Executive Coaching Models

Introductory Notes 

The coach’s philosophy influences the coaching model he endorses. The coach may assume the diagnostician role and direct prescriptive change as in the coach-as-expert model, or the coach may place the client in the driver’s seat and facilitate reflection and discussion of potential strategies as in the person-centered coaching approach. Most coaching follows the blended model, with the coach and client acting as partners in discovering desired change and the best ways to accomplish that.

A generic executive coaching model could contain five common steps: contracting, initial goal setting, assessment, implementation and action planning, and evaluation.

A behavioral coaching template by Goldsmith (2004) contains eight steps: 

Include the client in determining the desired behaviors in his or her role, 

involve the client in determining key stakeholders in the change process, 

collect feedback, 

determine key behavior for change, 

encourage client response to key stakeholders, 

review what has been learned and help the client develop an action plan, 

develop an ongoing follow-up process, and 

review results and start again.

Key questions for the contracting phase to determine what kind of coaching and reporting relationship should be expected and enforced:

Whose budget will pay for this?

Who will notice if the coaching work is successful?

What specifically will be noticed?

How will the environment and culture be improved?

How will the business unit results be impacted?

If coaching is successful, might there be an impact on the retention or morale of the employees who work with the coached individual, the productivity of anyone involved, customer experience and retention, the extent of any litigation exposure, or time expended by you and others in dealing with the coached individual?

What would be the impact if there were no changes in this situation?

Can you arrange access to the client’s supervisor?

What information do you want about progress, when, and how?

By when do you expect tangible results?

Other issues addressed in a written contract include the performance terms, a clear confidentiality provision, a specific service length, a minimum coaching amount per day or week, a method of communication between coach and executive, fees, expenses, and a billing method.

Assessment could involve the sponsor assessing the context of the development need and developing a success profile for the coached person’s position. Client Assessment involves interviews, self-assessment instruments, and 360-degree feedback as standard tools.

Establishing the coach-client relationship starts with an alliance check to help the client understand why coaching has been requested; the client tests the knowledge and ability of the coach with a credibility assessment; and there is a likability link to determine whether the client is comfortable with the style of the coach and can like the coach enough to continue the coaching process.

Implementation and action planning discusses what needs to be done, what can be done, and how the client accomplishes this. The model may explicitly detail the nature of the change process, including how the learning gap is identified and how the transition proceeds, drawing on performance expectations and necessary skills to be developed, experimentation and praxis of new behaviors, and culminating in integration and learning transfer to everyday functioning.

The Integrated Framework

The freshpractice framework is integrated in what way? It integrates the stages of change a person moves through in a coaching engagement that proceeds in phases that build on a self-concordant goal-setting, goal-pursuit, and goal-attainment model; seeking alignment with organizational and stakeholder objectives, vision, and accompanying support; committed to goal-achievement and client wellbeing; based on adult learning principles, guided by evidence-based practices and concepts, following an existential-humanistic perspective and a person-centered approach; offered by a person with a reasonable level of self-awareness, self-insight, and self-regulation; with a positive view on human capabilities and potentials, and a belief in the possibility of expanding capacities and enhancing the life experience. May this be for the benefit of all.

The Coaching Session

The coaching session is a time-bound conversation between the coach and the client. It is marked with a beginning and an end. It has a discernible structure that can be named and described as a model. The session structuring model explicates the essential elements of the session process in terms of what is aimed for, what needs to be accomplished, outcomes, tasks, explorations, decisions and choices made, obstacles and barriers, and celebrations.

Session tools are used as the conversation unfolds to focus attention, capture insights, make announcements, assess particular issues, rate and scale progress or gaps, and share progress. 

Making sense is an act of locating what is and what might be in an unceasing, buzzing and booming flow of world events, to view a momentary picture of the world that one can relate to and understand just enough so that one can act with confidence and purpose. The internal aspect of this relating to the world is the schema we have in our mental toolkit; the external aspect is what we call a model or framework, a map of reality, a communicative device to coordinate the interpersonal world.

