Alvey & Barclay’s (2007) research found that confidentiality was the single most significant factor in maintaining dyadic trust in the coaching relationship. Because the issue of trust is linked to the notion of confidentiality, who has first call on the loyalty of the coach is a matter of concern. Invariably, writers recognize the executive as the principal client, entitled to (negotiated) confidentiality and primary focus, but also acknowledge the legitimacy of the sponsoring organisation’s interest in the outcome (Sherman & Freas, 2004; de Vries, 2005; Wasylyshyn et al.
, 2006). The notion of sharing the objectives of coaching with the sponsor can be extended to sharing information with, and seeking feedback from, direct reports and colleagues. This process allows the executive to seek feedback on progress, helps direct reports, peers, and superiors to recognise improvements in performance and behaviour, which in turn may improve future ratings and act as a motivator for the executive (Thatch, 2002; Luthan & Peterson, 2003; Smither, et al. 2003; Wasylyshyn et al., 2006; Goldsmith, 2008). Coaching approachesExecutive coaches draw on a variety of disciplines to inform their approach (Peltier, 2001; Stewart et al, 2008).
A coaching conversation can take many forms, depending on the needs of the client and the particular orientation of the coach; the spectrum extends from a non-directive pull on one end, to a directive, push mode at the other extreme (Downey, 2003: 23-25). As Downey describes it, the directive style belongs to the traditional management paradigm while executive coaching would tend towards the non-directive end, although even the most non-directive of coaches occasionally need to impart information in a directive way.
The GROW model – Goals, Reality, Options and Wrap-up (Skiffington & Zeus, 2003), and variants of it, is one of the most popular and widely used models for structuring coaching conversations. However, many coaching practitioners proffer their own preferred approaches, for example, Kilburg, 1996; Tobias, 1996; Laske, 1999; Richard, 1999; Cocivera & Croinshaw, 2004; Sherin & Caiger, 2004; Gray, 2006; Du Toit, 2007; Gordon, 2008 and Styhre, 2008.Barner & Higgins’ (2007) paper Understanding implicit models that guide the coaching process outlines four theory models that inform coaching practice: the clinical model, the cognitive behavioural model, the systems model and the social constructionist model. While they consider no one model superior, they suggest that coaches need to be reflective about which model they use so that they can factor in the limitations of their model. For example, users of the clinical model may be prone to over-label clients based on limited information, the behavioural approach may be too directive, the systems approach may fail to engage key system players and with the social constructionist approach the coach needs to be mindful not to allow their interpretation of the client’s story to overwhelm the client’s interpretation. In addition to Barner & Higgin’s paper, recent literature suggests that coaching can be conceived as a vehicle for transformational learning (Gray, 2006), as a process of sensemaking (Du Toit, 2007), as a process of second-order observation (Styhre, 2008) and as a process of Appreciative Inquiry (Gordon, 2008). These approaches all emphasise the importance of conversation in the coaching process, which connects with the notion of social constructionism, i.e. that people creatively construct their social realities. To the extent that theories of sensemaking, transformational learning and second-order observations are reflective and look backwards before moving forward, Appreciate Inquiry Coaching (AIC) presents a new paradigm of coaching that focuses on the future with apparently little effort to reframe the past. However, it could be argued that the language of AIC is in the mode of pop psychology, and may not appeal to all, e.g. the stages in the AIC coaching model are Discover, Dream, Design, and Destiny. In line with Barner & Higgins (2006) approach, Stewart et al. (2008: 127-130) point to the different epistemological bases that underpin various models of coaching and suggest that the variety of available coaching models, even evidence-based models, do not provide a solid foundation for evaluating coaching and that coaches must possess skills, knowledge and attitudes that enables them to respond flexibly to coachees needs, adapting their style and employing different theoretical methodologies as the situation dictates (Stewart et al., 2008:130). This contrasts with Passmore & Gibbes (2007) view that sufficiently rigorous research will elucidate the secrets of coaching success.Managing the coaching processData Collection and Feedback In addition to coaching skills and psychological or business expertise, coaches must be capable of managing the coaching process, e.g., collaborating in setting objectives, establishing benchmarks for progress and monitoring outcomes.Once candidates and coach have been selected, personal interviews, psychometric testing and 360- degree feedback can provide the linchpin for coaching agendas (Kiel et al., 1996; Giglio et al., 1998; Starkey, 2006; Mackay, 2007) and the foundation for coaching conversations which build a trusting relationship (Alvey & Barclay, 2007). Psychologist coaches are slightly more likely to extend the range of interviews to executives’ peers and were more likely to use multiple methods of assessment, thus potentially providing a richer picture of the client’s disposition (Bono et al., 2009). However, there are reservations about aspects of 360-degree feedback (Kaiser & Craig, 2005, Olson, 2008) and the usefulness of psychometrics (Olson, 2008). Olson (2008) refers to issues about Myers-Brigg Type Indicators (MBTI) that produces profiles that may be a total artefact. Yet it is used to interpret you as a prototypic member of that category’ (Ibid: 157). Thus, it would appear that the data collection process may sometimes be flawed. Similarly, the feedback process is not without its problems. While objective feedback is said to be highly appreciated by senior executives (Thatch, 2002, Mannarelli, 2006; Styhre, 2008), feedback on its own may not be enough to influence behaviour change (Day, 2001; Goldsmith, 2006; Gregory et al, 2008). Insensitive or too negative feedback can be counterproductive (Kilburg, 1997; Hall et al, 1999) and may be blocked out by self-protecting defence mechanisms (Hogan & Warrenfeltz, 2003). Thus, although useful, assessment feedback is not a coaching panacea, but if handled properly provides a launching platform for the start of the coaching process. Goldsmith (2008) argues that the most effective feedback comes from well-respected colleagues. Coaching ObjectivesThere appears to be shades of opinion on who should be responsible for setting coaching objectives. Jones et al (2006) cite the International Coach Federation’s (ICF, 2003) view of goals and objectives as a collaborate process between the coach and the leader. While not necessarily completely at odds with this view, Goldsmith (2008) contends that when successful people are being coached they should self-select one or two behaviours they want to change (three is too many) and seek feedback on progress from significant others whom they respect. The third view is that HR has responsibility for setting the coaching objectives (Knudson, 2002), a fourth view is that objectives fall out of the data collection and feedback process (Starkey, 2006) and are agreed between the coach and the executive. It could be argued that, irrespective of how they come about, objectives agreed between all parties to the coaching (coach, executive, HR or the executive’s boss) are likely to have the best chance of obtaining positive outcomes.