This interview appeared in SA Coaching News (Vol. 1 Issue 1: January 2019)
As one of the global leaders and pioneers in the coaching profession both globally and in South Africa, we are privileged to bring you an interview with the founding President of the largest professional coaching body in South Africa. We asked Dr Sunny Stout-Rostron to look back over the years, to give her perspective on a number of emerging global trends, research and what coaches and professional bodies need to do to prepare for the future.
SACN: In 2016, you wrote the following for the series of 10th anniversary articles that COMENSA did featuring the founding members of COMENSA. We thought it would be interesting to re-visit these questions just over two years later to see if/what has changed since then. Do you have anything to add or amend?
What motivated you to become a founding member of COMENSA?
SSR 2016: When I first arrived in South Africa, there was a small number of coaches, most of whom had not ever had any serious education or training to become a coach. I began my doctorate in 2002 and as part of it was a supervisor to the Master’s students studying through Middlesex University to become executive coaches. It was at this time that I began to facilitate meetings with existing and studying coaches. There were about 50 in number – and gradually we began to create an informal professional body of coaches in South Africa. I spent four years and brought in about 20 others to help create a constitution, ethical framework and supervision framework. Gradually over the years we developed a chapter in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. We launched formally in 2006 with an elected ExCo nationally, and officers for each chapter.
What were your expectations, hopes and dreams for COMENSA?
SSR 2016: That it would become a professional body for coaches and mentors recognised by the other professional bodies worldwide. This has happened. Also, that it would serve the needs of the coaches and mentors in South Africa with a professional framework to support, educate and provide continuing professional development for the coaches and mentors.
SSR 2019: I would add that my hopes were that we would work more closely in alignment with the international professional bodies, especially having invested so much time and effort into building the relationship between COMENSA and the international bodies.
What special memories do you have of those early days as a pioneer of the profession in South Africa?
SSR 2016: There was a sense of inclusion, passion, excitement and interest to not only build a professional body for coaches and mentors in South Africa – but to be part of the growing development of the discipline worldwide. This has happened.
SSR 2019: I would only add that what I described above in 2016 happened in the beginning and my hope would be for that passion and interest to be re-ingnited. The single most important way to do this is through quality leadership from all parts of COMENSA, and we need liaising and working closely with the academic institutions in terms of research and putting on events suitable for coaches at all levels.
Where to next? What do you think COMENSA needs to focus on in terms of delivering on its promises?
SSR 2016: COMENSA must continue to provide professional development for coaches and mentors in South Africa – and they need to play a bigger part in the worldwide discipline. Particularly providing research into organisational coaching, supervision and the development of internal coaches. What has been lost somewhat is that initial camaraderie and the sense of creating and belonging to a professional body that makes a substantial difference to the disciplines of coaching and mentoring. We need to re-ignite that.
SSR 2019: The development of internal and team coaches should be a key focus area for COMENSA right now. We now face not only having to train and develop coaches who can work in the spheres of life, business, executive and leadership but also need to develop coaches (both internal and external) who can work effectively with teams. When you work with executives, you have to be able to facilitate group process, but facilitation is not the same as team coaching. This is the next area to be developed and I’m particularly excited about team coaching, having just written a book on team coaching and how to go about doing it.
Because corporate budgets are increasingly tight, more and more very senior executive teams are having team coaching – sometimes, and sometimes not in alignment with individual coaching. So, if internal coaches are going to be working with executives and their teams, then they need to be properly trained to do so because team coaching is more than just process work, group facilitation and training.
It is helping the teams to identify their common goals, where they are in terms of these goals, building relationships, what’s working and what’s not working, dealing with toxicity in the system, identifying where the team is stuck, why they are stuck and how they are collectively going to get un-stuck, working out their team agreements, how they’re working within the system, what’s happening systemically, what’s happening within the system that needs to be resolved – and some of this can be done by internal coaches, but some of it not.
One of the advantages for internal coaches of working within a team is that they are not working individually and therefore confidentiality is not compromised – as long as everyone involved commits to confidentiality around what happens in the room. I would think that it would be a very good thing for internal coaches to be properly trained in team coaching. Also, more and more businesses are going with internal coaches. They have their suite of external coaches but they are increasingly using their HR and OD people internally.
