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The Problem of Competence in Coaching

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Where are special abilities or creativity considered in a competence model other than through a hierarchy of standards posited as ‘novice’ to ‘advanced’? This approach provides a ‘blanket’ approach to coach development where specific talents or contexts of practice are ignored in favour of standards.  In itself this limits the scope of a list of standards, unless they are particularly comprehensive but comprehensiveness is not associated with the rational pragmatic discourse – the discourse that dominates the business world.  Instead, it favours reductionism – simplicity.

However, Garvey et al (2009:191) note: “…..when professionals are highly anxious ………..under strong resource pressure, then the delivery of competencies can degrade.” More worryingly, Barnett (1994:73) comments that: “the notion of competence is concerned with predictable behaviours in predicable situations”.

This is a seriously concerning observation for those involved in coaching. How often is a coaching conversation predictable? The competence qualified coach might think – ‘mostly!’ because this is the rational pragmatic discourse. The competence qualified coach might believe the quote (often attributed to Abraham Maslow): “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”!

The stability problem

Competency frameworks developed out of rational pragmatic discourses also assume stability. This is a problem when most coaching situations are fluid and based on change and transition. The competence model for coach development is therefore weak.

More problems

Further criticisms of competence frameworks are offered by the Bolden & Gosling (2006:148) analysis of the literature on the subject. They present five arguments found in the literature as to why competencies are inadequate.

Ecclestone, (1997); Grugulis, (1998) and Lester, (1994) all state that the reductionist nature of competencies make them inadequate to deal with the complexities of a job role;

Grugulis, (2000); Loan-Clarke, (1996) and  Swailes & Roodhouse, (2003) argue that the generic nature of competencies mean that they are not sensitive to specific situations, tasks or individuals;

Cullen, (1992) and Lester, (1994) argue that competence frameworks represent a view of past performance rather than act as a predictor of future behaviour;

Bell et al., 2002) suggest that competence frameworks exclude subtle qualities, interactions and situational factors

Brundrett, (2000) argues that they create a limited and mechanistic approach to learning.

These arguments could easily be applied to coach training based on competence standards and the current direction of coach education, training, assessment and accreditation is worrying because it simply reflects the rational pragmatic discourse found in organisations. In relation to assessment and accreditation, it is the credentializers who have the power to include or exclude. Currently, excluding seems the norm.

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