The Evolution of Coaching – Six Trends
By Naomi Ward and Val Stevenson
Published in the CollectivED working Papers 7
Val Stevenson is a Senior level business coach and leads the coaching team for ‘The Art of Work.’ The Art of Work is a community of people experts blending the scientific, the academic and the practical to help individuals and teams master the workplace.
Naomi is a coach, facilitator and founder at ‘Education Connected.’ In her work she partners teachers to return to their core purpose and clarify their values. With this self-awareness, it’s possible to become a powerful leader in work and life.
The basis of this article is a conversation between Val and myself inspired by ‘The Art of Work’s’ research into how coaching is evolving, the forces that are shaping the profession and the imperative to stay relevant in order to succeed.
The conversation was focussed across different sectors and industries and, there is learning for those of us working in education.
1) Blending Expertise and Disciplines
At just thirty years old, the coaching industry has contradictory personalities. It is an established (although not yet regulated) professional, set in its ways, arguably too reliant on tried and tested tools, techniques and frameworks. At the same time, it’s an ambitious, bright-eyed millennial, gaining the confidence to break the rules. It’s this rule-breaking persona that promises to disrupt the old and drive forward future trends for those that are prepared to step away from some of the established biases and traditions of coaching
The first shift Val and I discussed is that coaches are more confidently blending their skills and consciously integrating expertise from other disciplines. Assimilating tools from counselling models, leadership theory, somatics, emotional intelligence and team effectiveness are the tip of the iceberg. Successful coaches will anticipate their clients’ needs and respond creatively.
This is acknowledged in an article by David Goldsmith, ‘Great Coaches Break the Rules:’
Most long-standing coaches not only fluidly and fluently dance between the distinctions of coaching, consulting, counseling, and training, they also are constantly customizing solutions and approaches for their clients from an eclectic and deep repertoire of methods, processes and skills. (Choice Magazine, September 2017)
Consequently, the lines between mentoring, coaching, counselling and facilitation will be blurred, driven by the context of a fast-moving world and increasingly sophisticated clients who know what they want from coaching.
2) Agility and Technology
For some time, coaching has been available mainly to the those at the top of the organisational pyramid, hence the term Executive coaches. But these days, as Val puts it, ‘the term executive coach is old hat. I stopped calling myself that some time ago – I am fundamentally a coach that works with leaders and others.’ It is complacent to believe that because ‘this is the way we do things,’ the old structures will endure. Agile players are about accessibility and appealing to a wider pool of clients by dodging barriers such as bloated fees and unwieldy programme structures.
Of course, technology is a driver. Val draws a parallel with the ‘Uber’ model: you have an app in your pocket that provides you with a trustworthy cab at the edge of the pavement within minutes. Why not have the ‘uber coach’? As younger generations become fluent in their grasp of coaching – they will expect it on demand: ‘I’m stuck and need a coach now.’ After a 20 minute conversation that fits with their schedule, they have clarity and are able to progress. In fact, organisations like this already exist – look at ‘BetterUp’ or ‘Thrive’ as examples – democratising coaching through mobile technology at all levels of an organisation.
Taking this idea further, coach, Brad Federman, from F&H Solutions group in writes about the ‘rise of the automated coach’:
Coaches will engage clients through micro-learning sessions, gamification and will add value by providing clients access to content beyond their counsel.
As well as being available on demand, coaches and coaching agencies will provide more value by using technology to deliver quality, interactive content to embed the learning within the coaching dialogue. The subscription business model is booming and a ‘micro-learning’ programme lends itself to just that, while simultaneously building a supportive, networked community. Val puts that in the context of the evolving model at ‘The Art of Work: ‘we are being asked by our clients to create a package of coaching which the individual can access as and when they need it rather than the more traditional model of six sessions over six months. We’re open to deliver what people need rather than what fits our business model. As we deliver more training to different geographies we have learnt the value of agility and using different technologies to deliver coaching.’
3) Transformation and Responsibility:
The acronym VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) was initially used by the US army in the 90s but has been appropriated to describe the tumultuous business world. It’s also an accurate reflection of our political landscape and in this context, we can feel uncertain, lost and pessimistic.
