FROM THERAPY TO EXECUTIVE COACHING
Gregorio Armañanzas Ros
Richard Kilburg (2.000) says: “Every consultant knows that the majority of managers are merely stewards of the status quo. If they stretch at all, they reach for the safe, incremental step that produces no real change in the homeostatic state of the enterprise. If they aim at all, they set their sights low, knowing that they are most likely to “succeed” by not producing spectacular failure. Yet, organizations and their people constantly yearn for and need leadership that will push them to new levels of creativity and growth”.
In this paper, I will try to frame the executive coaching, compared to psychotherapy, eliciting the more polemic areas in order to provoke the discussion about the subject.
We can start with a definition about executive coaching:
“Helping the managers to know their-selves better in their personal aspects which interferer or affect their managing function” (David Amstrong, 2.002).
Smith L. and Sandstrom J. (1.999) give us other definition more exhaustive:
“All coaches should have proficiencies in listening, creating an environment for change, facilitation self-awareness, etc., and should be able to work with personal, professional, and perhaps organization issues about which their clients want focus”.
*Comunication presented during the 15h International Congress of the International Association of Group Psychotherapy and Group Processes (IAGP): “Consultation as Coaching in Organizations”, Istanbul, 2003.
**Organizational consultant and coach, director of Go Grupos y Organizaciones, chair of the Organizational Consultancy Section of the IAGP.
Executive Coaching is a facilitative one-to-one, mutually designed relationship between a professional coach and a key contributor who has a powerful position in the organization. This relationship occurs in areas of business, government, not-for-profit, and educational organizations where there are multiple stakeholders and organizational sponsorship for the coach or coaching group. The coaching is contracted for the benefit of a client who is accountable for highly complex decisions with wide scope of impact on the organization and industry as a whole. The focus of the coaching is usually focused on organizational performance or development, but may also have a personal component as well. The results produced from this relationship are observable and measurable, commensurate with the requirements the organization has for the performance of the person being coached.
Key points of the definition:
-. A relationship exists between Coach and high-level individual(s) of the organization.
-. The relationship occurs in and is sponsored by differing kinds of organizations with multiple stakeholders.
-. Coaching is for the benefit of a person with high levels of responsibility and broad scope of impact.
-. Focus of the coaching may be both organizational and personal development.
-. Outcomes are observable and measurable, and match organizational performance requirements.
In this definition is clearly established that executive coaching is made by a professional coach, thereby, form outside of the organization.
The concept of coaching has been used in very different situations, sometimes because of marketing interests.
One of those uses is internal coaching. This concept is applied to coaching between a coach and a coacher, both belonging to the same company. Two possibilities in this case:
-. Both are in the same hierarchical line. They are bound by hierarchical relationships. In this case there is not enough distance and independence.
This could be called a kind of leadership and comprised of the normal exercise of management functions.
-. They are not bound by hierarchical relationships. If there is enough distance and independence, I would consider that this should be called as coaching. Nevertheless, it is a touchy issue.
Being immersed in the same culture makes it difficult to put distance between the coach and the clients.
Almost all organizations consider that for the senior levels of executive management external coaching is needed. (Alexander G, in Millan and West, 2.001).
There are two models in internal coaching:
-. Professional coach. Internal coach employed by the organization, but explicitly divorced from any other kind of activity.
-. Manager as coach. Some authors consider that this can be partially achievable in organizations with a nonhierarchical culture.
Types of Coaching
There are different kinds of executive coaching. There is a continuum between the skills coaching, concrete and similar to the training to a particular ability, and the development coaching which is more open ended and non directive.
West L. and Millan, M. (2.001) establish three kinds of coaching along this continuum:
SKILLS COACHIN PERFORMANCE COACHING DEVELOPMENT COACHING
Coaching objectives: finite/concrete Coaching objectives: complex/emergent
Implied coaching style: directive Implied coaching style: non-directive
Typical duration: short term Typical duration: longer term
OBJETIVES: “Skills coaching” refers to where the client’s development needs relate to developing specific skills and abilities, which define the coaching objectives clearly form the outset.
Specific skills such as: presenting, selling or dealing with the media.
What distinguishes skills coaching from traditional training is the fact that it is delivered one to one and can therefore be highly individualised.
The one-to-one setting of skills coaching allows for a two-way dialogue between coach and client in which the client can manage his or her own learning.
While the timeframe for this individualised approach will depend upon the client’s existing skills and the level he or she needs to attain, this type of focused coaching typically requires only a few meetings.
