' lot ' in life. But now ..... more ambitions and expectations are growing. Sounds like what coaching is about, doesn't it”
“There may be the need to support more clients in resilience and courage in order to take more risks as they navigate an uncertain future. I hope to be able to work with such people and companies and allow them to find /re-find their strengths and direction.”
"I do a lot of work for the civil service. I can see potential see more demand for confidential role support in being to safely talk about concerns and take some time to think. That's the situation now - the mind boggles about the pressures for the civil service. Mind you I worked for a department when Gove was put in charge and showed complete insensitivity to people's interests and needs. On the otherhand I can see organisations diverting resources from learning initiatives as a freeze on non-essentials takes place. I see overall the uncertainties facing organisations having a definite short term negative impact. Longer term, who knows?”
“I am in France so perhaps some expats will come back. For sure main brokers who are in the UK will see their global or UE assignments decrease andtheir will be less work coming our way from there.”
“The pound devaluing will impact my GBP income, bank charges will go up, the economic unrest in the UK will probably mean fewer international programmes being driven from the UK, UK coaches might even look more outside the UK for work...”
“Im practicing in HK but there is quite a mood shock and uncertainty here. The impact on the need raised by client on how to manage their work, projects and career in the increasing uncertainty and the irrational voters.”
“The impact of Brexit is a vivid example of complex change; I'm likely to draw on it in conversations around change.”
“Insights from complexity science..”
“Call a coach! Talk things through. Crises often provide more intense relationships - use that. Move to the level above tribal differences - be a unifier.”
“Think opportunities, not problems .... become more comfortable with your abilities to learn and progress ....Realise how this will be the real difference between people, going forwards”
“I would share that it is a natural reaction to feel uncertain and different emotions but then to focus on how to harness their energies in a positive and clear direction to find their own resilience and courage. It is critical they support their own people and keep optimistic about what they together can achieve.”
"Depends on the client. If I had a reasonable relationship I'd be prepared to be moreself disclosing. I'd seek to stimulate multiple perspectives, risk assessment, and a 'glass as half full' perspective options. It would be so dependent on the context. If the client wanted to more fully release negative feelings, I'd create that safe space that helped them fully express fears and concerns. I'd also generally feel able to share my perspectives and the evidence supporting those, while being open to and respecting different perspectives.”
“Although it is still not easy for me, I have seen many comments "OK what do we do now?" and "what type of opportunity to change the model do we have here"?”
“First and foremost - take a breath - this isdemocracy! second I would listen to them their fears and help them see where self efficacy might lie for now. third, if it does not lead to war directly - which it won't - it might have less real effect on my clients - who tend to be all rather well off than they fear. we have lived through economic recessions before.“
“Know yourself, your core value and competence. This like the compass helping you to chart your course in the midst ofthunderstorm. be more sensitive to the changes in the external environment though… something that seems distant can have an immediate impact to you.”
What would you share with our peers who are going through this uncertainty?
“Have you ever asked a question which has been as powerful as the leave/remain question has been in surfacing previously ignored or suppressed differences? If so, what was it?”
“This is an opportunity for growth”
“Although this may affect chemistry (prospects might explicitly ask your opinions; the young might regard elders with suspicion) once you're coaching, just coach. It's not about us.
Review and reflect what is it you want to achieve through coaching”
“This event could really bring forward the momentum we are building for the value to be added through the value to be brought for people through coaching. However, it will become much more important to present this value, in a manner that is really meaningful, and more incisive, which also means to the audience and even each individual, not some general statement which just coaches believe in”
“That here is an opportunity for us to walk the talk! Also for us, if we are feeling uncertain due to the 'interesting times' to reflect on our own emotional responses, to learn from them and to turn them into something positive with which to support others from a deeper state of empathy and clarity.”
"With peers, I'd be more openabout my real perspectives and challenges for coaching in particular - typical patterns with clients, any trends / patterns I saw emerging. I'd also be open to hearing others experiences. With trusted peers I would be more disclosing about my thoughts and feelings and be more open to exploring options and potential opportunities”
“To pay attention to this, thinking and translating how this would impact on their client base. this would be a good context to bring into the next session to anticipate what the client would pop up for help and be prepared to have the right coaching”
Reading what our readers have shared, I’d like to put forward an idea, even a hypothesis, “Coaching is intrinsically linked to societal development and has happened as part of, rather than an exception to the evolutionary development of any societies.”
