Effective Coaching and the Fallacy of Sustainable Change

Posted & filed under Blog, Executive Coaching.

“People should not think just because coaching is not a regulated profession that anyone should chisel one subset to fit their own abilities or rather inabilities”

Thus Kohli, sums up one of his key messages: much of the book calls for greater professionalism in coaching – a call that I wholeheartedly endorse. The author rails against untrained, unprofessional coaches, suggesting that many self-styled coaches provide an inferior service, and that “pseudo-coaches… are damaging people” (p162).

Kohli also challenges the idea that goal setting is essential to coaching. “Why are we still stuck with the rusty and linear idea that goal achieving is coaching?” he asks (p30), suggesting that goals may have unintended consequences, if followed unthinkingly, and that they can narrow the scope of coaching, causing significant factors to be missed. I especially liked his quotation from “Beyond Goals” (edited by David, Clutterbuck and Megginson): “evidence is growing that the standard prescription of SMART, challenging goals is not always appropriate – and even potentially dangerous – in the context of a complex and rapidly changing world.”

Moving to the other part of the title, Kohli suggests, I believe validly, that the promises of many coaches always to effect sustainable change are misleading and can put off clients. His contention that sustainable change depends on the client is self-evidently true. However, he pushes this argument too far, suggesting that sustainable change per se is fallacious and relies on sophistry to make his point. He cites many examples that belie his own argument.  For example, he undertook research with CEOs, finding that as a result of coaching they had seen “visible improvements that made an impact subsequent to coaching”. He also suggests that “coaching is very effective in bringing about a perspective shift” and says that he has “create(d) a method to ensure (his) clients continue to evolve”. These examples all sound like sustainable changes to me!

As a coach supervisor, I have some concerns about the way that Kohli describes his coaching work.  For example, on p120, he suggests asking a client a closed question, with an inherent assumption about the client’s feelings, and his extensive case studies contain language like “my effort to make him realise” and “after I convinced him” that I would certainly challenge.

I do not believe that Kohli has made a convincing case that sustainable change is a fallacy and I question some of his own coaching techniques. However, I applaud Kohli’s call for greater professionalism in coaching and I enjoyed his challenging the primacy of goal setting in much coaching. The book is an interesting, if frustrating read. Kohli’s own words (p167) are perhaps the best summary:

“Anyone can call himself a coach, becoming a coach is a different dimension altogether”.

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