Archive for accreditation

Life Coaching vs Business/Executive Coaching

Posted in On Coaching, On NLP with tags , , , on November 30, 2009 by racheljackson

I have just been reading through Alison Maxwell’s paper in the September edition of Coaching magazine from the Association for Coaching: “How do coaches experience the boundary between coaching and therapy/counselling?” and it got me thinking about a debate on this topic I had years ago when doing some coach training around NLP.

The debate arose out of Milton Erickson’s assertion that every client already has all the resources they need to be able to deal with their “presenting problem”.  Having tabled this assertion as part of the training we were challenged about the need to ensure that the client is in a “safe place” at the end of each session; Some of the coaches in the room were clinically trained and had a firm belief that business coaching should not enter the realm of clinical therapy or even dip a toe into it. Those that were not clinically trained were highly uncomfortable around “opening Pandora’s box” in a coaching environment and finding themselves unable to handle the results.

Whilst I wholly adhere to this degree of care for a client’s wellbeing and for the additional point made at the time that a coach must often work to the requirements of a business rather than simply an individual, I gently reflected the idea that in any relationship exploring performance or development goals through coaching, both parties have a role  in deciding which topics are discussed and to what degree they impact on the “presenting problem”. In Erickson’s view, this would suggest that the client will share what needs to be shared, and since they walked into the room with that psychological “weight” from their personal life, they are full capable of also walking back out with it.

“In all the years I have been coaching,” I suggested, “I have never met an executive who did not also live a life”.  It was often the case that weighty issues taking place outside the office had as much influence – and indeed learning to offer –  upon work-based performance issues as behaviour and events in the office. What I felt was most important, is that where discussion of outside work issues ventured into realms where professional advice or counselling may be required, this perspective should be offered to and explored with the client as opposed to those issues being directly tackled by the coach. This should not however prevent the exploration of pertinent home or deeper psychological issues in a balanced manner and in relation to their impact upon work performance.  Nor should it laden the coach with responsibility for extending to a 4 hour session in order to repack the emotional baggage brought into the session by the client. Whilst we all recognised that the whereabouts of the line to be drawn between therapy and coaching was not always clear, we could all engage in a healthy debate and agree that it certainly needed to be drawn.

In the time that has passed since that initial debate with a number of experienced executive coaches, the world of coaching has expanded exponentially and the market is now crowded with Life Coaches and Action Coaches and all manner of specialist coaches – some of whom have received not only very little face to face coach training, but absolutely no training in psychology or therapeutic intervention. Whilst I remain confident that every face around the table in that training session long ago would be totally capable of recognising an issue that they were not competent to explore and should refer to an outside professional, I am not entirely convinced that many of the lesser trained coaches would be able to do so.

I am a firm believer in the power of “helping by talking” as the paper coins the phrase. I actually think that in the vast majority of cases, simply talking to another, caring, listening human being and sharing a problem or issue is a hugely valuable experience.  What concerns me a little is that coaching is a privileged relationship.  From its roots in both psychotherapy and sports development, a coach has been seen in some way as an expert; a safe pair of hands.  Early therapists identified the phenomenon of transference to describe the symptoms of this sense of parental caregiving and reliance on another human being.  Whilst the psychologically trained coach is fully cognisant of this potential and aware of the point at which a referral is advisable to satisfy their professional obligations and the needs of the client, the freshly qualified life coach, accountable only to their client may neither recognise the signs nor know how to respond.  Filled with a desire to help and build their reputation in their new field, it is possible that this leads to a failure to refer and a missed opportunity to provide the client with the professional help they require.

Alison’s paper uses as a sample a number of coaches with a higher level of coaching and training than most and she recognises in her conclusion that she may therefore present a somewhat high benchmark.  I would however agree with her conclusion that “the personal and the professional are deeply intertwined in the coaching conversation, and attempts to compartmentalise these by either coach or client are unrealistic”.  She proposes that “a grey area exists” below the need to refer for clinical issues and above the merely work-based discussion where “serious ethical, moral and potentially legal questions” may arise from a lack of training or awareness in the coach. Perhaps this debate would be well considered by the ICF who are currently debating the unpicking of their graduated model for coaching accreditation so beloved by coaches across the globe. Although you could equally argue; does a long and  impressive coaching log make you significantly better at judging the need for clinical referral of a client…or significantly worse at admitting that need?


What does good coaching feel like?

Posted in On Coaching with tags , on November 2, 2009 by racheljackson

I am a coach….I’ve also received coaching from a number of sources; some better than others.  I’ve worked in development and coaching for 6 years, training hundreds of managers to use coaching, attending various training courses in coaching, and talking with a huge number of coaches.

What I’ve observed is that despite the coaching theories and models, the length of training, and agreement on what good coaching attributes and behaviours are, when it comes to coaching in practice, a large proportion of coaches still revert to leading and telling rather than listening and empowering.

