This is the first of two connected issues on coaching. We have written about the “terrain” of coaching and the various charted and uncharted parts of our profession, encouraging continued exploration and explanation of the whole and the pieces (like effective contracting, establishing trust, methods and perspectives, how to measure outcomes or starting points).
There’s another way we sometimes segment our work, this time into two vast and different lands: Life/Personal Coaching and Executive/Organizational Coaching. This, our first of two issues, will focus on Life/Personal Coaching; the second, on Executive/Organizational Coaching. Often it seems these domains lie distant and separate. In fact, we have professionals and schools, companies and nonprofits, which claim to be exclusively one or the other.
Certainly there are differences. Coaches who work in organizations often have multiple stakeholders (client, boss, HR contact); Life/Personal coaches typically have a single person to whom they are responsible, the client. Coaches who work in organizations often have more complex interactions to acquire, contract, and assess their coaching work—there may even be multiple rounds of actual legal contracting. Executive coaching engagements can sometimes be inflexible or embedded in programs where they are secondary concerns. Life/Personal coaches may have more interactions to acquire clients and may need to think about scaling businesses in different ways. Their work may be more fluid and flexible since it generally occurs directly with the stakeholder who is also the client, contractor and evaluator.
But none of those important distinctions really address what we might argue is at the core of our work as coaches: the enhancement of individual lives. Whether that person works in an organization or is an organization unto themselves is not necessarily the defining factor of our work. We write “an organization unto themselves” deliberately to highlight the obvious observation of our profession: that people are quite complex in their history, experiences, actions and desires. But we also write the phrase to imply the connectedness of individuals and organizations–noting the fractal nature of our work as coaches.
A fractal, as we all may remember, is a pattern that repeats at progressively smaller scales, much like the molecular lattice-work in a crystal…or the behavior of a leader in a corporate division or a suburban family. Another example: You can see the way generosity appears as it cascades in patterns from people who lead to those who follow and, in turn, lead others who follow them, who again in turn, lead even more. You can also observe generosity in the way a leader lives with himself and the ways in which that influences his or her impact on others.