ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — June 2003

In This Issue
When Executive Coaching Shifts
to Clinical Consultation
Observations From a “Reinvented” Coach
Leading Wholeheartedly:
A Quality Approach
Full Engagement Leadership
Looking Toward the Future
AQP’s Team Excellence Award Evaluation Criteria

 

Features

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Observations From a “Reinvented” Coach

As we wrap up this quarter’s focus on coaching and counseling, we thought it would be worthwhile to share the recent experiences of a long-term coach, Jennifer Powell, as she expanded her understanding and practices related to the field.

Some of you may be a bit fuzzy on what this whole coaching thing is. So here I come suggesting that I’m a reinvented coach, and now you’re probably really confused. Let me put your mind at ease by saying that a year ago I probably would have had a similar reaction. So what’s happened in the past 12 months to give me such clarity?

Well, I guess that’s part of my reinvention. I’ve been doing leadership coaching for more than 10 years as an internal coach in for-profit organizations. I felt that I had a pretty good handle on what coaching meant and could describe it in easily understandable language, “Helping leaders be more effective.”

Recently (within the past three years), I watched the coaching profession gain more notoriety and also watched more and more people hang out the “coach” shingle. It seemed like these coaches were coming from a variety of occupations, but primarily from consulting practices. I began to wonder what, if any, unique qualifications they had. More important, in examining my own expertise, I realized I’d had some targeted training about coaching, but it had been several years since I’d done any formal study in the field.

After some research I selected the coaching certificate program at The Hudson Institute of Santa Barbara, CA. Although there are other programs and each reader must choose based on his/her own personal criteria, I selected Hudson based on its program methodology and content, as well as the reputation of Frederick Hudson. During the eight months of the Hudson program, four key themes emerged for me that shaped my reinvention.

The first of these was the concept of “leading from behind”—in other words, matching my pace and language with the clients. (Remember, in my case, my clients are primarily internal leaders.) One of the skills I’d been practicing for years as an OD/HR professional was the art of questioning and challenging. As my understanding of coaching grew, these interventions took on new meaning. My insight at this time was around the pacing and language issue. Leading from behind became almost a mantra for me, encouraging me to allow the client to set the agenda and direction for the coaching session, rather than for me to insert what I believed the agenda ought to be. This makes it possible for me to maximize my questioning and challenging interventions in favor of the client.

The second theme centered on the issue of personal transformation. In my early coaching experiences, I don’t think I realized the importance of that. I had distinctly compartmentalized an individual’s ability to maximize leadership effectiveness from personal transformation. I tended to think of it in terms of improving interpersonal skills rather than an actual transformation.

Imagine my surprise when I found W. Edwards Deming quoted in one of my coaching books as saying, “Nothing happens without personal transformation.” Here was one of the early influencers of my work in the quality field offering such profound and timely words for me almost 20 years later! Needless to say, those words gave me a very different perspective on the holistic nature of coaching. For me, this work now involved the whole person and not just leadership behavior.

A third development surfaced as I became more clear on what coaching is and what it isn’t. It’s a term I almost had avoided for a while because everything seemed to be labeled coaching. OK! I’ll admit that saying everything might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I bet you’d agree that the term coaching is used to cover a lot of territory and has almost as many meanings as there are coaches. It felt like the latest fad, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to ride on the bandwagon.

My study through the Hudson program helped me find answers to the differences among coaching, consulting, mentoring, counseling, and even cheerleading. Although there are some overlaps, there also are some definite distinctions. Now I have renewed faith in my ability to know the
difference and act accordingly.

My final revelation has been a re-energized passion for lifelong learning. I’ve always enjoyed learning something new and challenging—both personally and professionally. Although I hadn’t been involved in formal study for a number of years, I continued to grow through rotating assignments, job changes, volunteer work, hobbies, etc. During the coaching certificate program, my passion was re-energized by the parallels I found between the structured readings and my clients’ issues. I repeatedly was able to reference a book, create a workshop, or in some other way immediately apply my new learning to a client’s situation. It seemed as though I’d discover a new concept or theory or have a personal insight just at the exact moment when it was
useful to my clients, the organization, or me. That really reinforced the many hours I was spending reading, studying, and/or dialoguing with colleagues or my own coach.

I hope I’ve provided you with a better understanding of my own personal reinvention as a coach. Perhaps you’ll choose to allow your own reinvention in some area after hearing my story. Enjoy the journey and be open to whatever comes up. In the words of my own coach, “If we are clear about what we send out into the universe, we get back what we really want or need.”

JENNIFER POWELL has extensive experience in integrating human resource management with total quality and employee involvement, as well as organizational development and change management. Powell was president of AQP in both 1990-91 and 2000-02 and has been involved as a leader and officer since 1986. She currently serves as chief of staff to a segment service head at Aetna, Inc. She can be reached via e-mail at powelljj@aetna.com .

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