I think there’s an element of people wanting to give something back, of wanting to share their success and experience having reached a certain point in life.  Becoming a coach, be it a life coach or a business coach seems a logical step, so they go on a training programme and set themselves up in business – often very successfully.

I know that coaching is a highly skilled profession which is both powerful and rewarding.  I also know that it can be a frustrating experience for the coach.  I’ve trained people whose intent is genuine, but who can’t help sharing that nugget of personal wisdom.  I know that holding back from this is a hard lesson to learn as a coach – especially given the genuinely positive response clients give when it slips out.

I try to remember one core thing from my NLP Master Practitioner journey; you are only the expert on your own life and choices.  You can empathise and listen hard, but you can never truly experience what it is like to be another human being, with a whole different set of histories, choices and consequences.

Now I’m not suggesting those who share their experience are poor coaches – that simply wouldn’t be true.  What does concern me is that the current definition of “coaching” includes everything from learning to swim to pursuing your innermost spiritual aspirations.  As such, the average coaching client has very little understanding of what good coaching is or what it feels like.

To some extent, this question may be immaterial; if the client pays someone to support them to set up a business and the business is set up; one could say that this was a good outcome and that the coach was clearly a good coach.

But to me that may not be the right measure of coaching effectiveness.  What if the client wanting to set up a business has failed over and over for several years?  What if they looked into that failure and found out that they weren’t sure they wanted to be in business alone?  Would a coach who used their experience in successful business set up to enable the client to follow suit, still be a good coach?  Is it the right outcome?

Scouring the astounding amount of coach accreditation literature surrounding moves to regulate this field, you will find a few core requirements for coaches to be considered “qualified”.  Some of them are behavioural; Genuine Empathy, Listening, Planning and Goal Setting, and Creating Rapport are common ones that come to mind.  Others are experiential; most coaching accreditation requires a set number of recorded coaching hours, and most require a demonstration of capability in front of a panel of assessors.

This is a huge step forward from the largely unregulated field of coaching I first experienced when I started providing feedback coaching as part of my consulting role.  What is interesting is that there is no requirement (except for purposes of self marketing) to gather detailed feedback from clients about coaching outcomes.

According to the Association for Coaching (AfC) (pdf article available here), 88% of coaching clients asked to provide feedback said that their coaches were “good” or “excellent”.  This sounds like a fabulous outcome; but my question remains, how does the client know what good coaching feels like?

Many people would consider a chat with the local barman, who listens well and gives them some worldly advice along with their pint, as good “coaching” (although they may not actually use that term).  The truth is that many people are disconnected from sources of support and open, empathic conversation.  They live their working lives against timescales, deadlines, milestones and schedules.  They go home on anonymous tubes and buses to Strictly Come Dancing or X Factor or a date at the squash club.

For most people, the chance to get things off their chest and experience unconditional listening and support comes from talking to their tired partner (if they’re lucky) or their dog…and I’m not sure the dog would get coaching accreditation just yet!

Katherine Tulpa, chair of the AfC, comments: “The Coaching market has grown rapidly over the last five years and this growth suggests that coaching clients see a value in the service that coaching brings.  However, as an industry we need more formal studies of its value and potential, and this is one of the areas the AfC wants to address.”

Is coach quality defined by the profession or by the client?  Market forces suggest that the client is king, and organisations can only measure coaching ROI through qualitative feedback from clients.

So in this formative time for quality assurance of coaches, where the market remains  under educated, can I suggest a few pointers for those exploring (or already experiencing) a coaching relationship…

1.  When you begin to explore working with a coach, try to have an initial session with more than one person.  You will find that the sense of relief that comes from the first session makes you favour the first coach you speak to; they may not be the one best suited to your ongoing needs.

2.  Make sure you have a discussion with the coach about what you want from the coaching relationship.  Do you want advice and teaching on a particular area based on their experience?  Do you want support to find your own way?  Both of these are valid coaching relationships but they require a different set of experience and behaviours.  You need to be able to recognise whether you are getting what you need.  It is all too easy for coaches to drift into “leading the witness”, believe me, I feel the temptation at times!

3.  Set up review sessions with your coach to give them feedback about what is working for you and what isn’t.  They should respect this request and find it hugely valuable.  If possible, keep some notes for yourself too.

4.  If at the end of your sessions you feel highly energised to act, and then later lose your way, or aren’t sure on what to do next or whether you agree with the direction…it’s possible that your coach is pace-setting (trying to help you by guiding you towards what they would do) rather than truly coaching.  The agenda for coaching should always be yours, not your coach’s!  If you suspect a shift in the agenda, speak to your coach.  You are allowed to challenge them too!

5.  Notice how much time your coach is talking, and how much time you are talking.  If you are doing more listening than talking, then you are not being coached but advised.  If this works for you, fine, but you might want to explore what real coaching feels like.