Each relative stage of development has been slow and painful to achieve some form of stability, and what has evolved from each of those stages is an aspiration that everyone can reach their potential. Yet this is not the norm or even the social rules which each individual lives by; its more by exception. And this raises another question, how were a select group of individuals reaching their potential before there were even coaching practitioners?
Obviously, we’re using an example that’s currently happened in the UK, but I’m certain that our peers and readers will have similar examples in their nation they can quickly refer to especially when expressed something like this,
“One of the most important ideas to emerge from micro-economics - or at least, the one with the most consequences for democratic politics - is ‘loss aversion’. People hate to have things taken away from them. But whole swathes of the UK have spent the last decades feeling that things are being taken away from them: their jobs, their sense that they are head, their understanding of how the world works and their places in it. The gaps in our society have just grown too big.”
John Lanchester (Brexit Blues, London Review of Books)
And it's those gaps that we think coaching can help to bridge, or even narrow.
This event, as we shared in our first post, informs us that:
“We really do have a mandate from society to support individuals, peers and groups to find and share their voice and to be listened to, and heard in a way that offers fair opportunities for individuals to continually reach and grow their potential.”
After all, this is what we do in coaching.
And as one of our readers pointed out, “This event could really bring forward the momentum we are building for the value to be added through the value to be brought for people through coaching. However, it will become much more important to present this value, in a manner that is really meaningful, and more incisive, which also means to the audience and even each individual, not some general statement which just coaches believe in.”
The comments shared by our readers even in this short and impromptu survey has given us indicators that our approach is relevant and working towards answering this ‘value add’ of coaching by publishing practitioners blog-articles that share their personal and professional experience of doing this thing called coaching. Importantly, they provide (self) evidence and articulation of how they do what they do in their market.
We recognise that as coaching practitioners, we all do coaching and have our own coaching approach, yet the way we do it and how we achieve our experiences in coaching is unique to each of us which also makes it very hard to replicate.
It is this sort of information shared as blog-articles that are helpful because it brings the voice and experiences of practitioners, in their own words. Explicitly being able to talk about what it is that they do, and how they engage, and discovering all the different sets of language of how this is done will begin to build that practitioner knowledge base. Having access to this knowledge base and it’s following analysis, whilst limited at the start, shall provide more rigour and objectivity for delivering those coaching conversations that may then be considered of having professional standards that the market and society accept as both enhancing and protecting an individual’s freedom.
For the good coach, the result of the referendum has provided both clarity and evidence that coaching is a long-term endeavour. There are many opportunities and places for us all to practice, and to recognise (rather than compete with) all the informal and formal ways coaching is being applied. And that starts with understanding how we, as the role models, are able to reproduce the conditions and behaviours that always ensure at least 99.999% of the time produce similar positive results.
Lanchester, J., 2016. Brexit Blues. London Review of Books [Online] vol. 38 no. 15 pp. 3-6. Available from http://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n15/john-lanchester/brexit-blues [Accessed 28 August 2016].
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 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/13/paris-climate-deal-cop-diplomacy-developing-united-nations
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.
To connect with Sue Young
I would like to take the opportunity to consider the fit between training and coaching in organizations, and how this fits into my practice:
Is training different from coaching?
Is coaching just a way of doing training?
What are the differences between coaching and training?
Can coaching be used as an approach to training?
I would like to look in some detail at one project I undertook recently, as I believe it illustrates some of these issues very clearly.
1. Some of the differences along the training versus coaching continuum
There are many combinations as well as variations as to how some sort of learning/behaviour change programme can be constructed and delivered. It may be over simplifying to use the ‘PowerPoint presentation’ as the typical feature of one end of the training approach – where training is an expert lead activity, and the learning is directed by the expert.
You know when you’re on expert led training when the majority of the time is spent when:
communication is one way
the trainer creates themselves as ‘the expert‘ on the subject at hand
the expert presents instructions about what has to be learned
the learning takes place using the expert language about what is involved
the expert is also the judge about whether something has been learned
A coaching approach, however, can be very different because:
communication is open to all
the participants themselves bring with them important expertise
the expert has to be a facilitator or coach in order for the individuals in the group to be able to take the lead in the agenda
the participants’ own terms are more in evidence in the discussion
the participants are the important judges of the outcomes.
2. An example of an approach to using a Coaching Approach in Training
I shall talk through a recent project that helps to illustrate some of these differences. It is a project that helps to show this ‘coaching approach’ albeit done under the general heading of training.