Executives do not have time to wait for a scheduled training programme or even to spend days away from the office.
Skills coaching often complements group-based training programmes by providing individualised support and personalising the learning.
The style is directive. The coach is an expert in skills. Usually 2-3 two-hour meetings over 1-2 months.
OBJETIVES: .. to enhance a client’s performance more generally in his or her current role, usually by enabling him or her to develop particular behaviours, or to remove blockages to his or her performance. It is sometimes also referred to as “feed-back coaching” since the required performance improvement is often identified in the context of a development planning process, or more commonly, as the result of a “360-degree” feedback process.
One of the most common agenda items we encounter is lack of clarity of expectations between individuals and their stakeholders (especially their boss). Performance coaching can provide the space for an individual to unravel his or her own set of assumptions and then plan to compare and negotiate expectations with his or her stake-holders more transparently.
Typically, the performance coach will engage the organisational sponsor (usually the individual’s line manager and/or an HR professional) more actively in the early stages of the referral. Sometimes the reason for the referral is largely contextual (most commonly, the individual is moving into a new role). When the reason for the referral is more specific to the individual’s current performance or behaviour, the organisation is usually fairly clear about how it wishes the client to develop. However, where there is considered to be underperformance, the degree to which this has been communicated to the client varies greatly. It often transpires that the individual’s boss is uncomfortable giving direct feed-back to the individual, and that there is a tacit hope that coaching will deliver the bad news instead. In these cases, the coach’s first role is to facilitate transparent communication between the boss and client so that expectations are clear.
They may feel pressured to accept the offer of coaching lest they do not appear open to such change, but privately they may feel wary or suspicious of the prospect. The first performance coaching sessions therefore focus upon engaging the client’s active participation, without which his or her coaching will not succeed.
Performance coaching typically runs over a period of three to six months. During early scooping of the coaching work, the coach often has to manage the organisation’s expectations about how much, and what type of, development or change is realistic within the available timeframe.
The coach plays a fairly directive role in “keeping the client on track”. Sessions are likely to follow the agenda quite closely, without much deviation on to other topics (although there is more flexibility than with skills coaching).
While all corporately sponsored coaching needs to address both the individual and organisational agendas, performance coaching places a slightly greater priority upon the organisation. While the client will benefit personally from this process, this is not the primary purpose of the investment.
Because of its focus on results in a shorter timeframe, organisations are especially attracted to performance coaching.
The role of coach it is a mixture of expert and facilitator.
OBJETIVES: On the right of the continuum in the figure is ‘development coaching’. The development coaching task is to create the conditions for reflective learning. A coach does this by first creating a psychological space, which allows the executive to stand back form the workplace, and then providing a supportive, yet challenging, relationship and dialogue in which the executive can gain perspective on his or her experiences and self, and on his or her leadership task within the organisation.
The process begins by identifying the agenda and development goals, but, more often than not, the agenda alters depending on changing circumstances in the client’s world. It should also be a managed process. Regular review sessions are built in for the coach and the client to reflect on the work they have done and its relationship to their agreed agenda.
West and Millan, M. (2.001) use a frequency of one and half hour every 2-4 weeks. Their coaching last for 6-18 months.
They add that the coaching relationships can last for years.
Armstrong (2.002) works along ten sessions. He starts with sessions of two hours each fifteen days.
Brunning, H. (2.003) works during 4 sessions once every 2 weeks or a month, lasting 1-2 hours each session.
In reality, there is, of course, overlap between the three types of coaching.
Some authors consider the skills coaching and the performance coaching more suitable to middle managers, and the development coaching to top managers.
Boundaries with Therapy
Where is the boundary between coaching and therapy?.
The coach must have this boundary clearly identified.
Kilburg R. (2.000) says: “… in one very productive coaching session, Ann was able to connect the pattern of conflict at work with the history of interpersonal and emotional trouble she experienced in her family of origin.”
In this quotation I feel that I am in the boundaries between therapy and coaching.
This introspection it is very interesting but the coach, unlike the therapist, will not persist in this way.
If the work persists in the way which Kilburg shows, I will feel that I am out of the contract and I will refer him/her to a therapist.
In the contract we implicitly establish that the level of depth is the working context.
The target in coaching is to increase the working performance. Secondarily our client benefits personally.
If we dig deep in psychodynamics the target becomes personal benefits for our client. Secondarily he increases his working performance.
