Early settlers (such as my colleagues, Agnes Mura and Jeannine Sandstrom) built the field’s credibility and helped to found the first “trade” organizations (such as ICF, the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches and, for a short period of time, the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations). More books were written, and professional coaching was often tied in with other domains of training and education (such as leadership development and mentoring). Late settlers include those who built ICF into a formidable international institution with extensive guidelines and levels of credentialing. In this group we also find those who are superstars in the field (such as Marshall Goldsmith) and those who have built and now run big organizations (such as WBECS) focusing on the mass marketing of coaching services. These settlers have also built complementary associations such as the Association of Coach Training Organizations and the Graduate School Association of Coaching. The professional coaching town appears to be well-established and here to stay. It is becoming a small cosmopolitan city.
The Town’s Future
We might now ask an important question regarding the future of our frontier town and the future of the coaching profession. What about the explorers and pioneers? Are they going to hang around and become “citified” or will they move on to other ventures? Perhaps, some (or many) of them have already left. What role will (or should) they play if they do hang around? As I mentioned earlier, these early-arriving coaches will probably not be very effective as town officers, judges or formal instructors. Perhaps their primary role is to provide what Talcott Parsons (1955) called the maintenance of latent patterns in this community. Ironically, this is the same role played by recalcitrants in the old established towns and cities “back home”. In some important ways, innovation diffusion is cyclical rather than linear in nature.
There is an even more fundamental question to ask: what will be lost if this “pioneering spirit” is no longer present in the professional coaching field? This question is even relevant to recommendations I have made in previous reports and the present one. Is my push for a “culture of evidence” likely to hammer a nail in the coffin of this pioneering culture? Am I pushing for too much respectability and too restrictive an assessment of processes and outcomes? On the other hand, my advocating for a more global dialogue might serve as a counter-balancing plea.
If enacted this dialogue could help to keep the pioneering spirit alive. With the increasingly cosmopolitan makeup of the town and the digital expansion of boundaries in the field of coaching, we are likely to find some fresh air (perhaps a minor hurricane) blowing through the town. The source of this fresh air will be the diverse perspectives offered by new international arrivals to the town and from communication between the coaching town and other nearby towns that are being established (such as neurofeedback training, behavioral economics-based consultation and virus-induced digital education). This gentle (or not-so-gentle) breeze will convey new ideas, provoke dialogue, and point to a bit of town-rebuilding.