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Take Coaching to a Higher Level

With organizations hastening to keep up with the pace and complexity of business, coaching has become the all-important tool for productive organizational development.

The nuts and bolts of coaching, however, are more complicated than the common perception of the profession might suggest, according to Karen Kimsey-House, CEO and co-founder of The Coaches Training Institute (CTI), based in San Rafael, Calif.

For starters, the belief that coaches are corrective instruments for people who are broken is a misconception, Kimsey-House said. Instead, truly effective coaching rests on the belief that those being coached are naturally creative, resourceful and whole — they are not “broken.”

This view that people are inherently undamaged and not in need of fixing is the primary cornerstone of what Kimsey-House calls the Co-Active coaching model, a philosophy she developed in the mid-90s as she started CTI.

“I think managers really believe that their job is to solve problems and to fix things. That’s how they got where they were,” Kimsey-House said. Now, she said, “there’s a growing realization that management is not about solving problems, but about supporting people.”

In the Co-Active model, it’s not the job of the coach to solve all of the client’s problems, Kimsey-House said, but to support and lead clients in a way that they’re able to find the solutions themselves.

Aside from the belief that people are naturally skillful and whole — regardless of their need to be coached — there are three other guiding cornerstones of the Co-Active model.

Dance in this moment. In the context of a coaching relationship, all good happens in the present. “We can learn from the past and anticipate the future,” Kimsey-House said, “but nothing really happens unless it’s in the here and now … and if we come present into the moment, almost always what’s next and what’s needed will reveal itself.”

Focus on the whole person. Coaches should aim to work with the entire heart, mind, body and spirit of their clients, Kimsey-House said, rather than just focusing on the individual problem. Co-Active coaches cherish the belief that their clients are more than the sum of their parts; they seek to understand the entire being as they embark on the coaching process.

Evoke Transformation. Effective coaches should seek to alter behaviors for the long term. Co-Active coaching is not a “task to perform or a job to do,” Kimsey-House said, but is an orientation in the right direction.

The heart of this thinking of coaching also comes in the form of three principles: fulfillment, balance and process, each of which is designed to help people identify ineffective pathways to handling dilemmas and focus on new ones that are more effective.

Fulfillment, according to the Co-Active model, points people to values, life purpose and the “resonance and dissonance in their lives.” Balance ignites creativity and choice, and process opens the ability to be aware of what is happening under the surface.

When teaching others to adopt some of these coaching elements, learning leaders should focus less on content and more on participation and practice, said John Vercelli, CTI’s director of corporate programs.

Unlike typical skills training, teaching Co-Active is about shifting beliefs — an element that Vercelli said comes with some expected pushback from leaders used to approaching coaching as a problem to be solved.

“When you look at Co-Active coaching, what it’s designed to do is move humans out of the reactive mode [and] into the creative,” he said.

The arrangement of the training room is important. When Vercelli conducts a Co-Active coaching session, chairs are arranged in a semi-circle without tables or desks. The idea, Vercelli said, is to limit disruptions.

Role-playing also is not permitted in the Co-Active coach training sessions, which Vercelli said typically last at least two days.

Much like desks or tables, role-playing serves as a protector — it separates learners from the real situations they might be facing on the job. All training sessions force leaders to use real situations in practice. Participants are called at random to engage in a coaching dialogue, using the above principles as guidelines.

“We have an agreement [during the sessions] to be a learner rather than a performer,” Vercelli said, “which means the way we learn is to try things.”

After an in-person training session, Vercelli said it’s helpful for participants to enter into a voluntary follow-up with instructors to reinforce some of the behaviors and beliefs of the Co-Active model.

The biggest challenge, however, remains getting prospective coaches to drift away from the problem-solving mindset of coaching into one that is more belief-minded and supportive.
“I’m compassionate for our participants,” Vercelli said, “because I realize that this is a new belief [for them] and it takes time.”

In the end, Kimsey-House said the difference between the common notion of coaching and Co-Active comes down to trying to solve people’s problems versus creating sustained value for the learner — a shift that became more apparent following the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing recession, as organizations began to rethink their approach to culture, learning and the continued development of their businesses.

“If leaders (or coaches) aren’t able to balance both the results that need to be produced and the relationships of the people they’re leading,” Kimsey-House said, “their effectiveness is affected.”

Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at fkalman@CLOmedia.com.