Executive Coaching: Systems-Psychodynamic Perspective

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A collection of papers by well-known contemporary writers that describe their own models of coaching and their thoughts on the theoretical roots that underpin their thinking and coaching practice.

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CHAPTER ONE

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Executive coaching is a burgeoning industry. A recent survey undertaken by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development of its thousands of members revealed that up to 95% of firms were using some kind of coaching or mentoring, at a cost of at least £15 million per year. The growth rate is staggering. According to a report in The Economist, the Hay Group HR consultancy reported that executive coaching is growing at about 40% a year (Economist, 2002). In the corporate world, executives are using coaching to manage the pressures and loneliness at the top, increased competitive stress, and greater expectations from external bodies such as regulators and analysts. Hogan, Curphy, and Hogan (1994) found that over 60% of CEOs were failing in terms of not meeting their objectives. The average length of CEO tenure has halved and shareholders expect more. The situation in the public sector is similar. Thus, it is not surprising that the drive for workplace development has increased as executives seek ways to enhance performance, make the transition across roles, and manage their own sense of dis-ease and potential derailment.

 

CHAPTER TWO

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Setting the scene

Executive coaching involves a one-to-one relationship between a consultant or coach and a client, usually a senior executive leader or manager, which aims to further the effectiveness of the client in his or her role in the organization.

Therefore it is a dyadic task relationship, but with an important difference from, for example, psychotherapy, in that it is a relationship in which there is always an implicit external context in view. This is the organization in which the client comes, in which he or she works, and which pays for the coaching. In other words, in all the exchanges that take place between the client and the coach, there is always a third party in the wings. This “third party in the wings” is present in at least two ways:

Therefore, what the client says or does and what this elicits in the coach, as he or she listens and observes, needs to have reference to this omnipresent, sometimes hidden, third. What I am referring to here is the client and coach’s shared experience of the organization through the client-coach relationship.

 

CHAPTER THREE

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“A state of being neither in the boundary of one’s own culture, nor fully a member of other, but always on the boundary”

Sitaram & Prosser, 1998

I choose to open with this quotation as it encapsulates the dilemma that women have in achieving recognition at senior levels in organizations. I want to reflect on matters that affect the inclusion or exclusion of women in senior executive roles. I would like to examine what aspirations women might have, any barriers that might limit their success and explore this in the context of institutional sexism. These issues have to be raised as part of the landscape when working with women in a coaching role. In thinking about the organizational environment I am writing this chapter not as a guide to coaching, but taking a reflective stance and asking “why”, and “what” does that mean for a coaching relationship, given the current societal pressures on women’s performance and careers.

Current issues related to seniority, promotion, and board profiles

 

CHAPTER FOUR

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Frames for thinking within the role of the executive coach

The purpose of this chapter is to affirm the importance and to situate unconscious and infinite thinking in the context of executive coaching.

In her clear exposition of executive coaching, Halina Brunning shows the multi-factorial holistic process whereby individual clients identify the resources to pursue their goals and enhance their potential for attaining them. The areas of counselling, qualification, professional development, business context, organizational dynamics, psychotherapy, and personal development are identified and elaborated in her seminal article (Brunning, 2001). These domains are systemically inter-related and, while they are not addressed directly, like a checklist, they form the background to the actual conversational field that the coach and client evoke in the course of the coaching sessions. These domains constitute the basis for the explicate conversation that evolves between client and coach. At the same time, there will be an implicate—below the surface of consciousness—conversation that, one hopes, will also be attended to and addressed. Indeed, one could go as far as to say this exploration must be addressed as well if the coaching process is to have a lasting effect on the inner conceptions of the client.

 

CHAPTER FIVE

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Individuals at different levels within both public and private sector organizations are increasingly employing coaches who work outside their organizations. This chapter explores the author’s way of developing a coaching relationship, viewing it through different lenses. First, the lens of experience is used to explore how coaching relationships unfold to offer insight into the client’s situation. Second, the theoretical lenses of systemic, psychoanalytic, and attachment theories are used to examine the dynamics at work during this development. The life cycle of a coaching relationship is offered as a framework to demonstrate how the relationship can release leadership potential and resources.

Setting the scene

There are many different approaches to coaching. This chapter focuses on a coaching style that has grown out of systemic and psychoanalytic traditions and can thus be placed within the emerging field of systems-psychodynamics.2 The elements that are primarily examined with this style of coaching are the client in role and the client in his/her organizational context. An understanding of the presenting issues comes about through examination of the client’s personal and work history, organizational dynamics, task and role clarification, and the primary task of the organization together with its history and context. The experience and feelings that are generated between client and coach, together with dreams, metaphors, and free associations, are used to enhance understanding. The insights gained and the connections made between these layers of meaning are used to design actions and strategies that link the person, role and organization together towards productive outcomes.3

 

CHAPTER SIX

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Introduction

In this chapter I would like to present my own model of coaching, tentatively called “the six-domain model”. This model is framed within the systems-psychodynamic thinking that presupposes an interconnection between three important elements: the Person, the Role, and the System. The basic definition of systems-psychodynamics, with specific references to organizational consultancy, features in the Introduction to this book.2 The following original sources had influenced my thinking and helped me to distil this model into a coaching intervention: the work of Klein (1946), Menzies (1988), Bion (1962), Obholzer and Roberts (1994), Miller and Rice (1967), Armstrong (1997), and Stein (2004) in relation to the impact of psychoanalysis on organizational thinking and consultation. In addition, I have also been influenced by the writings of Malan (1997), White (2000), and Talmon (1993) in relation to a brief therapy intervention that found its way into my thinking about coaching. Last, but not least, the writings of Cronen, Pearce, and Tomm (1985) and Heron (1990) helped me to think about the presence of multiple contexts. All of these authors are somehow present in my proposed model of coaching.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

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Overview

In this chapter I am going to describe how, in developing a coaching relationship, I have used other sources of information, beyond the usual verbal or, indeed, written, information normally provided by clients. The two methods I have used most frequently are personality measures and 360 Degree Feedback; what one might term “inside-out” and “outside-in” sources. I will begin by describing, briefly, something about these sources and what I consider to be their advantages when used in a coaching relationship. I will then present a case study, reflect on it, and briefly consider Brunning’s recent model of coaching as a way of examining what, consequently, was and was not explored with the client.

