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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Cognitive Revolution

A closely related epistemological revolution which will (or at least should) influence future coaching engagements comes from the field of cognitive psychology. We now know quite a bit more than we did twenty years ago about how human beings think. We have come to appreciate the remarkable way in which adults process the complex information of our postmodern era. Cognitive researchers such as Robert Kegan and Carol Gilligan speak of multiple levels of cognitive competency—noting that adults tend to move from a rather simplistic, dualistic (black and white) frame of reference to frames of reference that embrace relativistic perspectives, nested inferences and the capacity of critical and reflective thinking (thinking-about-thinking). We are becoming more fully aware of the cognitive challenge associated with postmodern complexity, unpredictability and turbulence. We are often “in over our heads” (Kegan) when facing these cognitive challenges and can use the assistance of a coach who is fully appreciative of these challenges. Coaching strategies are now being engaged that not only help one’s client address these challenges, but also help this client become more skillful themselves in making full use (without a coach being present) of these “meta-cognitive” functions.

As in the case of the neurobiological revolution, the cognitive revolution has not left the heart behind. The head and heart are constantly being “saturated” (Kenneth Gergen) with different images of self (often manufactured to increase consumption) and have even learned how to “manage” feelings (Arlie Hochsheild). Cognitive psychologists point to the remarkable ways in which we convince ourselves that we are happy (or unhappy) and to the equally remarkable ways in which we distort reality in order to come to these conclusions about happiness (as well as competence, empowerment, and meaningfulness) (Daniel Gilbert)  Leaders are faced with the task of determining what their “real” and “authentic” self really is, how they are really feeling about what is happening to them and around them, and whether or not they chose to be happy, powerful or competent. We are likely to find that coaches are being asked, with increasing frequency, to assist leaders with these tasks. What will be the coaching tools that are most appropriate to the identification of an authentic sense of self, a non-distorted appraisal of personal happiness or an accurate assessment of one’s emotional state?

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