After years of study on organizational change, the need for coaching and how organizations are changed through coaching, Coachbook: A Guide to Organizational Coaching Strategies and Practices was a very welcome framework which I can now use to view the various coaching activities that I and others pursue. It provides a language for understanding how all coaching isn’t created the same.
The Need for Coaching
Coaching is the integration of counseling – which is focused on the heart or emotions of a person – and consulting – which is focused on the head and logic of a person. Coaching recognizes that these are not two disconnected systems which operate in isolation, but are instead a set of systems that interact with one another. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on System 1, emotions, and System 2, reason.) Research has shown that this kind of assistance is frequently useful to the bottom line with positive returns on the investment.
It’s no wonder that the coaching process works. It helps people understand how to work with other people. Despite our more technologically-connected world, most employees “live in solitude, working in emotional isolation as performers, decision-makers, and people who must relate their own personal values with those of their organization.” In short, we’re simultaneously more connected and in touch with one another, while at the same time being more relationally disconnected. (See Alone Together for more about the impact of technology on our ability to connect with one another.)
Positive Not Negative
A differentiating factor for coaching is that its use is less about resolving performance problems and is more frequently used to improve performance. Where counseling is frequently focused on addressing problems and mental illness, coaching is about moving towards healthier behaviors, decisions, and aspirations.
In coaching professional athletes, the professional coach is removing performance barriers – like the famous four-minute mile in running. (You can read more about the four-minute mile in The Rise of Superman.) Professional coaches are rarely remediating poor performers. More frequently, they’re enhancing the performance of professionals that are already successful but want to be more successful. (See Peak for more on the use of coaches to improve performance.)
Coaches of professional athletes typically have an appreciation for those they are coaching because they themselves tried to perform in the sport, and either could only do so for a time or never reached the level of performance that their coachee is reaching. As a result, there is a genuine appreciation for the skill that the coachee has developed. A renowned psychologist Carl Rogers (see A Way of Being for a summary of his lifelong work) suggested that people are more likely to change when they have received positive regard, or appreciation.
Types of Coaching
There are three basic types of coaching, each with their own sub-specialties:
Behavioral Coaching – Focused on immediate behavior, behavioral coaching solves a specific behavioral problem.
- Engagement – Helping prepare for a difficult or important interaction
- Empowerment – Preparation for a difficult and important situation
- Opportunity – Preparation for a major event in one’s life
Decisional Coaching – Focusing on a specific decision to be addressed, decisional coaching helps the coachee to understand the various aspects of the decision and the options – including options that might not have been visible.
- Reflective – Deliberations about opinions, assumptions, and beliefs
- Instrumented – Learning about one’s preferences and strengths through validated instruments
- Observational – Greater awareness of one’s actions and their impacts
Aspirational Coaching – Focusing on key beliefs and bringing them more to life in daily actions, aspirational coaching focuses on improvements rather than removing barriers.
- Spiritual – Connecting with spiritual thinking and becoming more aware of this often-suppressed component of personality
- Philosophical – Critical evaluation of frames of reference and perspectives, including how these may be self-limiting
- Ethical – Evaluation of the values and ethics of oneself and others around
- Career – Specific career coaching about where one’s career could go
Types of Challenges
Part of applying coaching effectively is to match the kind of coaching to the kind of challenge being faced. Applying aspirational coaching to a puzzle results in a mismatch.
- Puzzles – Everyday issues with solvable answers that often come in a single form. There is a “right” answer.
- Problems – Multiple perspectives generate multiple potential solutions – many of which may work with varying degrees of effectiveness.
- Dilemmas – These types are impervious to a definitive solution. This level typically meets the minimum definition of what Horst Riddle would call “wicked” problems. (See Dialogue Mapping for more.)
- Mysteries – These types of challenges are too complex to understand and are ultimately unknowable. That is, they are particularly thorny wicked problems.
Each of these different types of challenges requires a different kind of coaching strategy to solve. You can’t pretend that every challenge that a coachee is facing is the same, or that the same coaching techniques can move them closer to a solution.
Different Values and Perspectives
One of the general objectives of coaching is to help people appreciate others with different values and perspectives than theirs. In every organization, there are many different people, each of them with their own unique set of values and perspectives. (See Who Am I? and The Normal Personality for Reiss’ 16-factor model of values as an example.) By teaching about the differing values and perspectives that others can have, it’s possible to enhance performance.
In my work, I often hear, “I just can’t understand what they were thinking.” Of course, one possible answer is that they weren’t thinking. (See the Rider-Elephant-Path model in The Happiness Hypothesis for more about what happens when we “don’t think.”) The more frequent answer is that the person doesn’t understand that others hold differing values. For instance, I am not a person that highly values status, and thus I don’t drive a fancy car. This is unthinkable to someone who is high on status. (This value has a risk of “must-be-seen-as,” which I covered in my review of The Anatomy of Peace.)
