Home Concepts Best Practices Coaching in Organizations: A Status Report (Past, Present and Future)

Coaching in Organizations: A Status Report (Past, Present and Future)

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One of the foundations of this assumption about professional development was challenged many years ago by Kurt Lewin (who has already been identified as one of the sources of inspiration for many organizational coaches). Lewin proposed that significant learning and development only occurs after a person has been “unfrozen” – when their sense of self and their rational frame-of-reference for the world has been challenged (what followers of Lewin often identify as “cognitive dissonance”). If Lewin is accurate, then management and leadership development programs should be preceded by or initiated with some event that unfreezes program participants. In recent years, we see the emergence of 360° Feedback Systems as just such a tool for unfreezing. Unfortunately, in many instances, this tool for learning is misused, leading not to unfreezing, but rather to reinforced resistance to acquisition of the self-knowledge and skills most needed by the recipient of this feedback. This is a point where organizational coaching comes in—not as a tool for follow-up from developmental programs, but as a tool for follow-up from the report back of 360°feedback results. Descriptive instruments, such as the MBTI and DISC, can similarly be used in an effective manner—not as a source of learning, but rather as an unfreezing stimulus for the exploration of self and an incentive for the acquisition of new skills.

What should Rachel and Sam do with regard to their own assumptions about learning? Should Sam participate in a leadership development program while being coached by Rachel? Perhaps Sam should receive 360° feedback from his boss, subordinates, peers and some “internal customers” at his hospital, or complete a personality inventory (such as MBTI). Rachel’s work with Sam could then focus on the lessons learned by Sam in the leadership development program or focus on the disturbing (unanticipated, contradictory or thought-provoking) results from the feedback instrument or self-assessment inventory. Rachel should be knowledgeable about the content of these programs, assessment systems and inventories, if she is to be maximally effective; however, it is also important for both Rachel and Sam to realize that these learning-based initiatives are only the beginning. At its best, professional coaching is a learning-based tool that can extend development and the growth of self-insights and personal skills well beyond the bounds of a three day workshop or the report out of results from an inventory about management or interpersonal style preferences.

All of this optimism about coaching as a learning tool is based on the assumption that individuals can change organizations if they are knowledgeable, self-reflective and lifelong learners. But what about the pressure for continuity and the forces against change that exist in any system? What about the deeper roots of inequity in an organization? Can coaches teach courage or compassion? Is there sufficient heart-knowledge to match the development of head-knowledge? Should Rachel “teach” Sam something that he might not want to learn? Is it appropriate for Rachel to have her own learning “agenda” for Sam? These questions will inevitably linger for both Rachel and Sam – and they certainly linger in the field of professional coaching.

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