As coaches and leaders, there is a responsibility to engage with this world and stand up for what we believe in by living and communicating our own values and purpose. Values connect us, and if we act in service of them, we are acting for the benefit of each other and the greater good. In a world where the challenges are frightening and seemingly insurmountable, this compass of purpose and values is needed more than ever.
In ‘The Future of Coaching -Vision, Leadership and Responsibility in a Transforming World’’ Hetty Enzig writes about the weight of making decisions in a world where so much feels out of control:
‘Humans are not designed to think that big – to act in the light of planetary awareness. It can feel grandiose, foolish, over-dramatising. However, at some level our clients know that acting in line with an ethically and globally aware agenda is imperative if there is to be a viable future for business, people and planet.’
Values and purpose driven leadership is needed more than ever as we take responsibility for the choices we make and the impact that they will have today, tomorrow and for future generations. Coaches have the privilege of partnering individuals and organisations as they transform and take responsibility. Coaches are ideally placed to challenge leaders to be accountable not just for their own actions but for the actions of their organisations.
4) Open engagement with Mental Health support in the workplace
The statistics around mental health show us that it is normal to be suffering with anxiety, stress, burnout, depression and other psychological disorders. For example, we know that one in four people will experience a mental health problem over course of a year. We know that 40% of men aged 18-45 have considered committing suicide and that suicide is the biggest cause of death in the UK for men under 45. Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety with the ages of 35-60 being the most anxious years. With the prevalence of mental health problems, it’s likely that many coaches and clients are unwell even if they choose not to disclose it.
In his book Lost Connections, Johann Hari argues that depression is not an illness that can be reliably cured medically, instead it is a longing for connection to self and community:
‘What if depression is, in fact, a form of grief—for our own lives not being as they should? What if it is a form of grief for the connections we have lost, yet still need?’
This links to the 2011 WHO’s revised definition of mental disorders:
‘Depression is a disease of the heart, but in the metaphorical sense, and above all, it is a disease of the mind, spirit, body and emotions, intimately affected by where we live and how we live and with whom we live.’
Mental illness is becoming increasingly common because of the way we live and work. Coaches have a role to play in creating and holding a space where individuals and companies can choose to be more open and no longer fear the stigma of mental illness. With this transparency comes permission to learn, provide relevant support and create compassionate working cultures.
This nuance is in contrast to a perception of coaching as a tool which focuses on the positive. What do you want? What’s your dream? What if anything was possible? What’s your best future? If you are a client with anxiety or depression, these questions might be impossible. As coaches, perhaps we can be more confident to be in the shadows with our clients and understand that in order to re-engage people with a true sense of self and purpose which may be lost for now, it’s necessary be in the dusk and spend some time there. Hetty Enzig writes, ‘our very task is to light a candle in the darkness.’.
In my experience, it is this place where true meaning, connection and purpose arises. Once we find the treasure in the cave we fear, despair and depression cease to overwhelm us. Val says, ‘we know that having someone to talk to is one of the most helpful interventions in mental ill health, whether it’s temporary or long term. As coaches we need to use our skills and knowledge in this space. At the Art of Work we have been following the Being Human movement. Designing a world where people come first is a tricky encounter there are so many barriers and obstacles that get in the way, government, politics, we don’t have the time, but if we stop and think it can and does fall into place if you put people first.’
5) Systemic Coaching
If anyone has read Peter Hawkins they will understand the importance of systemic coaching, particularly around coaching teams. One of the earliest lessons in building coaching skills is the necessity of looking at the context in which the individual operates ie: the wider organisation. Systemic coaching looks at the person as part of a wider system. You could say it’s an evolving coaching principle, not new, not always applied but one that is very much fit for purpose. It’s easy to get hung up on its complexity but it does enable transformation. Rather than focussing on the development of the individual (or team) it is about focusing on the whole system and the individual or team’s role with in it.