SACn: And now for some new questions:
As an acknowledged leader in the global coaching industry, how would you describe your journey through the early days of coaching, and what keeps you coming back for more?
SSR 2019: I wasn’t too sure how to answer this and my answer doesn’t really suit the question. In the early days of coaching (and I started working as a coach in 1991), we didn’t know we were coaching. We thought we were coaching but we were only just starting to have more and more one-on-one conversations with leaders, team leaders and executives. We were more mentors – or team leader mentors.
Gradually, team leaders would ask to have a one-on-one conversation over coffee. I started to think: I’m doing something, but what is it? Of course, there was no training for coaching in those days. Our only frame of reference was sports coaching, and what we were doing was more commonly known as mentoring. But something was working, so those of us who were working with individuals and teams in this capacity went for psychological training because we needed to understand what it was about what we were doing that was working – because we did not know why it was working and why there was this need for it.
What we found was that this new way of working with people was needed because people were increasingly looking for more meaning in their work, they were looking to get a greater understanding of their own behaviour and developing self-awareness around themselves, understand how their people and their teams were experiencing them and that kind of understanding didn’t happen in training.
Although we had some rudimentary personality profiling tools, they didn’t have the depth and sophistication that they have nowadays, and we weren’t trained in dealing at depth with the human psyche and human behaviour because we weren’t psychologists.
Psychologists on the other hand, who were beginning to have sessions with people who wanted something other than therapy, and didn’t know what to do about it – they were trained to diagnose and interpret but coaching isn’t about diagnosing and interpreting. It’s about learning, developing self-awareness and awareness of how you engage with others, your impact and influence on the system and the values, culture and so on in the organisation, and being able to identify systemically what was going on and where toxicity in the system was coming from.
All of this was happening, but we didn’t understand it so we first went for psychological training and then we went back for Masters and Doctorates, underpinned by clinical psychology which started to build this body of knowledge in the mid-1990’s. It was at this point that psychologists started to claim coaching as their own, and then there was this awakening that it didn’t really belong with therapy and psychology. It also didn’t necessarily belong with HR or leadership development and it began to be seen as something that was akin to leadership development, but nobody really knew where to put it.
Today, we understand that coaching is a system within itself, underpinned by experiential learning, adult learning, cognitive behavioural psychology, systemic thinking, existential phenomenology, family systems therapy, and much more. But in the early days, we were literally groping in the dark and gradually the light began to come through as we created Masters’ programmes and doing research. It was really the advent of the Global Coaching Convention (GCC) in Dublin that lit the fire under coaching world-wide.
It was the work done globally at the GCC with coaches around the world that opened conversations about where coaching was, what research was being done – and needed to be done, what needed to be studied and forming the basis of a coaching qualification, what were the ethics for coaches, was there such a thing coaching supervision. The GCC opened the door for professional bodies to start thinking about what needed to be included in coaching qualifications.
So, this is the journey of coaching which parallels my own journey, and what keeps me coming back for more. It’s such an amazing profession to be in: you’re working with people, you’re helping people, you can get old in this profession – as the older and more experienced you get in this profession, the better you become as a coach as long as you continue learning yourself.
I think the most important thing to keep in mind is continuing to learn, and focusing on your own professional development as a coach because that is what separates out the great coaches: continual commitment to their own learning journey. If you don’t keep learning, you’re not going to remain a good coach.
With your global experience and perspective, where do you see coaching going in the near future – what trends are you observing?
SSR 2019: I spent a few weeks recently in Australia focusing on this. We’ve gone from individual coaching (life, business and executive coaching) and started to branch out into all different types of coaching. Then this new thing emerged called team coaching, and our own Lloyd Chapman was really one of the first people to put his finger on what team coaching actually was and so his book (Integrated Experiential Coaching) is a particularly good one and worth referencing here.
The other part of the journey has been the development of the professional bodies and they have been instrumental in developing curricula, Masters and Doctoral programmes, and promoting research. We’ve got the Institute of Coaching at Harvard McLean with leaders of the calibre of Carol Kauffman and David Lane that started as a result of the GCC and are going from strength to strength as one of the most interesting of the professional bodies – although they don’t credential coaches. They provide funding for research and hold their annual conference where they showcase the work done within their four arms: positive psychology, executive coaching, health and wellness, and research. They have kept alive the idea that positive psychology underpins coaching and that research is incredibly important to help and develop coaches and the coaching profession.
