Coaching on the Axis: Working with Complexity in Business and Executive Coaching

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This book offers an approach to business and executive coaching that properly aligns the practice in the culture of business through the use of a relational "coaching axis" that helps to manage the complexity of the organisation and the individual as dual clients.Business and executive coaching occurs within an organisational context with the goal of promoting success at all levels of the organisation by affecting the actions of those being coached (Worldwide Association of Business Coaches, 2007). This form of coaching is distinct from other types in two ways, firstly it is focused on achieving business outcomes, and secondly, both the individual being coached and the sponsoring organization are simultaneously the client. This book explains how a coach manages the complexity of helping these two clients by acting as a narrative bridge between their stories. It offers a relational approach which resists remedial or curative notions born from coaching's human science roots and instead aligns to workplace realities. Chapters 1 -3 explore three interlocking paradigms for coaching that culturally align to the context of business. Firstly, in working with the complexity of client, systems theory is explored. Secondly, in working with the complexity of organisational culture, the notion of culture is unpacked. Thirdly, in exploring the complexity of theory, an eclectic and integrative theoretical approach is unpacked and the notion of the scientist-practitioner is explored. The remainder of the book explains the "Coaching on the Axis" approach. This approach captures the way coaching interfaces with business across three systemic dimensions situated on a hypothetical "axis." It further outlines a method to track themes, elicit insights and test actions systemically along this axis using a narrative methodology. Finally, a case study is provided. Ultimately, the book aims to assist coaches in properly aligning their practice with business, honouring the culture from which this work derives its legitimacy and sanction, and significantly increasing its likelihood of success.

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CHAPTER ONE The complexity of client

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CHAPTER ONE

The complexity of client

Who is the client?

Many authors (e.g., Brunning, 2006; Cavanagh, 2006; De Haan, 2008;

Huffington, 2006; Kahn, 2011; Kemp, 2008; Kets de Vries et al., 2007;

Passmore, 2007) have established the theoretical and practical foundations for a relational approach to business coaching in which success derives from the quality of the coaching relationship and the degree to which it aligns with the sponsoring organisation. In this view, business coaching is an engagement of relatedness more so than any one particular method or skill.

Central to this relational perspective of business coaching is the fact that both the organisation and the individual being coached are clients.

Business coaching has the challenge of “always having two clients to serve: the individual or team that they are directly engaging with, and the organisation that is employing them to do the work” (Hawkins &

Schwenk, 2010, p. 204), and each may differ in their expectations of the coaching. Coaches therefore need to attend to both of these client requirements as well as the relationship between them at the same time.

 

Chapter One - The Complexity of Client

ePub

Who is the client?

Many authors (e.g., Brunning, 2006; Cavanagh, 2006; De Haan, 2008; Huffington, 2006; Kahn, 2011; Kemp, 2008; Kets de Vries et al., 2007; Passmore, 2007) have established the theoretical and practical foundations for a relational approach to business coaching in which success derives from the quality of the coaching relationship and the degree to which it aligns with the sponsoring organisation. In this view, business coaching is an engagement of relatedness more so than any one particular method or skill.

Central to this relational perspective of business coaching is the fact that both the organisation and the individual being coached are clients. Business coaching has the challenge of “always having two clients to serve: the individual or team that they are directly engaging with, and the organisation that is employing them to do the work” (Hawkins & Schwenk, 2010, p. 204), and each may differ in their expectations of the coaching. Coaches therefore need to attend to both of these client requirements as well as the relationship between them at the same time. Huffington (2006) puts it that in business coaching “there is always an implicit external context in view, [which is] the organisation from which the client comes, in which she or he works, and which pays for the coaching” (p. 41). She calls for business coaches to engage in dual listening to both “the individual in the organisation” and “the organisation in the individual” (ibid., p. 44), and Kahn (2011) concludes that “successful approaches to business coaching incorporate significant consideration of the relational dynamics between the triad of coach, individual client and organisation, and focus on the coaching relationship and its systemic interface with the business environment” (p. 194).