We were asked to carry out a ‘training’ programme:
The project began with the central client administration contracting with me a training programme to be delivered to a group of staff. However, I was confident that the client would give me a wide scope in how I went about the project. I had worked for them before, and the results I have achieved to date have given them confidence in my approach. However, they are still more comfortable using terms such as ‘training‘– with all its implications!
How the training task was defined for us:
This is a project for a group of about 20 people – all in a particular function for a global organization, all working in the same function but in different units of the organization locally. The head of the department had requested me to intervene and see how this group could work better together - because they work separately in their units, but they also need to work together for the department.
The words ‘work better together’ are quite open, without suggesting what the detail needed to be about.
Similarly, the task was set as an event where I and a colleague, and twenty participants, all arrived at a central location and its training rooms for a two day programme.
Expectations about the way the programme would work at the beginning:
The participants, as usual, were clearly expecting some PowerPoint style presentation to start the programme. The people who had announced that this programme would take place, with bold enthusiasm, had also said something about neuroscience, et cetera.
The parties present were expecting some images of the brain, and that I was going to talk a lot about the brain, etc., etc. This was their expectation, and what they were expecting to encounter.
To counter this expectation, I started the discussion by basically saying that I had nothing to offer them, and that they should decide what is was that they wanted to take back with them.
“Very ambiguous; a very ambiguous opening.”
Reality clashes with expectations:
They were just not thinking what to do and what to ask. One of them asked, “Please tell me what is there in the menu card.” (A typical detailed programme outline)
And so I explained to them that the menu card was slight huge, and just gave them a few examples of what was possible in the menu card, and over and above the menu card. Instead we were looking to talk about what they knew, and I said, “We are going to work on the collective ideas from across the regions, and the collectivism of the group.”
At that point, I actually posed them a question, “Guys, you all have about 20 years experience plus, and are you saying that you’ve reached this point knowing nothing, right?” I continued by asking, “What is it that I can teach you? There is nothing new that I can add. I would prefer to pick up on what you already know and then put it into a frame that we can work on, and give you an insight which would add more value to them, and value to you.”
And that was the point/moment they opened up and when they then started talking about what they wanted to learn. They then landed up talking about communication. They talked about the aspects of communication that they didn’t like, such as being belittled, the lack of respect, and the lack of confidentiality, and how people formed a coalition, etc., etc.
As they were talking I just noted down their words and added them to the flip chart. Then I asked them how they would like the next two days to go? They said that they wanted to look at some ideas for working on all of these things. They wanted to have some fun and bring in some crazy ideas.
They wanted to have fun, and they wanted to learn as well.
And so, we wrote the word “fun” on the whiteboard.
We agreed that, “The next two days, will be fun.” But also at the end of the programme, they needed to define an acronym for F.U.N. There would be a lot of learning, but what they would take back with them was F.U.N. but with a very different meaning. We said, “Let’s start by looking at what that acronym might be.”
They talked about “freedom unlimited,” and moved on to talk about, “friendship united,” etc., etc. We picked up on them all and we collectively confirmed that, “This is to be the theme for the next two days, right?”
I reiterated to them that, this would indeed be what they were going to be working on. The theme being “fun” and that we were going to each bring our own knowledge, and all of us would put it together and convert it into a lot of fun-based learning.
They responded by saying, “Okay. That’s interesting.”
And then I said, “There will be a lot of questions that we will form—we will go through a process of dialoguing. I will ask some questions and you in turn will ask me questions back; that’s how we’ll exchange ideas. And we’ll continually keep records of what we learn, and then move at the end of day two towards fun.”
The entire group in the room was already bubbling with excitement. The group was geared up because they felt very respected. They felt a tremendous amount of autonomy and that there was a real conversation going on. And they knew that this was going to be more than just a fruitless exercise—we had our written agenda. I, as well as them, were just clearer on how we were going to work together which had really come about through our contracting stage. For the remaining time there would be learning. What was learned would then be converted back into a piece of knowledge, and then given back to them.
4. Working through the real agenda…
They talked about communication and various aspects of communication. They mentioned what they liked, or didn’t like such as being belittled, their dislike for being powered down, the need for transparency and the need for trust etc.
Then we asked them to start talking about examples of how that would work.
It was at this point that we said, “Let’s hold on for a minute. You guys all know each other.”
They responded by saying, “Yes, we know of each other. But some of us do not know each other.”
I said, “Okay. Now that such issues are coming out, it’s important for those people who do not know each other well to pair up and sit together for the next two days and start dialoguing with us. Therefore, an informal team will now take place.”