What has fallen by the wayside a little bit is life coaching and people are rather calling themselves career coaches. Business and executive coaching on the other hand continues to grow, but organisations are capping the fees that they are willing to pay and they want to see results. They are also developing suites of coaches, so now we are moving towards coaches working together as a group or working for an organisation that provides a suite of coaches into an organisation, and it’s becoming much harder for an individual coach, working alone, to be successful. You need to become part of a group of coaches or belong to a suite of coaches.
This change will continue because coaching is becoming increasingly commoditised and organisations are becoming more vigilant of what they are prepared to pay. Also, because of the burgeoning body or number of coaches in every country (and the continuing commoditisation of coaching), coaches are increasingly being required to have a post-graduate degree in order to work in the corporate world. In addition to this, organisations are starting to supervise their own coaches, and coaching is being run through the HR and OD departments of large organisations.
Team coaching is another big trend. Coaching for leadership development is another big trend so coaching is not going to fall off the radar for leadership development. Executive coaching is being used for leadership development in alignment with team coaching and all the other leadership development processes being used by OD in an organisation.
The other growing trend is virtual or online coaching. It’s a worrying trend because these coaches may not be put through the same rigour and scrutiny that happens when coaches are contracted by organisations. This area in particular has the potential to become the domain of “cowboy” coaches in the absence of careful regulation and education of the unsuspecting public.
What challenges to you foresee for coaches and coaching in (1) South Africa and (2) worldwide?
I think we’ve already covered a lot of the challenges: fees, credentialing of coaches and accreditation of training providers, online or virtual coaching which has the potential to undermine the quality and calibre of coaching. Also coaches not committing to continuing professional development and their own learning and growth remains a challenge.
In addition to this, we are now turning out so many Masters and PhD coaches that, while we are getting really good research and building the body of knowledge, we are potentially academicizing coaching – and we don’t want to make coaches academics. Plus, students may be really great Masters and PhD students, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be good coaches. So, my worry is that we don’t over emphasise this trend of training up academic coaches, but that we do continue the trend of producing high calibre research for the profession.
As long a coaching exists, people will always be jumping on the coaching bandwagon and this is going to continue until something usurps coaching. We don’t know what it is, but then we didn’t recognise what coaching was in the early days until it usurped mentoring and consulting.
I do believe that leaders, executives and managers will continue to have a need for trusted advisors. The need for leaders, executives and managers to have help in dealing with people, behavioural and interpersonal issues will remain as long as leaders and managers are promoted for their technical expertise and not their ability to deal with people. However, as these managers and leaders mature, they too go for coaching certifications as they realise that they need more tools to manage people and behavioural issues.
Coaching is also going to remain a career into which people migrate at the end of their working lives, or after retrenchment and be seen as a means of giving back, making a contribution or working with purpose and meaning. Coaching will continue to be a 2nd, 3rd or 4th career change.
What can (1) coaches and (2) coaching professional bodies do to prepare for the future?
Coaching professional bodies need to work more closely with each other and collaborate more. They should be setting the standards and providing (where it falls within their mandate) good quality training and development and professional services for coaches.
They need to continue to offer conferences, remain in touch with research being done in their country or countries, and possibly be providing coaching journals and publications. They need to be at the forefront of what is happening in their own country or countries in terms of coaching. For example, COMENSA and ICF SA need to be leading the way in ensuring that coaches are being properly developed in South Africa.
The other thing that coaches and professional bodies need to avoid is falling foul of the toxicity that we see in organisations. Here I refer to toxicity or relationship problems. Coaches should have a deep understanding about relationship systems intelligence to avoid falling out with each other and with professional bodies. We should be working together. Where coaching bodies are run by volunteers, they need to make partnering and collaboration a strategic imperative to avoid volunteer burn-out.