 

Chapter Two - The Complexity of Culture

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The previous chapter introduced the notion that business exists within a unique and distinct cultural context characterised by marketplace forces. It further suggested that business coaches should begin with this cultural context as a starting point, informed by other fields, rather than the other way around. In order to do so, an understanding of the phenomenon of culture, and particularly corporate or organisational culture, is required.

Edgar Schein, MIT professor emeritus and early pioneer of the notion of corporate culture, explains that although culture is an abstraction, the social forces derived from culture are enormously powerful in influencing behaviour, and failure to understand the operation of these forces can result in people becoming victims to them. “Cultural forces are powerful because they operate outside of our awareness. We need to understand them not only because of their power but also because they help to explain many of our puzzling and frustrating experiences in social and organisational life. Most importantly, understanding cultural forces enables us to understand ourselves better” (Schein, 2010, p. 7).

 

CHAPTER TWO The complexity of culture

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CHAPTER TWO

The complexity of culture

T

he previous chapter introduced the notion that business exists within a unique and distinct cultural context characterised by marketplace forces. It further suggested that business coaches should begin with this cultural context as a starting point, informed by other fields, rather than the other way around. In order to do so, an understanding of the phenomenon of culture, and particularly corporate or organisational culture, is required.

Edgar Schein, MIT professor emeritus and early pioneer of the notion of corporate culture, explains that although culture is an abstraction, the social forces derived from culture are enormously powerful in influencing behaviour, and failure to understand the operation of these forces can result in people becoming victims to them. “Cultural forces are powerful because they operate outside of our awareness.

We need to understand them not only because of their power but also because they help to explain many of our puzzling and frustrating experiences in social and organisational life. Most importantly, understanding cultural forces enables us to understand ourselves better” (Schein, 2010, p. 7).

 

Chapter Three - The Complexity of Theory

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Since the 1990s, an enormous range of theories has been used to support coaching as a service, mostly from the field of psychology. These include humanistic or person-centred theory, behaviourism, cognitive psychology, neuro-linguistic programming and psychodynamics through to narrative psychology, Gestalt theory, positive psychology, systems theory and more recently the field of neuroscience, and there are many others (Kahn, 2011; Page & Rock, 2009; Palmer & Whybrow, 2007; Passmore et al., 2013; Stout-Rostron, 2009).

This chapter considers the theoretical orientation that best suits the culture of business, and therefore business coaching practice. It does this by exposing and comparing the underlying theoretical basis for decision-making in business with that of human science. From this, the chapter shows how an integrative and eclectic theoretical orientation is most aligned with the world of work's decision-making culture. Finally, it offers the notion of the modern scientist-practitioner (Lane & Corrie, 2006) as a bridge to help coaches draw on both the objective power of science and the subjective freedom of business and remain aligned to marketplace reality.

 

CHAPTER THREE The complexity of theory

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CHAPTER THREE

The complexity of theory

S

ince the 1990s, an enormous range of theories has been used to support coaching as a service, mostly from the field of psychology. These include humanistic or person-centred theory, behaviourism, cognitive psychology, neuro-linguistic programming and psychodynamics through to narrative psychology, Gestalt theory, positive psychology, systems theory and more recently the field of neuroscience, and there are many others (Kahn, 2011; Page & Rock, 2009;

Palmer & Whybrow, 2007; Passmore et al., 2013; Stout-Rostron, 2009).

This chapter considers the theoretical orientation that best suits the culture of business, and therefore business coaching practice. It does this by exposing and comparing the underlying theoretical basis for decision-making in business with that of human science. From this, the chapter shows how an integrative and eclectic theoretical orientation is most aligned with the world of work’s decision-making culture. Finally, it offers the notion of the modern scientist-practitioner (Lane & Corrie,

 

CHAPTER FOUR Introduction to the Coaching on the Axis framework

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CHAPTER FOUR

Introduction to the Coaching on the Axis framework

C

oaching on the Axis (Kahn, 2011) is a systemic and integrative framework for business coaching that aligns the practice with marketplace reality and organisational culture. It is offered as an overarching approach that helps orientate coaches to the challenge of business coaching. Therefore, coaches may use whichever coaching models and techniques they like, as long as they are orientated within the axial framework.