Models create reality. 

A model creates a reality conducive to its purpose. What, then, is its purpose?

Language creates mental reality. We live in a world of words. This is a constructivist view, where we step into the world of mental creation to make a life and a living. We live in language embedded in culture embedded in conventions and rituals embedded in nested hierarchies seen and unseen.

In the case of an executive or workplace coaching model, the purpose emanates from the philosophy that it endorses about the business world at large and the organization in particular.

An interested party could ask questions, like: Why would anyone need a coach? Will you give me advice on what I should do? Do you have any specialist knowledge about my issue or problem? Can you tell me what actions and activities will improve my ability to deal with my issue? What is coaching, and how will it unfold? What is the basic logic of coaching? What are the underlying principles that guide the coaching work?

The model is a sense-making device with a purpose and underlying philosophy. It has implicit and explicit assumptions about the human, the social, and the world; about work. It has a theory base and an internal logic that guides process and content decisions for the coaching work. The model acts as an action map or stage approach to how to proceed in the coaching. This implies that you can know where you are and what comes next and that coaching can be conceived as a series of related steps that build upon each other. The model provides a place from which to start and expand and a place to return to when getting lost.

Models are incomplete maps of reality, so they entail risks that one can only overcome by being flexible, hypothesis testing, and adapting and modifying assumptions and approaches to current facts and situations.

Articulating a model of practice. 

Before the intake process, there is a preparatory interaction to inform the prospect about the nature of coaching and the coach’s process and orientation. This is the “contracting” or the “alliance check” in executive coaching models.

“Contracting” may “appear” to the client as not coaching since it involves mainly an information exchange and some initial inquiries that may or may not lead to insight and new action for the client. From the coach’s perspective, contracting is the fundamental process in which the coaching relationship and the working alliance are built, the rationale for the coaching is established, and the change is initiated.

Preparation for coaching: Ensuring that executive coaching is appropriate. 

Does the client understand and desire coaching? 

Is the client able to profitably engage in coaching? 

Is the coach an appropriate choice for the client?

The preparation involves three conversations that may occur in one interaction or be separate. Content in the preparation discussions may need to be restated and revisited later in the coaching process. In this manner, “preparation” covers the broader function of managing the coach-client relationship on an ongoing basis.

What is the initial conversation about?

The initial conversation is about managing expectations and allows the coach to provide a basic overview of coaching, a brief discussion of processes and principles, and a sense of time and resource commitment. The coach can provide a basic definition of coaching, explain how coaching can be advantageous and what needs to be included to make it effective, present the endorsed model of coaching and what will be expected of the client and the coach, and give a sense of how long it will take and what it will cost. Questions answered may include:

What is executive coaching? How can executive coaching help me?

What will I get out of executive coaching?

What do I need to do to participate effectively in coaching?

What are some limitations of coaching?

When is coaching appropriate, and when is it inappropriate or even counterproductive?

What is the coaching process? What will happen? How long will it take? How much time will it take? How much control do I have over the process?

How will we know if coaching is helping? What happens when coaching is over?

Who will know about the coaching? Who can know? Who must know? How much is confidential?

Who pays for the coaching? And how much?

Assessing the client’s coachability. 

The coach needs to decide whether the client can effectively participate and determine that this client is ready and able to participate in coaching. Before committing to a coaching relationship, the coach may consider the client’s risk tolerance, willingness to try new approaches, emotional resilience, and change motivation. In case of a concern, the coach may ask the client to talk with a counselor before beginning the coaching process. From the coach’s standpoint, the client always retains the choice about whether or not to proceed and, once started, to continue with coaching.

Assessing the coach’s ability. 

The coach’s fit with the situation regarding competence, potential bias, and conflict of interest is also a question of interest. Biases can interfere with the work, and a strong bias should raise a red flag to proceed with working with the client.

