Avatar photo

Permission to Challenge: Granted!

When we published our first book ‘Where were all the coaches when the banks went down?’ over two years ago, it was met with some controversy in coaching circles. As we challenged some of the ‘sacred cows’ of the profession such as the non-directive principle, building rapport and holding to the individual’s agenda we were accused of suggesting that ‘the Pope was a Methodist’. In one particularly stormy workshop with the internal coaches of an iconic British institution we were virtually chased out of the building!

Two years on, the reception to our message has changed dramatically judging by early reactions to ‘Challenging Coaching’. An Amazon review posted this week sums up a great deal of the feedback that we have received in the early weeks since publication when the reviewer said ‘Challenging coaching gives practising coaches permission to do what many have always wanted to do…’ .Similarly, on our LinkedIn group Tanya Sergant who had attended our recent Academy of Executive Coaching workshop said the most valuable take away for her from the session was ‘a validation of the concerns I have long had re always allowing the executive client to set the agenda, which is not always in service of the sponsor, and in endorsing my natural challenging style which has often made me feel I am breaking the rules These comments were further reinforced by much of the anecdotal feedback we received from coaches at the CIPD conference this week who appeared relieved that the discussion about a more challenging style of coaching was finally in the open.

So what has changed in two years? Ian and I discussed this on the train back from London to Birmingham on Friday evening. We came to the conclusion that it is probably down to a variety of factors:-

  •  we have learnt how to communicate our message better!
  •  two more years of challenging economic conditions have created more coaching situations where tough conversations are necessary to get to the heart of the matter
  • a growing minority of coaches are rebelling against the straightjacket of traditional coaching and are now more confident to speak out on this subject
  • the profession is now ripe for change in a way that was not the case previously

There may be other factors also and we would welcome further thoughts and discussion on this topic via the LinkedIn group. From our perspective, we now appear to be ‘preaching to the converted’ in many situations and we need to adapt to this new reality. Rather than spending time in our workshops examining whether a more challenging style is appropriate, we are quickly getting beyond this discussion into more interesting questions like:-

  • how do I challenge in the most effective way?
  • when is the most appropriate time to challenge?
  • how can we practice these skills in a safe environment?
  • what works for other people when they challenge others?

Naturally, there is a rush of enthusiasm as these new areas are explored and experimented with. The ultimate measure will be the feedback we each receive from our clients and this will help us each calibrate our styles on an ongoing basis. It is important not to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ and remember the tremendous value of all the other coaching skills that we use alongside a healthy challenge. We will keep stressing the value of balance and, as we state in the conclusion of the book, it is both the ‘yin’ (supportive skills) and the ‘yang’ (challenging skills) of coaching that can combine and integrate to deliver the most transformational outcomes.