We moved them together, and asked them to continue on with their dialogue. As they pressed on with their dialogue, they were talking with each other and were raising those aspects of communications that they didn’t like. It caused them to feel slightly humiliated and to feel that they’re not a part of the team etc.
We captured what they wanted to focus on with regard to communication. It was not planned, but it just so happened that my colleague wrote all their negatives with a red whiteboard marker, and everything that they wanted to take back, he wrote in green.
My colleague said, “Can you look at this now and see the dangers in red and the positives might be those written in green?”
I then expanded on my colleague’s sharing, “Look at what has been captured through listening to your dialogues. Some are written in red, and the other things that you seem to need to learn are in green. What does that tell you?”
They walked around and said, “Red looks like danger and green looks something that we want to learn.”
And so, we introduced the concept of red and green. “Okay. For the next two days, we are not bothered about whether it is threat or reward. We don’t want to use any terminology. For your understanding, we’ll use the red system and the green system. We’ll continue to develop with red and green; red and green because that came from you.”
Now, everyone there understood the concept of threat and reward very clearly, and they took that with them.
We then exposed them to a small activity. We asked them to look at the communication which they we’re having: to look at the e-mail they read, and the conversations that they were currently having. How many of them were loaded with red, and how many of them were loaded with green? They were very clear that many of the communications, especially those via e-mail, were loaded with red.
We then asked them to reflect on this, “What each of you rated as red, can you also understand that it is not red on the e-mail? It is only red internally to you, just spoiling the hell you’re in, creating your own internal emotions to raise. And if you want, I can talk very, very basics about how the brain works etc. But that is not what I’m interested in. And if you want, we can throw in all the types of brain parts and tell you how they work. But it’s more the realization that it is affecting our health which is more important. And that is what we are to be selfish about.”
This began to make a lot of sense to them, and the more questions I asked the more examples started to come from them.
5. Checking how our coaching approach to training worked:
We asked them at one point in time to simply write on a sticky note how they felt the workshop was going. And they responded with, “Really nice,” and more of them wrote, “Very interactive.” One person even wrote that, “We know we have nothing to give, but we’re picking up from your knowledge, and we are building on it highly-interactively.”
The trust level from facilitating that point of view, and the level of acceptance from them that we can learn something here was shared by another participant, “I don’t need to feel threatened that there’s going to be a new training-based concept that was set up as part of the expectation. This was extremely hard for us, though it was not stated, and that was the unstated part, which really gave us that power to continue doing.”
They were really very surprised that there wasn’t any PowerPoint available, and that I was not following a typical training structure, but instead building on the things that were coming from the floor as they came up and putting them into the frame, which was extremely well-received.
We also followed through on the outputs in various ways as a way of ensuring that this session started to change the way the organization worked. We continued to get similarly positive comments as well as very highly motivated and confident feedback about how they were doing things differently, and were much better as a result.
It is interesting to see how in an international organization there is a balance between processes that are generally common in organizations, as well as emphasis on the processes that can have an important local focus.
The emphasis here was on respect and self-esteem. They became strong
themes, and support, when investigating what was going on with regard to communication among the group.
The real challenge is the confidence and skill the leader can bring to ‘letting go’ and knowing how to stimulate other participants into sharing and building appropriate leadership.
It is still more difficult to consider what this involves – which is why this exercise can be so useful.
Even if I used some of the coaching language such as the basis that neuroscience brings which I believe is very powerful, even neuroscience doesn’t tell us exactly what to do with the immediate people in the room, from moment to moment.
There are also plenty of other models around in coaching. But again, I still feel that we were working and choosing behaviours that make a difference, and which are still so ‘intuitive‘ that we need to work hard to start to express exactly how they work.
To connect with Krishna:
R Ramamurthy Krishna who brings thirty (30) years of multi industry, multinational culture experience. A Global Professional in Human Resources, A Professional Certified Coach from International Coach federation. He is the only Indian to be admitted to Association of Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision, United Kingdom.
Krishna bring a rare flavour of neuroscience to leadership having been certified by Neuroleadership institute, Australia. An active blogger, author and speaker. He is also one of the few persons in Chennai to run his own Executive Coaching School.
He held senior leadership position in Human resources in Multi National Organisation and presently engages himself as Practicing Cognitive Transformationsist and Perspective Partner with Potential Genesis HR Services LLP.
I would like to share what I think is an increasingly important experience which demonstrates how best to get coaching to work. Our abilities to turn up in a way that works for the client, rather than how it works for 'the profession’.