The communication perspective and narrative

Some assumptions that seem reasonable to build on the coaching engagement: A communication perspective is valid in social interaction and reality. This is a constructivist orientation. Change is best understood in a systems approach. Social reality, be it harmonious or conflictual, is socially created and communicatively managed within a socio-historical context through social interaction and dialogue, in the sense of energy and meaning flow where meanings are given by individuals and collectives to actions and elements constituting situations and world events. The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away. In the case of the human, as we have given meanings, we can take away or give other meanings as well, completely redefining the (conflict) situation, our relationship, or our role in the (conflict) situation by reconstructing or deconstructing any of these meanings.

Seeing social situations, such as conflict, as socially constructed through communication points to the importance of understanding interpretations that lead to that particular social situation and possible reinterpretations and accompanying actions that can change the situation (e.g., reduce or manage the conflict). People must become aware of the communication behaviors that influence how they and others understand the situation (e.g., the conflict). But, their awareness does not alter the fact that their conflict is only knowable through their communication.

As a social construction, narrative develops a coherent story that explains the experience of the conflict. Stories are created and recreated throughout a conflict episode. Parties will have different narratives of what has happened and what is happening with an issue or initiative within a business unit or organization. Part of their conflict management is the ability to create a coherent narrative and share it with others. If one can’t tell one’s story in a way that others can comprehend, one will not be able to influence them to support one’s efforts in an initiative.

By focusing on the enactment of conflict, we can identify patterns of process over time, patterns of interaction, and how those patterns of interaction are linked to social context. Interactions have different meanings and effects in different workplace contexts.

Insights from other perspectives, such as sociological or psychological approaches to understanding conflict, are valued and are blended in an interaction frame to understand how psychological and sociological processes inform and influence the social construction of meaning through communication.

A communication perspective assumes the coach is competent in communication skill development to help the client understand what to do, how to do it, and why it is a good choice for conflict management (or any other specific issue).

Goals are the primary way the coach and the client orient toward the coaching, clarifying and advancing client goals. A goal strategy combines the basic striving to be effective with the need to be situationally appropriate. The primary goal is the “what” of conflict (influencing the other), the basic aim regarding changed behavior or circumstances. The secondary goals (related situational objectives) represent general motivations that shape communication in terms of the primary goal. These may include the goal types of content goals, identity goals, emotion goals, and power goals for making sense of how clients can best understand and accomplish their primary objectives.

The system’s orientation emphasizes the importance of patterns and context and reinforces attention to patterns of communication rather than random acts. The layers of context, such as relational, social, organizational, cultural, institutional, etc., all color the meaning and appropriateness of any communication. Thus, a coach must help the client to recognize and analyze the impact and interplay of relevant contexts. All parts of a system are interrelated, and change in one part of a system ultimately affects other parts of the system. The actions of one system member, directly and indirectly, affect others in the system.

Stages of the Coaching Process

During conflict coaching, the four stages are Discovering the Story; Exploring Three Perspectives – Identity, Emotion, and Power; Crafting the Best Story; and Enacting the Best Story. In addition, there is an ongoing parallel process of Learning Assessment.

Stage One: Discovering the Story

Note that the stage-to-stage movement can be nonlinear and even simultaneous. The model represents the overall flow of a typical coach and client coaching relationship.

The coach helps the client construct a coherent narrative of her experience of the conflict and engage in perspective-taking about the possible narratives of other parties. The intended outcome of the discovery process is to increase coherence. The client expresses content goals for herself and others that may be changed, refined, or understood more fully later in the coaching process. The coaching will involve at least three clarification levels: the initial story, refining the story and testing the story.

The initial story comes with little urging from the coach as the conversation begins with general questions about the conflict and listening as the client tells the story for the first time to the coach. How does the client see important issues, persons, and opportunities; how does the story present characterizations of other parties and assumptions about information and actions; what kind of picture does the story paint that represents the client’s current view?

