The Myth of Non-Directive Coaching

The European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) hosted a seminar at the end of January to debate the appropriate approach to coaching specifically when working with senior executives. Steve Nicklen who is the current EMCC Director of Ethics and Research opened the discussion by tabling the following: Coaches in organisations most often see their role as non-directive support and this is reinforced by the HR Departments, but is this the right approach for savvy, senior executives who live life in the fast lane? Steve, a widely experienced leadership coach argued not. Steve believes that many coaches are currently doing their clients a disservice in sticking to non-directive coaching as a matter of course, without truly considering the needs of their client.

His contention was that non-directive therapy/counselling is a good thing because the power relationship between therapist/counsellor and client can often be such that the latter is too easily open to suggestion for anything else, and also because these clients often lack a space within which to explore themselves or to be listened to. Steve stated that this is not the case with executive coaching clients. These clients are usually resourceful and have the power to reject anything that they don’t agree with and they are too busy and challenged by their jobs to see non-directive coaches as either credible or sufficiently helpful. Steve laid down the challenge that coaches will do better to use their expertise (as leaders, OD consultants, or in specialist subject matters) in the service of their clients, as well as their more traditional coaching skills.

The 60 EMCC members and guests in attendance at the seminar then debated the following proposed myths:

  1. The power relationship in executive coaching is similar to the relationship in therapy/counselling.
  2. Senior executives do not want advice from their coaches.
  3. HR departments understand the coaching needs of their senior executives.

In the limited time available, the debate was not conclusive but it did raise some interesting, and at times polarised, views.

Key points to emerge relative to the myths were:

  1. The responsibility for managing the power within the relationship belongs to the coach as the coach has responsibility for the process. The coach must also remain aware of where the power is sitting in the relationship, which may well vary, even during the same meeting with the same client, and the impact this has on the coaching process.
  2. Advice is frequently welcomed by the senior executive. The most important related issue was how the advice is introduced into the coaching discussion. Best practice examples were shared:
    • seeking permission to advise.
    • sharing examples of similar scenarios with other clients and/or colleagues for the senior executive to consider.
    • ensuring the contracting between coach and client has covered the subject of advice.
  3. This point had the most polarised views and not all HR departments were viewed as positive contributors. However, it was accepted that senior executive may not always choose to disclose their needs to HR. HR Generalists will not always have the skills to understand the needs and sometimes their role is to procure an external coach and therefore a full understanding will not be necessary.

Steve closed the seminar by thanking the attendees for their contribution which will be taken forward as part of the research by EMCC, who are currently undertaking a review of the Code of Ethics.

In the coming months there will undoubtedly be further discussion and debate on this topic as EMCC evolve their Code of Ethics.

At Potential2Achieve we will contribute to the on-going research and will keep our subscribers informed of interesting debate and important changes to practice as they emerge. So if you haven't already subscribed to us, please do so if you want to be kept up to date.

8th February 2010

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