As therapists, we can easily establish patterns of conflict whose roots are in the early family dynamics. First, I consider that we can not explore childhood dynamics. The context is on work and we must maintain this context.
Second, we can infer some family and psychological dynamics. I would not uncover it. I hope that my client would uncover by him/herself.
Third, if the client discovers it by him/herself, I must control my comments and maintain the general address of the session on the work and organizational context.
It is not easy for a therapist, accustomed to therapy context, to change this context.
In therapy, the work issues are considered as projections of psychological problems. Sometimes they are considered as defences against digging deeper.
David Armstrong (2.002) establishs a difference with psychotherapy. In coaching we always have the external context: the organization. We incorporate it in two ways:
-. As an external reality. Present in the contract, the fees, the reports, perhaps the site of working, etc.
-. As an internal reality. When the client expresses himself, he sometimes speaks as a voice of the organization. When the client feels anguish, sometime it is the anguish of the organization.
We listen about the individual inside the organization and the organization inside the individual.
What seems to be a personal psychopathology can be something triggered by a organizational situation and be read as a personal problem.
The dynamics of the organization can trigger a kind of pathology based on personal dynamics. This does not mean that it will be necessary to address this pathology.
If personal problems appear and are evident, Armstrong recommend psychotherapy.
We can consider that the problem is personal and not organizational but the client does not accept this. Do we continue with coaching?.
Some years ago I met a young woman in my psychotherapist office. She managed a company. She presented a problem of management to me. I proposed to work in a coaching context. She never returned. My point is: she came to me in a therapeutic context and wanted therapy. In this context work was a resistance with which I collude, therefore she never returned.
In an other experience and in a consultancy context a family came to me to talk about their family business. We established a program of working. In the last moment the leader said that they would not explore their business but make therapy. I wrongly agreed to this. They were not prepared for therapy and we did not do anything. If there was a possibility of doing something it was about their company, keeping them protected from uncovering their inner dynamics.
Kilburg R. (2.000) says: “I have deliberately tried not to stick to therapeutic norms and boundaries because I have come to believe that a coaching relationship must be much more fluid and flexible to be successful”.
It is therefore necessary to make some changes, changes in attitude. In therapy, mostly in a psychodynamic context, the privacy and control of spontaneity is valued, etc. It is necessary to be a mirror of the patient.
This behaviour in the coaching context could be a problem.
Another absence in therapists is the lack of knowledge in business and strategy. In the development coach we are nondirective. But we must understand the world of business, his culture. And the nondirectiveness is usually not as rigid as in therapy and many times the coach orientates the coachee.
Frequently, therapists who start in coaching, put aside the organizational dimension and focus on personal dynamics (Armstrong, D. 2.002).
It is possible to be a generalist or to be a specialist in coaching. The specialist knows some specific areas of business: e.g. health, mergers, banking, etc. Therefore, the specialist can offer this knowledge to the coacher. This does not mean that coaching must be clearly directive. All knowledge is needed in such as complex area.
On the other hand, as therapists and mostly group-therapists, we have a deep knowledge of the group and organizational dynamics. This is very helpful.
From psychodynamics we have the ability to be open to our feelings and thoughts when we are listening to our client.
Some consultants do not charge this first intervention.
Armstrong uses 1 or 1 ½ h. With these objectives:
-. Know about the problem
-. Explain about the style of work
-. Decide if a working alliance is possible.
He asks to move to his office in order to put distance to the situation.
Usually the contact is established with the client (the coacher) and with the sponsor: a top manager, the Human Resources manager, etc.
It is necessary to:
Describe the coaching process.
Define the roles: coach, client, sponsor.
Engage the sponsor and client’s commitment.
Be explicit in how organizational and individual interests are to be balanced.
Identify realistic objectives and outcomes.
Evaluate results with client and sponsor.
After the meeting some coaches draft a coaching contract and send it to the client for approval.
Written or not, the following must be clear:
-. The interest of the client and the sponsor in the coaching.
-. The objectives and measures of success.
-. The duration of the program. The length of the sessions, frequency, unlimited or specific number of hours.
-. Site of the sessions.
-. Fees and terms of payment.
-. Review of the progress by the sponsor. Normally halfway through the experience a formal progress review with the sponsor and with the client is desirable.
The review can be made with the client with the possibility of recontracting the remainder of the work. This feedback can be shared by the client with the sponsor. It is also possible to have a meeting with the three: sponsor, coach and client to provide a progress report.