This overarching approach positions coaching in a way that promotes success of an organisation as a whole, as opposed to just that of the individual being coached. It does this by systemically bringing personal, interpersonal, and organisational realities into an improved state of relationship through the coaching dialogue.

These relationships are articulated on an axis that stretches across two dimensions: the environment (incorporating the organisation) and the individual. At the centre of this axis sits the coaching relationship, which constitutes as the narrative bridge between the two and forms the third

 

Chapter Four - Introduction to the Coaching on the Axis Framework

ePub

Coaching on the Axis (Kahn, 2011) is a systemic and integrative framework for business coaching that aligns the practice with marketplace reality and organisational culture. It is offered as an overarching approach that helps orientate coaches to the challenge of business coaching. Therefore, coaches may use whichever coaching models and techniques they like, as long as they are orientated within the axial framework.

This overarching approach positions coaching in a way that promotes success of an organisation as a whole, as opposed to just that of the individual being coached. It does this by systemically bringing personal, interpersonal, and organisational realities into an improved state of relationship through the coaching dialogue.

These relationships are articulated on an axis that stretches across two dimensions: the environment (incorporating the organisation) and the individual. At the centre of this axis sits the coaching relationship, which constitutes as the narrative bridge between the two and forms the third dimension. The notion of an axis is used as a relational metaphor to orientate the coach to their primary focus—relationship, thereby steering the process away from a remedial and individualistic orientation typical of counselling and psychotherapy.

 

CHAPTER FIVE The environmental dimension

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CHAPTER FIVE

The environmental dimension

T

he environment reflects the systemic reality within which the individual being coached operates. This is characterised by the company’s organisational culture which, as explained in Chapter

Two, not only refers to its mission and values but includes phenomena such as its business model, strategy, structure, systems, history, rituals, myths and symbols, and importantly, the basic assumptions that underlie them. The environment also includes the market supra-system that mediates the company’s survival. All these elements are seminal in appreciating the context within which the individual being coached is required to succeed.

In the visual metaphor of a tree (Figure 3), the environmental dimension is located in the leaves, branches and atmosphere. The physics of photosynthesis (Bidlack et al., 2003) is useful here in reflecting the chemistry between the individual and his or her environment. In the same way that the leaves of a tree convert light from the environment into chemical energy which nourishes the tree, facilitating its growth, individuals take up roles in an organisation to convert market energy into profit, facilitating economic growth. In this metaphor, the individual is not the leaf, the role is the leaf, and the individual is required to take up the role to facilitate interaction with the market. The various

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Chapter Five - The Environmental Dimension

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The environment reflects the systemic reality within which the individual being coached operates. This is characterised by the company's organisational culture which, as explained in Chapter Two, not only refers to its mission and values but includes phenomena such as its business model, strategy, structure, systems, history, rituals, myths and symbols, and importantly, the basic assumptions that underlie them. The environment also includes the market supra-system that mediates the company's survival. All these elements are seminal in appreciating the context within which the individual being coached is required to succeed.

In the visual metaphor of a tree (Figure 3), the environmental dimension is located in the leaves, branches and atmosphere. The physics of photosynthesis (Bidlack et al., 2003) is useful here in reflecting the chemistry between the individual and his or her environment. In the same way that the leaves of a tree convert light from the environment into chemical energy which nourishes the tree, facilitating its growth, individuals take up roles in an organisation to convert market energy into profit, facilitating economic growth. In this metaphor, the individual is not the leaf, the role is the leaf, and the individual is required to take up the role to facilitate interaction with the market. The various roles in a company are like different leaves, and the branches are like departments that channel energy through the system in an integrating way. Some organisations, as with some flora, have only a handful of leaves and branches that do this, whereas others have thousands that work together growing larger or smaller organisations. And as a tree depends on its position in relation to other plants competing for the same sunlight and environmental nutrients, so does an organisation compete with other organisations for market share.

