Attributes of Effective Coaching: Coaching Appreciatively

April 26, 2010

Coaching is one of my favorite topics to research and discuss. That might surprise you since I’ve written the majority of my blog entries on transformative learning; however, there’s a distinct synergy between the two. Think of coaching as an enabler of the transformative learning process. Coaching can be a catalyst for personal perspective transformation.

Yet, the focus here is firmly on coaching—more specifically, the coach. My manager asked me yesterday to share my opinion on why some individuals don’t make effective coaches. I cited the propensity some people have to “tell” versus “ask.” Some coaches struggle with asking powerful and probing questions. But these were my opinions based upon my study of the topic and experience as a coach; I wanted more time to chew on his question some more and synthesize my thoughts.

In the end, as I look across the literature on coaching and recount my own personal experience, I’d have to say that it appears to boil down to the coach’s approach to the coaching relationship.

Approach 1: If the coach approaches the relationship intent on addressing the coachee’s gaps or weaknesses, then problem-solving becomes the main goal of the coaching interaction. The relationship is built on addressing the coachee’s problems or deficiencies.

Approach 2: If the coach approaches the relationship intent on having the coachee reference past achievements and capitalize on key strengths to achieve a vision for success, then positive change becomes the main goal of the coaching interaction. The relationship is built on positive exploration in service of meaningful change.

What approach is more motivating and inspiring? What approach is more likely to lead to sustained change?

The second—and more positive—approach to coaching appears to be more effective in eliciting individual and organizational change. The evidence is well presented in the text Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change. Its authors are scholars and experienced consultants in the area of organizational development who have built a coaching model on the core precepts of Appreciative Inquiry. As one of the authors aptly states, “We get more of what we focus on.” Therefore, it would stand to reason: Focus on problems, get more of them. Focus on positives, get more of them.

So, to answer my manager’s question, which is what provoked this blog entry in the first place: Effective coaches are ones that adopt an appreciative approach to change and coach to possibility instead of deficiency.

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