I have become increasingly concerned about the way that coaching (a wide and general term without a formal definition) is creating confusion and sometimes very inappropriate interventions for people. The description which I use, and more importantly which resonates with my clients’ requirements, is:
“Executive or business coaching tends to involve working with people who can be more assertive about whether something works for them.”
A recent case – the scenario
I work with a team of colleagues who often come from diverse backgrounds and skills, according to the client’s requirement. In this case, we were called because a previous intervention had failed.
The general scenario: We were working with a large senior management group who were working collectively towards merging and integrating two large organisations. The people involved were highly experienced in matters of leadership and management. These were robust organisations looking for some help due to the scale of topics, and because of their desire to get on top of the transition and getting it to work smoothly.
A previous intervention had failed
The client started by outlining what they did not want which was nothing that was too psychologically-based because there were already many psychologists in their pool. In addition, they had recently spent a week with a well-known organisation that has the reputation of representing ‘the profession’. That programme had involved intensive immersion work, every day over five days.
Our clients felt that they needed an intervention to manage the gaps they were experiencing as they went through the merger. They had received “coaching”, and that word was said a lot. At the end of the programme, a number of the team members reported feeling more confused than they were when they had arrived, “We didn’t understand what they were doing, or get an inkling of where they were going. At the end of the program we left more confused than we were at the start. Please, no more.”
The intervention was inappropriate. It was more like a training programme for a generic challenge. It did not directly deal with the specific issues they were facing as a team. “It was too psychological”.
Listen to the clients
When we went to meet with the clients, they were wary in terms of jargon words and anything to do with coaching. They were quite clear about what they didn’t want. They said:
“We are merging. We know we need guidance on certain things. Just tell us what to do in this situation. There are certain things that we are going to need to do. For example, we’re going to have to create new job descriptions. Some of our people are going to be moving. There is a lot of uncertainty around the people who are staying. We have new directors who have never been directors before. All of a sudden, they need to look confident in front of people. How are they going to do that when they themselves don’t know where their job is going to be in six months time? That’s what we want. Thank you very much.”
These were valid questions. The client wanted to know but had stated that, “We don’t really know what we need, but we know how we feel, we have valuable specialists and we need to be heard.” And, “How do we manage our team so that we are saying the same thing to our employees, rather than one person or organisation answering it one way and another person answering in another way!”
This was the environment we walked into. We were deeply honoured to be trusted so quickly with direct feedback, and we did not waste time. These valid propositions allowed us, as a team of coaches, to have that conversation. In fact, as is typical, there were a series of conversations with their people sharing what needed to be shared. The client had in their words developed “antibodies” to the label ‘coaching’, and to words specific to the field of psychology (or jargon). Therefore we worked with them in ways that left out coaching words. There was no ‘reflecting’ or use of lullaby voice, as a way of showing empathy. We supported them by fully utilising other approaches. The point being that a good coach can usually work in a way that is still psychologically-based, while minimising those cues from the client experience.
Delivering coaching in a way that works for the clients
When we came to meeting the clients, we called ourselves “organizational role consultants”. This signalled that we were not saying that we work exclusively with executives. For example, we would work with non-executive directors, or others who are not executives within the company such as consultants to the company.
An organizational role consultant begins by being many of the things that a coach is. They listen, observes and more. It is not uncommon in coaching, when dealing with people who are very, very clever, to find that they find intolerable the notion that anybody is coming along to coach them. For some, the word ‘coach’ still carries connotations that make it intolerable (contrary to the profession’s assertions). As a result, you have to be alive to a client’s sensitivities in terms of language, and mannerisms. A good coach can confidently describe their work, utilising words other than ‘coach’, particularly when there is sensitivity with the client. In this case we made no reference to psychological terms, nor did we utilise psychodynamics in any form.
But what is also worth looking at, and the clue is in the name ‘organizational role consultant’, is:
The person’s role – their formal role/job descriptive role
Then look at what it is they have to do that is explicit in the job description role, which is really the juice of what the person and team are doing.
The formal and the informal roles: One of the objectives the CEO mentioned was, “I want my senior management team to behave like senior directors because that is what I have employed them to do.” I found that the directors spent a significant amount of their time fire-fighting. The directors are all incredibly clever, but also extremely overworked. I do not know anybody at that level of seniority who is not overworked, so it was no surprise to find fire-fighting. In truth, the moment a director created a bit of space, as so perceived by the organization or others in their group, a bit more work was pushed in their direction. The question was: when would the directors find the time to stand back and consider the wider view in order to be the senior director that the CEO complained they were not being?