 

CHAPTER SIX The individual dimension

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CHAPTER SIX

The individual dimension

T

he individual dimension refers to the personal psychology, competence, experience, and professional history the person being coached brings into relationship with their environment; their personal reality.

People bring their personality and psychosocial history to bear on much of what they do, often referring to this as their “mindset” or

“personal make-up”. And these are formed from the influences they have had throughout their life, both positive and negative. In the Coaching on the Axis tree (Figure 3), the roots represent the individual dimension because they reflect a person’s roots in the sense of: “My roots tell you where I come from and describe the influences that made me who

I am.” Roots are also underground and therefore less visible, as is often the case with people and their roots—not obviously visible and sometimes requiring some sensitive digging for them to be exposed.

The individual below and above the surface

 

Chapter Six - The Individual Dimension

ePub

The individual dimension refers to the personal psychology, competence, experience, and professional history the person being coached brings into relationship with their environment; their personal reality.

People bring their personality and psychosocial history to bear on much of what they do, often referring to this as their “mindset” or “personal make-up”. And these are formed from the influences they have had throughout their life, both positive and negative. In the Coaching on the Axis tree (Figure 3), the roots represent the individual dimension because they reflect a person's roots in the sense of: “My roots tell you where I come from and describe the influences that made me who I am.” Roots are also underground and therefore less visible, as is often the case with people and their roots—not obviously visible and sometimes requiring some sensitive digging for them to be exposed.

The individual below and above the surface

Just as there are both visible, above the surface, and less visible, below the surface, aspects in any environment, so is it the case with individuals. Peoples’ resumes are useful visible, above the surface, stories about them as individuals. Naturally, peoples’ competence and experience rooted in their career histories are primary to their ability to take up their role.

 

Chapter Seven - The Coaching Relationship

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The coaching relationship constitutes the centre of the coaching axis, and is its core. This dimension brings the individual and the environment into dialogue in a way that promotes alignment, integration, and improved performance. As Oliver (2010) explains: “A systemic orientation to coaching highlights the detail of coach/client conversation as a core site of interest and as the place for analysis and the beginnings of change” (p. 108).

In the metaphor of the tree, the trunk, which connects the roots with the branches and leaves, symbolises the coaching relationship. This is used to reflect the idea of an “axis” where the continual focus is relationship between the parts—the individual (roots) and the environment (branches and leaves). A tree trunk channels nourishment in both directions, first, facilitating energy from photosynthesis in the leaves down to the roots and, second, channelling nourishment from the soil through the roots up into the branches and leaves (Evans, 2000). Similarly, the coaching relationship facilitates a conversation between the reality of the environment and the reality of the individual with the aim of potentiating a mutually constructed and shared reality that facilitates the success of both. And it does this through the coaching relationship. At one level, this is about the exchange and brokering of needs, but at a more profound level this is about creating a shared, inter-subjective, narrative that potentiates success holistically and systemically. In other words, the roots have their story and so do the branches and leaves, but the real story is the story of the tree as a whole which creates the realisation of potential for both, and in so doing the entire tree enjoys success. In this sense, it may be helpful to look at the trunk as being both part of the branches and the roots. The roots merge into the trunk, and the trunk merges with the branches. From the point of view of the coaching relationship, this reflects the notion that the organisation and the individual are not perfectly distinct; there is level at which the organisation is as much part of the individual as the individual is part of the organisation.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN The coaching relationship

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CHAPTER SEVEN

The coaching relationship

T

he coaching relationship constitutes the centre of the coaching axis, and is its core. This dimension brings the individual and the environment into dialogue in a way that promotes alignment, integration, and improved performance. As Oliver (2010) explains:

“A systemic orientation to coaching highlights the detail of coach/ client conversation as a core site of interest and as the place for analysis and the beginnings of change” (p. 108).

