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Coaching is Dead. Long live Coaching!

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[Note: This essay first appeared in a 2009 issue (No. One) of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations]

There is a growing sense of urgency and anticipation about the future for coaching (what is it and what does it need?) as well as about the future of the world (where is it going and what does it need?). As such, it is important to assess the degree to which the historical stories we tell about coaching and about the world match the requirements for either’s future. Otherwise, we are at risk of literal or metaphorical dust bowls as a result of seeing the future as merely an extension of the past and imposing our outdated narratives as a result.

I believe coaching is at a bifurcation point in its evolution, a critical juncture whose outcome is currently unknown. Will it become a niche specialty for certain professionals, an assumed skill for every professional, a viable and independent discipline or something else not yet imagined? While time will certainly tell and we each have a voice to add, there is certainly a need for more revolutionary and proactive thinking about its future regardless of the outcome. As I shared in keynoting a recent coaching conference, “Coaching (as we knew it) is dead! Long live coaching!” In the pages that follow, I offer some of my reflections on the articles in this issue and the possibilities for the next generation of coaching.

The articles in this issue trace some of the central threads and players that have shaped coaching in an effort to better understand and honor its past as well as to better understand and shape its future.

This grounding is important for the viability of the professionals who coach, the growth of our collective wisdom about coaching processes, and the maturation of coaching as an institutional force. It echoes some of the findings from a recent Harvard Business Review research report (Coutu & Kauffman, 2009a) in which many of the survey respondents saw coaching as a highly effective process but felt that the field itself is in “adolescence.”

While concerns were raised (ibid., p. 5) regarding barriers to entry, standards for practice, research on effectiveness and more, I would contend that the larger issue is the lack of a suitable and shared frame of reference by which to determine any viable answers. In part this stems from the fact that coaching has grown so quickly that we are, in a way, trying to get all the horses back into the proverbial barn. The result is an ongoing, but perhaps fruitless, attempt to view and orchestrate the development of coaching using traditional frames of reference borrowed from other disciplines. Instead, I continue to advocate for the view that coaching should be seen as the first post professional practice –     a new integration of art and science and a new type of profession that draws on historical precedents but seeks out new metaphors for its identity.

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