Bodies like COMENSA should have senior leaders who are not only operating as part of coaching suites to executives and leaders, but are also aware of which companies are using coaching. COMENSA should be inviting those companies to come and speak at events and share what they are doing in their organisations as far as coaching is concerned. People will attend those kinds of events because it is executives who are speaking, not coaches. It gives coaches the opportunity to learn what clients are looking for, and what challenges they face in using coaching.
I think creativity is needed, especially where you have a voluntary Exco, to find solutions that do not take up time and money. Events are the big deal for any coaching professional body. If they aren’t going to offer quality events, what are they going to do instead? Events get coaches together and that’s a really good thing.
Coaches need to belong to professional bodies (possibly more than one) and they must continually up their game and remain current by doing new certifications and getting different qualifications if they want to remain relevant and at the top of their game. Coaches need to be constantly learning.
Has there been any recent research that has made a particular impact on you? Can you describe it and explain why you think it is so important to the coaching world?
There are two pieces of research that have made an impact on me, and I’ve been involved in both of them. The one is the book that GIBS published on research called Women Leaders in Emerging Markets for which I did a chapter on women in education. Each chapter represented a year’s worth of research and what was interesting about it was that we interviewed women in emerging markets and developing countries around the world to explore what leadership model these women are working to. What I found was that women are developing their own leadership model which is an integration of the best of men and the best of women.
The second piece of research is what I have just done with Gordon Spence on the delayed or “sleeper” effects of coaching which will be published in Coaching: An International Journal of Research, Theory and Practice in February 2019. We looked at coaching that was done in corporates, working a year down the road to see what the people who had received the coaching were still using, and what effects remained. Both were extremely interesting pieces of work.
How have these observations and experiences informed your coaching practice?
The GIBS research with women leaders gave great insights into what support women in leadership positions need. The book is a valuable resource for anyone working with women in positions of leadership. This has substantially impacted my knowledge of what women leaders need, which is different from what men need and I’ve become more aware of the degree to which they don’t talk about how working in a man’s world impacts on them, and what is holding them back and where they need help.
The result of the research on the delayed effects of coaching has shown us that there are delayed effects in coaching. We would like to do more research to prove it. I stay in touch with a lot of my former clients and have discussed this research with them, so it has really opened my eyes as to how people go on to use their coaching and the impact that it continues to make on their lives.
Your latest book on Team Coaching is literally hot off the press. What inspired you to write this book, and what need do you believe it fulfils?
It’s based on my research over the last 6 – 7 years and I’ve come up with a model that I’ve been using, have fine-tuned and honed over the years, because the teams that I’ve been working with using this model have all shown great results. I’ve been working with several other people and we have been bringing our way of working together – which I talk about in the book. In conjunction with the other people that I work with, this has evolved as my way of working with teams.
I did a number of team-coaching certifications, including ORSC (Organisational Relationships Systems Coaching), Peter Hawkins’ Systemic Team Coaching, RSI work that I’m doing with Creina Schneier, and I’m excited because this is based on the work that I’ve been doing over the last 6 – 7 years.
SACn: The book, Transformation Coaching to Lead Culturally Diverse Teams is due out in February 2019 and can be pre-ordered by following this link.
You’ve developed not one, but two new coaching models that are included in your new book. Describe them and how they differ from, or complement existing models and frameworks.
The one model is what I do in the team coaching session itself, and the other is an over-arching model for how the team coaching works over a 12-month period.
With the more than 30 years’ experience and expertise in coaching that you have now, as a leader in the field internationally, what advice would you give to someone considering a career in coaching?
- Continually develop yourself,
- Understand what is motivating you to work as a trusted adviser or in any capacity that you work with your clients,
- Develop more self-awareness,
- Understand that it is about them and not about you,
- If you’re working in business stay abreast of what is happening in the financial, economic and business markets so that you can understand the complexity of your clients’ environments, and
- Understand everything about your clients.
Sunny Stout-Rostron is founder of Sunny Stout-Rostron Associates CC, a founding Director of People Quotient (Pty) Ltd, an Advisory Board Director with the Professional Development Foundation UK (PDF), a Founding Fellow and Research Advisor at the Institute of Coaching at McLean Hospital (a Harvard Medical School Affiliate) and Founding President of Coaches and Mentors of South Africa (COMENSA). Stout-Rostron coaches internationally.