“What’s next for coaching?” I’ve asked myself this question a lot recently because, as I look at the current state of coaching, it feels a very live and kicking question for our profession.
I’m acutely aware that coaching is the new kid on the block in the world of personal and organisational change, yet already, a mere 20 or so years in, it seems that the commonly-accepted concept of coaching has grown stale and is no longer fit for purpose.
I’m fascinated by what coaching can really be as we face a world of uncertainty, volatility, shifting identities, accelerating automation, rising consciousness of personal agency and the preponderance of choice, and I wonder if coaches are ready for what comes next. Do we even know what we’re here to do?
Now, I’m not particularly interested in the word itself. It’s true that I don’t really feel that “coaching” is what we do as coaches but words schmerds, we can live with that label now. Indeed, maybe the coaching profession will appropriate the word to such a degree that, just as counsellors don’t counsel, we won’t coach. The word coach just becomes a label for a new breed of change-makers who create a space for deep reflection, self-understanding and choice.
So if it’s not the word, what is it that I think we need to move beyond?
Well, it’s this. I think the coaching establishment is still stuck on coaching as a workplace performance enhancer. The majority of serious books, articles and thought leader pieces on coaching still generally equate coaching with the workplace, with executives and with performance.
I believe that coaching has a much, much bigger role to play however. I think we’re at the cusp of exponential growth in coaching as it responds to the growing needs of individuals in a world in which almost everything is in flux. It’s true that life coaching has existed for nearly as long as business coaching but it’s always been the awkward cousin whom nobody wants to admit is part of the family.
It’s time to wake up to the beautiful reality that coaching is not about business – it’s about people. And in today’s frenetic world in which we are all too aware of our capacity to change our life in some way (get that six pack, travel the world, win the guy, start that business, be more, more more.) coaching is dominant force for creating a non-pathologising space in which individuals can explore what’s going on for them, where they’re heading, the choices they have, what they’re not seeing, the patterns they’re running and so much more.
It’s like a reflective oasis in a desert of hectic happening!
Once upon a time, long, long ago (errr… the 20th century), you had to have something “wrong” with you to seek the kind of space in which you could explore your inner world with a professional facilitator of self-discovery (read analyst or therapist). The humanistic movement changed that to some extent, yet it couldn’t shake off the notion of being therapy. And whilst psychotherapy simply means “attention to the psyche” (a unique and wonderful human capacity, as Socrates understood when he said a life unexamined is a life not worth living [ok, a bit harsh but you get his point!]), the word became synonymous with problematic emotions and emotional healing. I think Carl Rogers would have loved today’s non-directive coach. He understood that his work wasn’t about problems and healing but reflecting and hearing and finding oneself.
And that brings us back to coaching.
The world is changing and changing fast. Coaching needs to be fit for purpose.
Coaching is a reflection of our current zeitgeist in which personal agency, meaning and purpose is predominant. Just look at leadership – the latest development towards for holocracy – leadership suffused throughout an organisation – is one more example of the respect of the individual and the importance of meaning and purpose.
And does this really only matter behind the boardroom door? You know it doesn’t! The search for meaning, purpose and agency is expressed everywhere – in relationships, parenting, entrepreneurship, wellness, existential ponderings, even holidays are becoming transformational experiences!
It’s time that we stretch our wings as coaches and get ready to take our role outisde of the workplace very, very seriously.
At Animas, we’ve always been serious about this. Our name means “living courageously” not “performing effectively’. Most of the coaches we train go on to coach within the wider world of personal and life coaching. I’m so proud that we cradled the ember of transformational coaching from the first days or our school. We aren’t alone, thank goodness, (see the likes of Reinhard Stelter with his notion of 3rd generation coaching and protreptics) but I believe that, more than any other school, we have consciously sought to bring a depth and rigour to life coaching because, ultimately, it matters, it makes a difference, it’s human.
In a parallel universe, perhaps we’re called “thought partners”, “choice architects”, “limbic journeyers”! Who knows. But here, we’re called coaches and it’s time the profession truly steps up to embrace the world beyond the board room.