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Coaching High Potential and High Performance Clients

34 min read

William H. Bergquist and Dorothy E. Siminovitch

A  three-day symposium was convened on November 11-13, 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey under the auspices of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.  This three-day meeting was organized to explore the relationship between executive coaching and leadership development.  During this meeting extensive attention was given to two related coaching challenges: how to work most effectively with men and women who have been identified as high potential performers, and how to work most effectively with men and women who have already been acknowledged for high levels of performance.  As a first step in making sense of these challenges, we have identified five different kinds of clients (two of which are high potentials and high performers) and have suggested ways in which these five types pose both different and similar coaching challenges. Perhaps most importantly, three of these types tend to be deficit-based whereas the high potential (HPOT) and the high performance (HPER) clients were identified as coming from a position of envisioned (HPOT) or real (HPER) strength and accomplishment. It is our belief that the executive coach requires specific strategies  and competencies to serve the developmental needs of all five of these diverse client populations, but that the high potential and high performance clients in particular require unique coaching strategies and competencies.

From Deficit-Based to Strength-Based Coaching

Following are the five types of clients that coaches in an organizational setting are likely to encounter. We have used the term “level” when identifying and describing each of these five types, because we believe that there are a set of assumptions underlying the way coaches work with each type that infer (appropriately or inappropriately) a hierarchy of competency and motivation.

Level One: Remediation: Available to Problematic Employees

Many organizations offer coaching at this first level, and organizational coaching has acquired a very negative reputation in many organizations precisely because it is associated with “losers.”  These problematic employees may have never lived up to their potential or may have leveled off or declined in their performance. In some instances these are employees who have recently made a series of mistakes or been disruptive in their work with other employees or customers (inside and outside the organization). Two major case studies have been featured in the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations (IJCO) over the past seven years that concern problematic employees who have received coaching (Surrenda & Thompson, 2003; Hill, 2007; see also Rothaizer, 2007). In both of these cases, the coaching was not successful, highlighting the exceptional challenge associated with coaching at this first level. Typically, level one clients are not motivated to either examine or change their behavior and often feel quite threatened by the entire coaching process. The identified client may resist the benefits of the coaching engagement as a way of limiting self-awareness of limitations or the need for improvement.

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