Armstrong does not make reports to the sponsor because of the confidentiality
Brunning, H. (2.003) makes the evaluation with the client at the end of the last session. She does not inform the sponsor of any content. Only parameters such as the number of sessions. She occasionally has a three-way meeting with both client and sponsor when there is a conflict between them.
In ending the coaching it is necessary to bear in mind the following:
-. Evaluate the process. With the client and with the sponsor.
-. Achieve a proper closure of the relationship.
-. Identifying future contact, where appropriate.
Something about Methodologies of Work
Some authors ask for a narration of the personal and professional life.
Others ask to draw something which reflects how they feel in the organization.
Others ask to write a small story titled “a day of work” with a limited number of words e. g. 50. It is not necessary to write complete sentences or grammatically correct.
It is convenient to establish some hypothesis about each of the three different areas:
-. The person
-. The role
-. The organization.
Different to therapy, companies demand an evaluation of the progress.
The more precise the goals of a coaching program, as defined in the contract, the more possible it will be to measure the results.
There are several challenges inherent in the evaluation of the development coaching (Whitney, G in West, L and Millan, M, 2.001).
-. Achieving agreement about who should measure success: the client, the coach, the organization or a mixture of all three.
-. Achieving sufficient clarity of coaching goals, given that the development areas are inherently ambiguous (for example how do you measure goals as “develop my leadership abilities”).
-. Accommodating the inherently –and appropriately- shifting and emerging nature of development coaching contracts and goals.
-. Adapting to the inevitable changes in the individual professional context over a period of a year (promotions, mergers, etc).
The coach who survey their clients immediately after a program are particularly prone to bias.
Kilburg R (2.000) establishes some factors which contribute to negative outcomes:
Severe interpersonal problems
Client unwilling or unable to develop or maintain working relationships; significant or protracted negative transference
Lack of motivation client experiences little pressure from self or others to change
Unrealistic expectations of coach’ process. Client expects coach or the process itself to substitute for or do the work of the executive; major or repeated violations of the coaching agreement
Lack of follow through on homework or intervention suggestions
Insufficient empathy for the client. Coach does not truly care about the well-being or future of the client
Lack of interest or expertise in the client’s problems or issues
Underestimating the severity of the client’s problems or overestimating the coach’s ability to influence the client
Significant or protracted negative counter-transference. Coach overreacts to the client emotionally; has echoes of past significant, problematic relationships that cannot be managed appropriately
Poor technique –inaccurate assessment, lack of clarity on coaching contract, poor choice or poor implementation of methods
Major or prolonged disagreements with the client about the coaching process. Coach believes that client’s views of the agreement, problems, methods, implementation, or evaluation of the coaching efforts are flawed in major ways that become unmanageable.
Some Polemic Subjects
-. Who is the customer: the client or the sponsoring company? To whom is the coach accountable: the sponsor who sends the client for coaching and who pays the bill or the client who has been honest and open in the coaching?
-. The confidentiality of the coaching relationship.
-. Coaching as a deviation of management Armstrong D. (2.002) considers the risk of coaching as a kind of delegation of responsibilities in management. Many managers who are very busy with strategies and other subjects neglect helping and mentoring the middle managers. If this work is passed to the coach, he is implicitly invested as a manager. This make it difficult to maintain distance. Armstrong considers that it would not be necessary coaching juniors and lower levels of management. This could be a role of higher managers. There is a risk of externalising the management roles to the coaches. Another risk is the possibility of the coaching to be a kind of hidden control by the management. Sometimes the coach can be manipulated in a cover process: firing a manager, showing his incompetence, promoting someone for political interests, etc.
-. Alexander G. in West, L. and Milan, M.: “The Reflecting Glass”. Ed. Palgrave. New York, 2.001.
-. Armstrong, D.: Course “Executive coaching”. Madrid, 18 and 19 October, 2.002.
-. Brunning, H.: personal communication. London, 2.003.
-. Kilburg, R.: “Executive Coaching Developing Managerial Wisdom in a World of Chaos”. Ed. The American Psychological Association. Washington, 2.000.
-. Smith L. and Sandstrom J. (compilers): “Summary findings from the international executive coaching summit l: A collaborative effort to distinguish the profession”. ICF Conference-Orlando 1.999, International Coach Federation Webpage.
-. West, L. and Milan, M.: “The Reflecting Glass”. Ed. Palgrave. New York, 2.001.
-. Whitney G. in West, L. and Milan, M.: “The Reflecting Glass”. Ed. Palgrave. New York, 2.001.