In Hawkins terminology:
Commissioning: What the individual or team must deliver
Connecting: How individuals engage with key stakeholders/building the right relationships/networking
Clarifying: What’s my purpose/why am I doing what I’m doing and how do I do it
Co-creating: How do I work with others/why do I work with others
Core Learning: And at the centre is what you’re learning as all this is going on – this is the space that the coach operates within. Helping the individual or team make connections across the four disciplines and take account of their actions
Not an easy model to follow but one that fits today’s complex world whatever sector you work in. When it starts to come together things visibly shift.
6) Integration of coaching into other roles
Individuals have a better understanding of how fast the business world is changing and how easy it is to become obsolete, so they recognise the need to take time and invest in their own development. Generally, people are better at seeking feedback, trying new things, and reflecting on what they’re learning and how they need to change. These are some of the things that they might have sought from a coach in the past. Individuals can turn to their peers, their manager, HR, their friends and colleagues—many of whom are trained in coaching skills—to get advice and counsel. This is great and as coaches we have all invested time in building coaching skills in others. The speed and extent to with which coaching skills have been adopted in business has been dramatic, resulting in the routine training of leaders and line managers in coaching skills. The idea of a coaching culture emerged as an antidote to command and control. This is all well and good but where does this leave the professional coach – do we just become the trainer of other coaches? Clearly not.
A model I have become deeply immersed in over the last couple of years is the FACTS model developed by John Blakey and Ian Day, in their words,
‘Be the missing voice of challenge in the coaching conversation. Swallow hard and break the collective trance of the cosy club to reconnect senior leaders with reality through, specific, direct, and concrete interventions. Get up close with the future leaders to inspire them to pursue courageous goals – not in the service of individual egos, but toward a broader collective purpose.’ (Challenging Coaching, John Blakey and Ian Day)
Some words about joining the dots in education
The Art of Work is operating primarily in the private sector; our challenges are different. However, I do see parallels for coaches working in education. It certainly a VUCA world for teachers and leaders, as recognised by the ASCL Ethical Leadership Commission which is setting up a framework for ethical leadership. Carolyn Roberts, the Commission Chair, asks this question:
“The nation trusts us to form young people into the best that they can be. The public expects us to know what kind of example we should set them, but do we? How do we know what’s right or wrong?”
Here is the context of ‘responsibility,’ a value that coaches must also live by in order to support leaders with their accountability to an ethical framework, both personal and professional, in challenging times.
Certainly, I can envisage coaches blending their skills to meet changing needs. Anyone with half an eye on Twitter in January this year would have read hundreds of tweets expressing anxiety and dread before the looming return to work. We were struck by, but not altogether surprised by, a story reported by the BBC, ‘I wanted to crash my car to avoid teaching.’ The article reads:
As teachers prepare to head back to the classroom after the Christmas holidays, the National Education Union has described the situation as “an epidemic of stress”
As we know, the factors behind such stress are complex, but the need for teachers to have a place to air their worries is real and already addressed by organisations such as the Education Support Partnership Helpline. But I firmly believe that coaches have a role in creating a safe space for teachers to be heard and not judged, as well as playing a part in shifting the lingering stigma of mental illness. Therefore, upskilling in awareness of common mental health problems and some counselling tools is of service to our clients. Of course, some people must be referred to a mental health professional and this responsibility must be part of any Accredited coach’s ethical framework.
Perhaps the digitisation of coaching can support teachers in having greater access to this safe space. I can see an app that provides ‘uber’ access to a coach as well as curated content to support personal development.
Another future trend that is present and evolving in education, is systemic coaching. Much of the coaching I do with teachers deals with issues stemming from difficult relationships and managing dysfunctional teams. It appears that little time is invested in creating a functioning team using a conscious and collaborative process as outlined by Peter Hawkins or Patrick Lencioni (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team). There is also the potential for coaching to build productive relationships across teams: the Governing body and a SLT for example.
The process of interviewing Val and exploring these trends has been enlightening and has made me focus on my own development. While staying true to my own purpose and values, I also look forward to expanding my competencies by responding to our changing environment. In short, listening closely to teachers and sustaining awareness of our changing environment and complex organisations.
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