In the metaphor of the tree, the trunk, which connects the roots with the branches and leaves, symbolises the coaching relationship. This is used to reflect the idea of an “axis” where the continual focus is relationship between the parts—the individual (roots) and the environment (branches and leaves). A tree trunk channels nourishment in both directions, first, facilitating energy from photosynthesis in the leaves down to the roots and, second, channelling nourishment from the soil through the roots up into the branches and leaves (Evans, 2000).

 

Chapter Eight - Coaching on the Axis: Technique

ePub

The Coaching on the Axis approach does not strictly prescribe one particular model or set of techniques for its implementation. It is rather an overarching approach or framework that helps orientate coaches to the challenge of business coaching. It is therefore possible to use this approach as a general framework, and to use many different coaching techniques and models in its application.

For instance, perhaps a coach is partial to using structured sequential questioning typical of the popular GROW (Whitmore, 2009) or ACHIEVE (Dembkowski et al., 2006) models of coaching. Or maybe he or she prefers employing reflective interpretations typical of psychodynamic psychotherapy (Malan, 1995), or anchoring and reframing techniques from NLP (Bandler & Grinder, 1983), or reality-testing methods from cognitive therapy (Beck, 1979) or role-playing from Gestalt therapy (Woldt & Toman, 2005). All of these, and many others, can be applied in the Coaching on the Axis approach.

The following chapter offers only some of many possible techniques and practices that a coach may use within the Coaching on the Axis approach. In most cases, a coach works best with a set of techniques he or she has trained in, refined, and personalised over many years. In this chapter, coaches may simply find some useful methodologies for integration into their existing technical repertoire, or be inspired to pursue new practices.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT Coaching on the Axis: technique

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CHAPTER EIGHT

Coaching on the Axis: technique

T

he Coaching on the Axis approach does not strictly prescribe one particular model or set of techniques for its implementation. It is rather an overarching approach or framework that helps orientate coaches to the challenge of business coaching. It is therefore possible to use this approach as a general framework, and to use many different coaching techniques and models in its application.

For instance, perhaps a coach is partial to using structured sequential questioning typical of the popular GROW (Whitmore, 2009) or

ACHIEVE (Dembkowski et al., 2006) models of coaching. Or maybe he or she prefers employing reflective interpretations typical of psychodynamic psychotherapy (Malan, 1995), or anchoring and reframing techniques from NLP (Bandler & Grinder, 1983), or reality-testing methods from cognitive therapy (Beck, 1979) or role-playing from Gestalt therapy (Woldt & Toman, 2005). All of these, and many others, can be applied in the Coaching on the Axis approach.

 

Chapter Nine - Case Study

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The first meeting

Des, a newly appointed executive in a multinational company, engaged my services as a business coach based on a referral from another client. Des contacted me directly and said she needed coaching to help her “step up” in her new senior executive role.

In our first meeting, she explained that she needed to move from her preferred task-based, managerial mindset into more of a relationship-orientated, leadership mindset. She said that an ability to influence and empower, as opposed to direct and control, was necessary to achieve the kinds of business outcomes she was now tasked with.

Although these goals were initially articulated as individual development outcomes, they were actually environmental requirements for her role. Des explained that her manager, the CEO, and her job description made it clear that “leadership through influence” was a role requirement, and she added: “My boss emphasised that success in such would be an important consideration come bonus time.”

 

CHAPTER NINE Case study

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CHAPTER NINE

Case study

The first meeting

Des, a newly appointed executive in a multinational company, engaged my services as a business coach based on a referral from another client.

Des contacted me directly and said she needed coaching to help her

“step up” in her new senior executive role.

In our first meeting, she explained that she needed to move from her preferred task-based, managerial mindset into more of a relationshiporientated, leadership mindset. She said that an ability to influence and empower, as opposed to direct and control, was necessary to achieve the kinds of business outcomes she was now tasked with.

Although these goals were initially articulated as individual development outcomes, they were actually environmental requirements for her role. Des explained that her manager, the CEO, and her job description made it clear that “leadership through influence” was a role requirement, and she added: “My boss emphasised that success in such would be an important consideration come bonus time.”

 

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