This article is adapted from Sunny Stout Rostron’s new book, Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009) which is available from Knowledge Resources (www.knowres.co.za)
The focus of the coaching conversation is to help the client work towards achieving their desired outcomes. It is in this process of reflection, where coach and client reflect on the client’s experience, that potential for learning and action emerges. Business coaching has been defined in many different ways, but is essentially a one-on-one collaborative partnership to develop the client’s performance and potential, personally and professionally, in alignment with the goals and values of the organisation. Business coaching should be aligned strategically with the overall values and objectives of an organisation.
However, an important question is raised for executives: if goals are to be motivationally achieved, are they also aligned with the individual’s values, beliefs and feelings? Often organisations merely pay lip service to organisational values, and don’t necessarily create them as a synthesis of the core individual values which make up the culture of the organisation. Ethical dilemmas can arise during the coaching process if the executive needs to make difficult choices which are incompatible with their own value system.
Goals and motivation
If you wish to help your clients to improve their behaviour and performance, it is useful to understand the psychology behind adult behaviour, goals and motivation. Alfred Adler, who worked with Freud for ten years, reasoned that adult behaviour is purposeful and goal-directed, and that life goals provide individual motivation. He focused on personal values, beliefs, attitudes, goals and interests, and recommended that adults engage in the therapeutic process using goal setting and reinventing their future, using techniques such as “acting as if”, role-playing and goal setting. All these tools are utilised and recognised by well-qualified business coaches worldwide.
Motivational theories primarily focus on the individual’s needs and motivations. I have typically worked with coaching clients to help them understand more fully their intrinsic motivators (internal drivers such as values, beliefs, and feelings), and how to use extrinsic motivators (external drivers such as relationships, bonuses, environment, and titles) to motivate their teams. If an individual’s goals are not in alignment with their own internal, intrinsic drivers, there will be difficulties for them in achieving those goals.
An ICF study (Griffiths and Campbell, 2008) confirms that coaches often assume clients are aware of their values, but within the confines of the study this assumption appeared to be incorrect (ICF, 2008a). The clients interviewed indicated they were not aware of their values, and that acquiring a process of awareness and reflection led them to become more aware of their emotions, their values and of the need to clarify their goals. Whitmore (2002) supports this, and states that the goal of the coach is to build awareness, responsibility and self-belief.
The coach’s intervention and questions help the client to discover their own intrinsic drivers or motivators, and help both coach and client to identify whether the client’s personal, professional and organisational goals are in alignment.
Adult and experiential learning
Adult learning theory has influenced coaching from the start: the goal of adult learning is to achieve a balance between work and personal life. In the same way, most business coach-client relationships involve an integration of personal and systems work. Personal work is intended to help the client develop the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual competence to achieve their desired goals; systems work may be found within a partnership, marriage, family, organisational team or matrix structure.
Another powerful influence on goal-setting in coaching is experiential learning because it emphasises a client’s individual, subjective experience. In this process, coach and client probe the essence of an experience to understand its significance and to determine any learning which can be gained from it. The importance of experiential learning is that coach and client use the business coaching conversation to actively reconstruct the client’s experience, with a focus on setting goals which are aligned with the client’s intrinsic drivers, i.e. values, beliefs and feelings.
Other considerations may be language, social class, gender, ethnic background, and the individual’s style of learning. In learning from experience, it is useful to understand which barriers prevent the client from learning. Often it is a matter of developing self-reflective skills as much as self-management skills. What clients learn from their experience can transform their perceptions, their limiting and liberating assumptions, their way of interpreting the world – and their ability to achieve results.
Types of goal
The coach is responsible for ensuring that goal-setting conversations get the best results. O’Neill (2000) differentiates between two kinds of client goals, business and personal, and links the coaching effort to a business result, highlighting and prioritising the business areas that need attention. Business goals are about achieving external results; personal goals are what the leader has to do differently in the way they conduct themselves in order to get the business results they envision.
Yalom talks about two types of goals: content (what is to be accomplished), and process goals (how the coach wants to be in a session). However, he also describes the importance of setting concrete attainable goals – goals that the client has personally defined, and which increase their sense of responsibility for their own individual change (Yalom, 1980).
If the client is to learn how to learn, they need to cultivate self-awareness through reflection on their experience, values, intrinsic drivers, the impact of these on others, the environment, and on their own future goals. This process is often implicit in the coaching relationship through the process of questions and actions that develop critical reflection and practice. As a coach you will be asking questions to help clients reflect, review and gain useable knowledge from their experience. A useful structure for your work with business executives is along the continuum of a development pipeline (Peterson, 2009). Your questions and challenges in your coaching sessions can help your clients reflect in each of these five areas:
1. Insight: How are you continually developing insight into areas where you need to develop?
2. Motivation: What are your levels of motivation based on the time and energy you’re willing to invest in yourself?
3. Capabilities: What are your leadership capabilities; what skills, knowledge and competence do you still need to develop?
4. Real-world practice: How are you continually applying your new skills at work?
5. Accountability: How are you creating, defining and taking accountability?
Business coaching places great emphasis on clarifying and achieving goals. Often within the complexity of the organisational environment, the client’s overarching goals may be set by a more senior power, and that senior individual may have different worldviews and paradigms, and differing limiting and empowering assumptions. It is crucial that the client have a “living sense” of what their goals may be (Spinelli, 1989). In other words, goals must be aligned with the values of the individual, as much as with the values of the organisation, if they are to be achieved.
Griffiths, K.E and Campbell, M.A. (2008). Regulating the regulators: paving the way for international, evidence-based coaching standards. International Journal of Evidence-Based Coaching and Mentoring, 6(1):19–31.
International Coach Federation (ICF). (2008a). Core Competencies. Lexington, KY: ICF. Webpage: http://www.coachfederation.org/research%2Deducation/icf%2Dcredentials/core%2Dcompetencies/.
International Coach Federation (ICF). (2008b). ICF Code of Ethics. Lexington, KY: ICF. Webpage: http://www.coachfederation.org/about%2Dicf/ethics%2D%26%2Dregulation/icf%2Dcode%2Dof%2Dethics/.
O’Neill, M.B. (2000). Coaching with Backbone and Heart: A Systems Approach to Engaging Leaders with Their Challenges. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Peterson, D. (2009). Executive Coaching, A Critical Review and Recommendation for Advancing the Practice. In S. Zedeck (Ed.), Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources.
Whitmore, J. (2002). Coaching for Performance: Growing People, Performance and Purpose. London: Nicholas Brealey.
Yalom, I.D. (1980). Existential Psychotherapy. New York, NY: Basic Books.