Working with the individual client (a typical case)
One of the directors, hitherto highly able, was more recently disabled by overwork and now at high risk of burning out because, in his words, he was not bringing his “best self to work”. We talked about his formal role, which was always morphing because the context was changing around him due to it being driven by the markets. Sadly, this is the story in many organisations.
We had a look at his current formal role, and visualised what might be happening over the next six months.
We then took a look at what his informal role entailed. These were items that were not in his job description; they were vital to job implementation but never the sorts of topics recognised, not to mention discussed during his appraisal. Yet these items took up significant amounts of his time and energy on a daily basis.
After four meetings, we contracted again. We mapped both of his roles onto a pie chart to sketch out what the allocation demands for him looked like.
The first session was a catharsis for the fellow because previously there had been no one to simply talk to and sound things out with. By the second and third meetings the director was confirming for himself many thoughts and instincts he had had but, without a sounding partner, he had not had the space to think things through, never mind articulate them. I invited him to “consider this time to be your oasis where you just come and talk.”
He was hugely relieved to become aware that there is such a thing as an informal role that is separate from the formal role. Moreover, it was something to recognise and acknowledge, even if others had not. He would take this back to work and acknowledge the informal work his teams were putting in, which he had had no name for. This was important for him because apart from the potential increase in team cohesion and productivity, he had direct experience of chiding himself for “not keeping on top of it.” His ability to now articulate his experience in a clear and structured way had made a huge difference to his own functionality.
The director is now delegating more, and deepening the succession benches by training up. He has given himself permission to step back. His second objective was to find a way of getting useful feedback. As his job had become more complex, he needed feedback about whether he was on the right track and doing a good job, particularly from the Chief Executive. Stepping back enabled him to seek this. He also found an area of work on which to focus more of his time on, because it was more meaningful for him.
What amazes me is how easy it is to give attention to the day-to-day detail, and the ramifications that has on the wider picture. Starting with adapting to the clients’ sensitivities about being coached to the many jewels that came about for the client. Being a sounding board and investigating what it means when a factor that drives us is the fear that what we do might not be good enough. We also discussed the fear of not being accepted by peers. Both of these fears were neither good nor bad.
By paying attention to them, the client had a sense that the fears lit a fire under them, which avoided complacency. They were happy to keep striving. At the same time though, focusing too much on the fears could backfire. The senior management team took what they needed from us as they headed into the new landscape with their merger. Their message to us was clear – we need first to get our own life jacket, and secondly, in service of the team and the organization, step back and be senior directors.
To connect with Toy:
I thought Professionalism was meant to be good and could be relied on… but it seems some fresh thinking is really needed. As it seems there are a number of different meanings given to the idea- representing a number of conflicting interests. Greater honesty about these interests would help. It’s an ethical thing!
1 Why it is important to me
I came into coaching when someone said to me –“Jeremy, did you know what you do is now called coaching!” I replied “… well I am well used to calling what I do by all sorts of things – driven by what the client prefers to call it.”
That was some ten years ago, now.
It then became very clear, at the time, there was quite a rush on to run the coaching flag up the pole of general attention. I thought it would be really good to establish some real authority, professionalism as I saw it, as to what this coaching thing is about.
Where is the authority to follow?
However, I have found that all that glitters is not gold, as they say!
The issue lies in the widely different meanings people bring to what they really mean by this term ‘professional’. It seems we are still to establish what would be the best, and most authoritative meaning for the use of the term –in the best interests of all.
I would like to lay out the different approaches to this term, professional, here, as a way of giving some form to where important work still needs to be done – at least before I feel fully comfortable about my use of this term 'professional!'
2 Why is professional as a term so important?
To start with, dictionary meanings are also quite open in meaning:
Worthy of or appropriate to a professional person; competent, skillful, or assured.
Engaged in a specified activity as one's main paid occupation rather than as an amateur.
A person engaged or qualified in a profession.
The attraction of using the term is that it short cuts a great deal of time and resource in checking out whether people get what they are looking for.
The central issue about the use of the term professional is the implied ‘contract’ created, and whether it is then delivered. (Contract originates as a legal term – but also can refer to mutual expectations more).
Users can benefit, as well as ‘suppliers’. It is a great idea that has been widely, and increasingly used across society in many.
It also helps people know what they need to do to be able to deliver the service involved and remain ‘professionally’, and even legally.
It can even in some instances provide assurance against challenge or complaint about services.
