Coaching Confidently – The dangers of a limited model of coaching
Coaches are often engaged with people at their most vulnerable, in a state of uncomfortable agitation or at a transitional point, personally or within an organisation. As such they are stewards, guides, navigators, teachers and mentors in times of uncertainty, ambiguity, and fluidity.
It is not their role to meet people in this territory with their own certainties, stories, beliefs and convictions. This is not what it means to coach with confidence.
To coach with confidence is to have the courage to meet coachees on this ground with our own uncertainties, insecurities and vulnerabilities. Not worn on our sleeves but carried and held within our presence into the coaching space with clients/colleagues.
In his paper, The Liberated Coach Professor David Clutterbuck reveals that many of the coaches interviewed for Techniques in Coaching and Mentoring (2004) based their practice on relatively simplistic models of a coaching conversation, such as GROW, and its derivatives.
Among the dangers, he observed in this one-model approach was that:
- Coaching becomes mechanistic.
- Critical clues to the coachee context are missed or ignored.
- Despite claims to the contrary, the coachee can easily become manipulated to fit the coach’s agenda.
This is especially true with regard to goal setting, where research indicates that fixing upon specific goals at the start of a coaching relationship can sometimes be a crutch for the coach, rather than for the benefit of the coachee.
What Professor Clutterbuck argues for instead is a coach who develops their own approach based on “an intelligent, sensitive ability to select a broad philosophical and theoretical approach, and within that approach, select appropriate tools and techniques, which meet the particular needs of a particular coachee at a particular time.”
These words inspired me to want to become what he calls a “liberated coach”.
Central to this concept is that:
- The initial learning conversations provide the clues as to what approaches and frameworks may be best suited to the coachee.
- Every learning conversation is an experiment for both the coach/mentor and the coachee.
Values and Core Purpose
Coaching for change presupposes that you engage with your coachee at a fundamental level of core purpose and values which are not always on the surface. Coaches need to be attuned to this and be listening with focused attention.
What we do not need is more rigidity and prescription in the methodology of coaches. To be a catalyst for change and transformation coaching needs to be liberated from power-based relationships and hierarchy. If not, it acts as a straightjacket and can create damage.
What is the best way to introduce coaching?
In the opinion of Professor Christian van Nierwerburgh’s, the principle of democratic voluntary involvement underpins initiatives to support the development of a coaching culture.
Coaching Others into Confidence
The people I coach do not lack confidence per se, they just cannot see a safe and non-destructive place for themselves in the predominant culture of our education system. Once they see how they can help to create such spaces they are fearless. My role is to challenge them to become change agents working from a place of authenticity and courage.
Coaching confidence does not come from the certainty that we as coaches know what will solve personal or professional problems, making clients or colleagues better teachers or better leaders. It is based on discovering what we don’t and cannot know by listening and asking the right questions that will help them to discover for themselves what will make them better teachers or leaders under the current conditions and contexts in which they live and work.
While we know that there are systemic barriers, these intersect with internal, personal barriers of attitude, perspective, bias, overplaying our values and a low capacity for self-management and self-regulation.
When we focus on system issues alone we leave the client without agency and they can only ever see themselves as a victim of circumstances.
How to get to the hidden place where the external and internal barriers meet?
Within the coaching context, instead of rigidly following a set model you initiate learning conversations from which insights and change can flow. You model an exchange that emulates a template for a learning culture that can exist inside schools, leadership teams and classrooms.
Openness, listening, tentativeness, searching, fearlessness in the face of uncertainty. This is how we best serve those we coach by modelling what our client or colleague themselves need to be – that is open to mutability and change in relation to life’s biggest and deepest questions.
Who am I, where do I belong; what is my purpose and how do I best serve and live out my purpose in this role at this point in time?
The Concept of Human Flourishing
How do I measure the impact of my coaching?
As an executive and leadership development coach my guiding motivation is to help organisations create the conditions for flourishing. I have therefore begun to use a tool which enables me to measure the psychological wellbeing outcomes of my work.
The tool that I use was developed by Professor Carol Ryff – see my last blog for full details of this tool.
My case study client completed the questionnaire before and after three 90 min sessions of personal development coaching. I was called in to support this client after he began to show signs of deep distress, was facing an HR meeting triggered by prolonged periods of work and experiencing deep anger related to problems at home.
To end this post I am going to let the numbers speak for themselves.
*Anonymised data generated using research validated wellbeing measure.
The focus of the coaching was to reduce his anger and ability to deal with difficult emotions. The key to his growth was a on self-acceptance practices. The figures indicate that in starting with self-acceptance he was able to experience growth in all areas of psychological wellbeing.
If you would like to know more about my work with this tool, please get in touch.