Coaching and developing coaches
By Andy Howie
We have recently been growing our coaching programmes and I’ve been working with a digital marketing company to promote them. Rob jokes that I’ve become the ‘director of coaching’! Not sure about that but coaching is something I certainly have a passion and focus for though. It has been a constant thread throughout my working life of 44 years.
To keep up to date with current practice and innovation I have been reading around the subject of coaching and it’s created a dilemma I’d like to share with you. Many in the coaching community talk about coaching competencies, but I came across a paper from Oxford Brookes University in which they referred to coaching capabilities. It made me consider competencies versus capabilities when developing coaches and when we assist an organisation in developing an internal pool of coaches.
For me there is something about a competency approach that feels formulaic, whereas taking a capability view of coaching feels really more authentic. Some people who promote competencies may say never bring in your own experience, but in my own coaching practice and when I’m supervising coaches I do sometimes share my own experience. I see it much more as a collaboration, a relationship, and I have to bring a way of being, not just behaving. Attention must be paid to each individual but also to the relationship between us.
Another example is to consider how should time be proportioned between the coach speaking and listening? If you use science to help you answer this question you may come up with a fairly fixed figure, which you can ensure you abide by in your coaching sessions. But I experience coaching as much an art as it is a science. There are nuances and shifts and influences that will affect each coaching session, so perhaps there are no rigid rules. Effective coaching is responding to what is presented in the moment, and that can sometimes involve more listening than speaking, and, at other times, more speaking than listening.
I’m aware that I’ve now introduced two areas of coaching debate:
Competency v Capability, Science v Art, and I’ll add a third: Structure v Freedom
I recognise that these are not necessarily stark conflicts. Competency is needed to allow capability to flourish, science is not static and some structure can facilitate a greater level of freedom. But, that said, I feel that I am inclined towards the capability, art and freedom philosophy of coaching. Coaching is a dynamic that is constantly changing and having knowledge of a coaching model and well practised skills and behaviours isn’t enough. If we are too rigid it can narrow and close down what could happen. We may also assume that as long as we behave in a certain way, we’ll get good outcomes, but that is not true. Coaching is not always predictable.
In our coaching programmes we do look at models of coaching and competencies, but we also encourage people to bring themselves as human beings to their coaching relationships. I once read somewhere that “techniques are what you use until the coach arrives”. If we hold the competency/science/structure side of coaching more lightly it will enable curiosity to come in and we can create an environment where both the coach and the person being coached relax and can be comfortable with a level of playful experimentation, and a deeper learning relationship becomes possible.
I hope my musings have helped stimulate your own thoughts about coaching. Perhaps you’d like to join us on one of our programmes and explore these debates in more depth?