After the client presents the initial story, the client is encouraged to add more information on how other parties in the conflict may be communicating and experiencing the conflict and how others are affected by the conflict. The coach is not challenging the narrative but encouraging the client to provide the most comprehensive and coherent versions. When there is no more important information to add, the story refining comes to a close.

When testing the story, the coach becomes more assertive; asking questions to challenge the client’s understanding of facts or information; testing assumptions the client is making about the situation or the people involved; considering alternative explanations for a person’s action that were perceived to be hostile or inappropriate; identifying missing information necessary to make strategic decisions; raising questions about what doesn’t make sense, or what a person hearing the story may question. Testing the story may lead to insights. These tests do not lead to a “true” story, but they help create a more complex and coherent story that serves a better function for analysis and action.

The parallel process of learning assessment. 

Learning assessment and implementation evaluation continue throughout all coaching stages. Once the client has a vision and an action plan for managing the conflict, he or she should develop success benchmarks to determine progress. What will the client see if his or her conflict management strategy is successful? The coach also helps the client reflect on and assess what he or she has learned through the conflict coaching process.

Stage Two: Exploring Three Perspectives – Identity, Emotion, and Power

By now, the client has told, refined, and tested the story. The coach helps the client move from understanding the present to orchestrating the desired future. What forces or drivers are present in the conflict, what to change, and how to change it?

Identity, emotion, and power are three perspectives through which we define all our relationships with others. The merging of these three perspectives clarifies the nature of a relationship, the experience of conflict, and the means of recognizing necessary change and redefinition in the relationship. Each of these elements functions as a strategic perspective a client should engage in before deciding “what to do” in a conflict. Each of these three lenses highlights certain critical insights, and together the lenses help the client see clearly what future situation is best for him or her. Identity, emotion, and power are intricately linked, and their congruence impacts effective strategic action, while any specific action affects each component.

The identity perspective helps the client clarify their current and desired identity, and who or what may prevent them from “being who they are” or “who they want to be,” and likewise, seeing how their actions negatively impact the identity of the other. Conflict can damage one’s identity as a leader, colleague, or community member. The coach helps the client think about his or her preferred identity and how best to create and protect that identity. The coach also encourages the client to think about the identities of other parties in the conflict and the things that might damage their identities and escalate the conflict.

The emotion perspective provides a way to understand what to change in a situation. Emotions are strongly linked to identity and power. Different emotions motivate us to behave differently. What is the emotional experience for the client and the others involved? How are these emotions affecting or preventing the client from seeing possible options for action or being comfortable with the status quo? What must happen for the client to have a more positive emotional experience of the team or business unit and the current organizational initiative or change project?

The power perspective looks at the client’s ability to influence the current situation favorably. Can the client change the current situation to enhance his or her ability to create the desired identity and a more positive emotion? What is in his or her way? What resources are needed to increase his or her influence? What are the consequences of changing the power in his or her relationship with the other parties? How does the larger system restrict or provide power that affects the client’s conflict?

Stage Three: Crafting the Best Story

The client has constructed a coherent story of the conflict and has looked at that conflict through the three perspectives of identity, emotion, and power. The coach has facilitated the client’s analysis of the conflict and now encourages the client to envision what the situation would be like if the conflict were managed most effectively. The client articulates an ideal outcome using insights from the three perspectives and crafts a story of success, a journey with clear milestones that would meet the client’s identity, emotion, and power interests.

Stage Four: Enacting the Best Story

The coach helps the client consider the best approach for dealing with the conflict to ensure an optimum outcome, identifying basic strategies for conflict management, and assessing whether the client has the skills to enact the preferred strategy or tactic. Identified skill gaps may require instruction for attaining or improving effective conflict communication skills, including confronting, confirming, and comprehending skills; understanding and employing appropriate conflict styles; enhancing negotiation skills to engage in collaborative, competitive, or mixed-motive situations effectively; and other dispute resolution systems and processes to enhance the client’s success.