Have a chat to potential coaches to find out if they’ve got the goods.
Coaching in organisations has become an accepted practice over the past few years, more often focused on higher management levels.
As coaches have a degree of influence relative to your key leaders and future leaders, it stands to reason that there are significant potential risks to the efficiency and effectiveness of the organisation should this relatively high cost intervention not achieve its stated and implicit objectives.
Coaching remains largely unregulated and, as an emerging profession, has no standard definitions of competence, processes, procedures or even minimum entry requirements. The broad range of coaching methodologies, training, certifications and credentialing make the selection of a suitable coach highly problematical.
In the criteria of some of the more well-known coach credentialing organisations, there is a differentiation between a ‘competent’ and ‘master’ coach, categorised in mainly behavioural terms. However research in both coaching and other related professions suggests that behaviour is only one aspect of mastery. Clutterbuck and Megginson point out that “credentials simply show a base level of skills that have been demonstrated rather than the personal development journey that the coach has undertaken” (The Handbook of Knowledge-based Coaching: From Theory to Practice).
What mastery is
There appears to be no common definition as to what constitutes “mastery”. Although scholars in music, business, education and science have attempted to clarify mastery, its vague nature makes it difficult to investigate and empirically characterise.
There is an observed theme in the literature on mastery of the unique reasoning that masters demonstrate which includes viewing problems from previously unconsidered holistic perspectives, having the ability to creatively solve problems that others find unsolvable, and being positively challenged by seemingly impossible situations rather than defeated by them. In addition, masters tend to transcend rules and modify existing knowledge with their own experience, are future oriented and committed to the domain of their mastery.
What mastery is not
Mastery should not be considered a function of innate talent, ability or capacities. Nor is it simply the elegant delivery of the initial, presented goal or outcome.
There is a popular contemporary idea influenced by writers such as Malcolm Gladwell that mastery may be obtained by 10,000 hours of practice. However Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Romer (who are the originators of the research upon which Gladwell based his suggestion), qualify this concept stating, “The belief that a sufficient amount of experience or practice leads to maximal performance appears incorrect”.
Selecting an executive coach
“The coach needs to be able to match the demands of their clients’ complex intellectual contexts, stay grounded in the face of the weight of ramifications of their clients’ choices, keep pace with the dynamic high intensity of the work, all with an uncompromising level of integrity and … stamina!” (Shinobu)
Our own research shows that coaches demonstrate little or no difference in their activity between ‘masterful’ and ‘competent’ levels at a conscious or surface level. This lack of clear differentiation makes the selection of suitable coaches a difficult and complex exercise. After all, if there is no way of distinguishing between coaches once they have achieved a certain level of demonstrable skill, and the coaches themselves do not easily differentiate core coaching competencies, how can organisations select the appropriate coach for a particular intervention (especially at executive level) with any degree of certainty?
Our research data supports current thinking in the field which suggests that reliance on credentials, behavioural observation, previous outcome success, recommendations and/or experiential hours (in coaching practice or in relation to the organisational context) might be less relevant than a robust conversation with the coach, that examines their underlying meaning-making and self-perception, and their use of knowledge in relation to their stated practice.
This would require that the buyer of coaching services understands how to elicit these underlying structures in a way that can better inform the organisation and facilitate better decision making. This proficiency can be developed and honed through training.
Internationally, many organisations prefer to engage an established and credible coaching consultancy to assist them with coach selection, particularly where their senior executives and teams are concerned. They find this relatively small upfront investment invaluable, both for ensuring they receive the expected return on their investment in coaching, and equally importantly, for avoiding making an expensive mistake.
Barbara Walsh is an executive coach and coaching consultant with Metaco, www.metaco.co.za. She has an MSc in Coaching and Behavioural Change from Henley Business School in the UK, and is an accredited Neuro-Semantics Meta-Coach and Coach Trainer.
This article appeared in the June 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.