The issue of checks and balances where there are significant risks of self-interest are increasingly important.
And they are all still a major part of the issue when the term professional is loosely applied in Coaching.
2.1 My expectations of the use of the term – in brief
The meaning, typically taken from its use, is that the professional knows what they are doing.
They get it right all the time (not occasionally, like amateurs).
They can be fully trusted to deliver a service as required …. as specified.
They know what they don’t know, and don’t stray into this. They know where their boundaries lie for what they do.
This is a very exacting standard, and contract. The term contract makes it clear that there are potential penalties for breaking this contract.
3 Looking at the different ‘standards’ used in adopting the term professional
Surveying how it’s being applied in our field, there seem to be different standards involved in the use of the term – professional - which is ironic, as standards are what the whole thing is about! I would expect more honest attention to this standards issue.
Looking at the sources of authority, in the field at present, three large categories come first to mind. Two we know well – and the third is more in its early but important early stages, and is likely to be the force that really drives progress.
3.1 Category ONE - The self-appointed, ‘supplier,’ sources of authority:
The risk, here is conflicts of interest, where the self-interest of the suppliers does not work to the best advantage of the user. The user has little opportunity to input into the supply of the services.
a) INDIVIDUALS – with self-appointed authority as a professional Coach - may just decide to announce themselves a professional coach – typically on the basis that as they ‘earn their living’ through what they do, they must know what they are doing.
b) COMMUNITIES – of ‘like-minded’ individuals – again on a self-appointed basis.
As Gray 2010 puts it in: Journeys towards the professionalisation of coaching: dilemmas, dialogues and decisions along the global pathway,
“If coaching is to become a profession it must adopt criteria such as the development of an agreed and unified body of knowledge, professional standards and qualifications, and codes of ethics and behaviour. While some of these are already completed or in development, the continuation of a multiplicity (and growing) number of coaching associations suggests that the pathway of coaching to professionalisation may be at best bumpy, and at worst derailed.”
This has happened in Coaching where numerous bodies have created themselves, or appointed themselves as experts in Coaching. They create a basis for ‘registering’ people – but on terms they have given authority to by themselves. (See Yvonne Thackray’s blog: Culture driven from the centre: Comparing two coaching bodies who compares this approach)
This can be seen also by ‘Training organisations’ … Anyone can offer a quick two day course, with the award of accreditation. Furthermore, it was raised in a recent paper by Maltbia et al (2014) the lack of empirical validity of the core competences and the conflict of interest between certifying coach training schools and accrediting its members threatens its credibility.
It can also be seen in other ‘knowledge oriented’ communities which may see their perspective adding an edge to their members in the field. For example, Psychology and Psychotherapy/Counselling have both adopted the coaching term in relation to their mainstream professional position by starting ‘Coaching Divisions’.
The lack of agreement for where authority lies across this major diversity of claims speaks even more to the real risk of conflict of narrow interest.
It is remarkable how little serious collaboration of substance there is yet across all these bodies.
In medicine, as an example of a more mature area for ‘professionalism’ that may be worthy of role-modelling, a recent review saw more issues ahead in considerable detail.
Haffert and Castellani 2010 identified 10 key aspects of medical work (altruism, autonomy, commercialism, personal morality, interpersonal competence, lifestyle, professional dominance, social justice, social contract, and technical competence) and then arranged these within different clusters to identify seven types of professionalism: Nostalgic /Entrepreneurial /Academic /Lifestyle /Empirical /Unreflective /activist.
“Traditional definitions of professionalism, within both medicine and sociology, have identified professional dominance as key to medicine’s professional status …. Nonetheless, a top-down hierarchical model of work (as reflected in the professional dominance model) no longer seems to capture these complexities— even as the underlying complexity of medical work, the uncertainties of knowledge and its application to patient care, and the tremendous variabilities that exist with the patient population continue to demand some measure of individual expertise and discretionary decision making. … How organized medicine responds to the problems of internal integration (e.g., increasing subspecialization) and to the challenges of external adaptation (e.g., the buyer’s revolt) will have a great deal to say about the nature and sustainability of medical professionalism in the future. Traditional conceptions of what it means to be a professional—as a stand-alone entity—are neither systematically realistic nor ultimately sustainable. Like it or not, we remain awash in a sea of complexities”.
3.2 CATEGORY 2 - ‘independently’ appointed Nation /State and or International authority
This Category brings some independence to the checks and balances. However, the disadvantage is that there will be a lack of knowledge for what is involved in practice, and an excessive over- reliance on exacting procedure, rather than inclusion of the substance that matters.
