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The Problem of Competence in Coaching

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Aristotle presents two notions, one he refers to as ‘phronesis’ and the other ‘techne’.
‘Techne’ is akin to the modern world’s understanding of scientific thinking and behaviour.
‘Phronesis’ is linked to the idea of ‘noticing’ or attentiveness to a specific situation.  It involves flexibility of thought, sensitivity of context, an orientation to the subject and critical interpretation rather than ‘mastery’.

‘Techne’ is about pre-planned learning whereas ‘phronesis’ ‘is exercised in the course of what might be called ‘hot action’. It happens in the moment as an activity.  Rather like when a coach is working.

However, the dominant approach of competencies in coach training emphasises ‘techne’ at the expense of ‘phronesis’.  This is a problem.

The coaching professionalization agenda has become dominated ‘techne’ through standards, competence frameworks and alleged quality assurance.  The rational pragmatic discourses have become so loud, so dominant that any alternative is squeezed out, marginalized or simply ignored.

This is a very big problem for coaching practice where the literature almost to a writer makes big claims for coaching in terms of its ability to develop individualism, creative and innovative thought, change and the tolerance of complexity – to mention a few commonly cited benefits.

The ranking problem

One problem with ‘techne’ is ‘ranking’ i.e. novice coach, master coach, supervisor coach.
Is this appropriate for a practice like coaching?

Clearly there is a very conventional logic to ranking; however, this is an ‘exclusive’ and not an ‘inclusive’ approach; some will drop out or be damaged by this approach. Of course, if one subscribes to the rational pragmatic discourse, this may not be such a bad thing!  In a Darwinian survival of the fittest world this would be an acceptable loss in the interests of ‘standards’.

However, the often cited current discourses of coaching, which favour a person centred humanistic approach (see Cox et al 2014; Garvey et al, 2014; du Toit, 2014; Rogers, 2012; Connor & Pokora, 2012; Western, 2012; Garvey, 2011; Parsloe & Leedham, 2009; Whitmore, 2009; Rosinski, 2004) are clearly at odds with the ‘ranking’ philosophy employed by professional bodies.

The instructor-led problem

Another problem of the ‘techne’ approach is that the education system for coaches is instructor-led.  This may seem an odd criticism. However, it assumes that the instructor has the knowledge and the experience and the learner learns it! The learner is ‘taught’ and the instructor teaches to the ‘standards’ set by the assessment or accreditation process.

Again this is at odds with the professed philosophy of coaching which is dominated by the discourse of the ‘learner’s agenda’ (see Cox et al 2014; Garvey et al, 2014; du Toit, 2014; Rogers, 2012; Connor & Pokora, 2012; Western, 2012; Garvey, 2011; Parsloe & Leedham, 2009; Whitmore, 2009; Rosinski, 2004).  However, the ‘techne’ discourse positions the coach as an ‘expert’ and so ‘instructor-led’ is clearly acceptable in a world dominated by the ‘techne’ discourse.

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