For some readers of this chapter, and in particular those of a psychodynamic, relativistic, person-centred, postmodern, or even constructionist persuasion, the notion of including external data may perhaps sit uncomfortably with their underlying epistemological position. By the end of the chapter, I hope to show that, notwithstanding the basically humanistic, and perhaps even psychodynamic, perspective that I personally tend to employ, personality instruments can be helpful in understanding certain aspects of personality, and in structuring engagement, communication, and thinking with the client, while 360 Degree Feedback presents a powerful way of engaging with the client’s reality and priorities.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

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Background

It is conventional wisdom that one’s first or early experiences, in whatever venue, situation, or circumstance, often define the path one will initially take and reverberate, psychically and behaviourally long after. “Getting off on the right foot” as a novice manager, therefore, or in whatever other work role one may take, can be of critical importance for both the young adult and the organization. Given this, it follows that the process of developing and bringing along young managers1 is an important strategic human resources task, which, if accomplished thoughtfully, will be handsomely repaid over time.

While it is certainly true that most, if not all, sizable organizations, at least in the USA, have some form of training programme for new managers, many of which are quite successful, I believe that they can be enhanced even further if they explicitly take into account the developmental issues that young people are struggling with as they take up managerial roles for the first time. It is this aspect of the “training” of young managers that I focus on in this chapter, by presenting a case that exemplifies many of them. Specifically, the hope is that those who have the responsibility for such programmes, and in particular those who are mentors or coaches in such programmes, may benefit from a deeper consideration and understanding of early adult development.

 

CHAPTER NINE

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Introduction

In this chapter I use a case study from my work as an Organizational Consultant in the field of sports psychology. Halina Brunning has identified various domains of coaching that are fully set out in her chapter. This case study is primarily concerned with the work environment domain and the domain of the life story of the client as it relates to and is mobilized by organizational dynamics.

Being a leader or manager in any organization can be an extremely lonely position. This is patently true for managers of football clubs. The demands on football managers are such that, from time to time, many experience situations that bother them professionally and personally. Quite often such situations are experienced around issues of leadership and authority. A frequent result is an adverse effect on the performance, not only of the individual manager, but also of those working with them and, ultimately, the whole team.

The view taken here is that these are not individual problems that can be solved by, for example, the manager attending a course. Rather, they are organizational problems that have their roots in the relationships between manager and team members, Board members, or other staff. Consequently, the individual manager is required to be seen as a person-in-role in an organizational system. Thus, any attempt at gaining a deeper understanding of the situation needs to take into consideration the wider organizational system. This can be best achieved not by bringing in “new” knowledge, but by utilizing the “current” or experiential knowledge.

 

CHAPTER TEN

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Introduction

Executives, like the organizations they work for, are faced with constant change, increasing complexity, uncertainty, and diversity. The greater fluidity of boundaries and structures, the intrusion of the external environment, affect their freedom and autonomy and the capacity to think and act. Roles, relationships, and identity are constantly challenged, and the assumptions on which they operate may be outdated or inappropriate. Executives are often asked to make decisions they don’t support and to take more risks. Many experience mistrust, disappointment, and abuse as well as a growing sense of vulnerability. Loyalty to the organization for many has diminished, resulting in a growing ambivalence and lack of commitment. This has been replaced by a growth in narcissistic self-interest and a greater need to depend on personal resources (Amado, 2004).

In addition, organizational development programmes, which have traditionally focused on acquiring new behaviours, skills, and knowledge, have been experienced as being too narrow and distant from the everyday realities and complexity of the lives of these executives. Few of these programmes recognize that unconscious processes “below the surface” can guard against change and result in a repetition of old patterns of behaviour and an adherence to old values. Consequently, many executives find themselves unable to develop new and creative ways of thinking about the challenges that they faced. Coaching can offer a solution to many of these shortcomings, especially if thought of as a socio-psychological and transitional process. Coaching can be designed to meet the specific needs of executives by focusing on different domains of concern, on roles, tasks, authority, and the organizational context as well as the emotions that are stirred up. The aim of coaching is to enable these executives to question, make sense of, reflect in a new light, and reach a new understanding of what is happening around them, and to provide the flexibility, learning, and understanding that is needed to function more effectively in the work place.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

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In this chapter I use a case study from my work as an Executive Coach to discuss three key aspects of my approach to coaching. I demonstrate how these three aspects contribute to positive changes in the working life of the client. Clients come for many reasons and the coach responds accordingly. The example I have selected illustrates the type of coaching where personal career progression and skills development may be a direct outcome of the work, but are not the client’s initial focus at the point of entry.

First, Open Systems Theory1 takes into account the influences of the environment, within both the organizational boundary and the wider society, on the way client manages a designated role. Second, early experiences and relationships may influence the behaviour and dilemmas of the client in the workplace. Third, by taking note of the way the client and coach relate during the coaching sessions and by being sensitive to the impact of the client on the coach, it enhances the coach’s insight into the issues under discussion. In other words, I recognize transference and countertransference as a valuable source of information within the coaching process.

 

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