The UK ‘Chartered’ designation is an example, here. The professional Body granted the use of this (UK) controlled term actually cedes authority for its works to the state.
“A Royal Charter is a way of incorporating a body, that is turning it from a collection of individuals into a single legal entity. …….. incorporation by Charter should be in the public interest. This consideration is important, since once incorporated by Royal Charter a body surrenders significant aspects of the control of its internal affairs to the Privy Council. … This effectively means a significant degree of Government regulation of the affairs of the body, and the Privy Council will therefore wish to be satisfied that such regulation accords with public policy”.
ISO 17024 is a great process for accreditation – but does not include the knowledge and understanding that is needed in the process.
“ISO/IEC 17024:2012 contains principles and requirements for a body certifying persons against specific requirements, and includes the development and maintenance of a certification scheme for persons.”
The danger, here, is that just because it is possible to create an exacting system for a process it can be put about as having ‘authority’.
3.3 CATEGORY 3 - End ‘User’ authority:
We are now increasingly seeing the start of other forms of authority more involved in deciding how Coaching should work. Especially with ‘Executive Coaching’ – as those involved can be more assertive and knowledgeable. But also this is being led by developments in Medicine.
INTERNAL COACHING: In Executive Coaching, large Organisations in particular have created ‘internal coaching’ using their own staff to provide coaching of other staff.
These organisations are even fashioning their own internal structures for accreditation, and other internal mechanisms for developing their internal coaching – that key to professional status. This is even increasingly independent of current ‘self-appointed’ bodies. (Read more about this in Yvonne Thackray’s blog: How to raise the standards of coaching in 9.5 important ways!)
After all, in executive coaching the use of what is called the ‘chemistry’ session is typical. The End user decides who has the most ‘professional’ capabilities by making their own selection of the Coach for them. The demonstration of having to use the term ‘chemistry’ – borrowed from other areas is symptomatic of the issue. This would appear to signal a big blind spot that still exists in the field about what really matters. It still relies on whom the end user ‘senses’ (somehow) that they can work better with to achieve their goals.
The EXPERT /PROFESSIONAL PATIENT: Perhaps one of the most recent innovations is the idea in the medical profession about bringing the ‘patient’ as the user more directly into the frame as needing to be an expert about their particular condition. An article in the BMJ “Expert patient”—dream or nightmare? Is quick to highlight the opportunities and risks … but opens up the challenge to the medical profession
Unfortunately this can still seem to challenge traditional notions of trained/learned’ knowledge based authority.
And the methodologies for enabling ‘Professional/Expert Patients’ as well as Coachees is less in evidence.
We keep on referring to how The Coachee sets the agenda, and has also to set the process, as it suits their needs / learning structures.
The process of contracting is key to ensuring expectations are managed professionally. However, in coaching, there is often discovery during the process, rather than everything being known at the start – so contracting takes in a new meaning than the simple ‘starter general objective'.
But these are clear signs that users have taken up the need to bring their own expertise into the mix.
4 How do I fit my practice into these approaches to professional remains difficult?
Coachee Professionalism is key: When I consider my own practice, I can see clearly that it is based on the need to work with the expertise of the Coachee about themselves as central.
However there is still some difficulty finding frameworks and standards for how ‘professionally’ knowledgeable the other person is about their learning opportunities.
Terms like andragogy refer to this – but it is still poorly developed and accepted.(Read more here: Adult Learning – the real leading edge of Coaching by Sue Young , Critical Assumptions in Coaching* By Lucille Maddalena, Ed.D. (Guest))
Team Based Professionalism: Eventually there will be an evolution of the idea becoming common elsewhere, that a ‘team’ of different experts/professionals may need to be involved because the issues/opportunities at hand are too wide ranging to fit into one profession’s box … let alone one professional’s box.
The rush to over simplification: Perhaps the greatest risk remains the rush to over simplification of how Coaching works. This generates a push towards conformity with something that is seriously lacking in rigour.
I constantly find fellow well established practitioners who want to share the detail of their practice, as they experience how it works, but find too few opportunities to attract them to do so.
Tell me, how do you demonstrate your professionalism with your clients?
 Maltbia, T.E., Marsick, V.J. & Ghosh, R., 2014. Executive and Organizational Coaching: A Review of Insights Drawn From Literature to Inform HRD Practice. Advances in Developing Human Resources, pp.1–23.
 BMJ 2004; 328 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.328.7442.723 (Published 25 March 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:723