Coaching isn’t a single skill or even discipline. Coaching is a collection of interrelated skills that allow someone to enhance the performance of another. There are five key skills that Coachbook identifies:
- Freeing Communication – This is active listening as discussed in Parent Effectiveness Training and Motivational Interviewing.
- Contextual Knowing – Helping match the theory and model of operation to the situation. (See the implications of context on knowledge in review of The New Edge in Knowledge.)
- Feeling through Action – Helping the coachee act on their feelings.
- Reflective Inquiry – Reviewing the inferences that the client has made to reach their perspective. (See Chris Argyris’ Ladder of inference in my review of Choice Theory.)
- Coaching Leadership – The keys are for the coach themselves to always be learning, to walk with the coachee through their risks, and remember that coaches are servants. (See Servant Leadership for more on being a servant leader.)
While these aren’t an exhaustive set of skills that a coach should have, it’s a good start. If you’re interested in more skills, consider that the skills match for a therapist is very high, so you may find skills like those discussed in The Heart and Soul of Change.
Performance – Alone and Together
We often use training to enhance performance. In fact, most performance enhancement groups inside of organizations are called training departments. However, there are really two radically different kinds of training that these organizations deliver.
The first individual, performance-focused training is technical training. That is, it’s training that helps individual contributors be more effective at their jobs. This training is essential for individual contributors who need to develop sufficient skill to complete their work. However, this individual technical training isn’t enough when it’s necessary to coordinate activities between multiple people.
When working on the performance problems of teams, the solution isn’t technical training. The solution is communication and collaboration training. The performance of teams is highly dependent on the ability of the team to work efficiently with one another – and that requires a different kind of training.
Coaches provide communication and collaboration assistance – if not direct training – in the service of improving overall group performance.
Lifecycle of a Team
There’s a classic model for the progression of teams which goes like this:
- Forming – When the team is established and people are learning what the team is about.
- Storming – The phase where the team develops its customs and norms.
- Norming – Stabilization and deepening of relationships as the group begins to know what to expect from one another.
- Performing – The output phase of the group where productivity is at its peak.
- Adjourning – The phase where the group is disbanding and returning to their other roles or moving on to the next team.
Coaches can help organizations develop effective teams by helping the teams to get set up on the right path from the very beginning. After all, Richard Hackman in Collaborative Intelligence estimates that 60 percent of a group’s ultimate performance is established in the preparation and forming of the group.
There are, according to Coachbook, four kinds of meetings:
- Information Dissemination Meetings – Meetings designed to inform and only lightly accept feedback.
- Conflict Management Meetings – Opportunities to “clear the air” and allow everyone to be heard and share their respective positions to diffuse potentially explosive conflict.
- Problem Solving Meetings – Focused on the resolution of some sort of challenge, these meetings have a specific goal of solving a specific problem.
- Decision Making Meetings – When a decision must be made, often decision-making meetings are called so that everyone can participate in the decision process – and can commit to executing the decision after the meeting.
No matter what kind of meeting you’re holding, The Four Disciplines of Execution has approaches to be effective.
One of the most powerful things that a coach can do is to help a coachee to reframe their situation. As Epictetus said, “it’s not the things themselves which trouble us, but the opinions that we have about these things.” That is, much of what we make of something is how we walk up Chris Argyris’ ladder of inference. It’s about how we interpret things more than what the things themselves are.
We all suffer from the fundamental attribution error – that is, we tend to see our negative behavior as the result of our circumstances, and other people’s negative behavior as a result of their character. (See The Advantage for more on fundamental attribution error.) A coach can help the situation by creating an awareness that it may not be the character of the person that is the problem, it may be their circumstances. In doing so, it’s possible to develop empathy and reduce anger or frustration. The result is often a more productive and healthy relationship.
Dualism and Relativism
Often, we hear that people are concrete thinkers or that they believe only in black or white. We hear that they miss the subtly of gray. This is an expression of dualism – that is, either-or thinking. Dualism may be sometimes portrayed as a bad thing; in truth, the clarity of dualism makes decisions easier and promotes action – but it does so at the expense of understanding the nuances of the situation.
Relativism allows us to float above the fray and answer with, “it depends.” This may improve interpersonal relations and reduce conflict in the short term; however, it has its own set of drawbacks. Folks who are focused on relativism tend to be unable to move things forward. They spend so much time in the nuances that they forget what they were initially working on.
The trick in coaching isn’t to rely on one or the other strategy – to push folks one way or the other. Instead, the goal should be to balance dualism with its rapid action and relativism with its desire to seek into the nuances.
You Are Unique, but Not Alone
In the end, good coaching reassures you that you’re not alone. It reassures you that you’re like others while simultaneously helping you to recognize your own unique value. It’s possible to get this point on your own, like Carl Rogers expresses in A Way of Being; however, it’s easier and better with a coach.
If you’ve looked for a good coach and couldn’t find what you were looking for – or you are a coach and you’re confused when your coaching clients don’t get the value out of your services – you’re not alone. Perhaps it’s time to add Coachbook to your repertoire so you know how to hire the coach you need – or, as a coach, how to better help your clients.