Over the years, many different methods of attaining personal growth have surfaced, such as counseling, consulting, training, teaching, apprenticeships, seminars, therapy and mentoring. These methods have proven effective in varying degrees, but all are helpful for certain people, evidenced by that fact that they still are promoted and utilized by people today.
The latest method to arrive on the scene is executive coaching.
Whenever a desired outcome is reduced to a list of methods to be followed over a short period of time, one tends to become skeptical. Promotional materials describing methods as “new and improved,” “proven,” “guaranteed to work,” “the latest version,” “sure fire,” “cast iron,” “fail safe” or “in the bag” do little to lessen that skepticism. I confess that I am still trying to sort out the minute nuances of “retraining,” “retooling” and “reengineering.”
The latest method aimed at enhancing personal growth is “executive coaching.” On the surface, this method may come across as just another name for an old method, but I believe that executive coaching not only differs from its predecessors, but also has great potential.
In the last two decades, “coaching” has mainstreamed into the vocabulary and practices of executives and leaders throughout North America. As happens whenever a practice goes public, it sometimes is diluted by short cuts and shortsighted imitations. At its best, however, coaching allows the “coachee” to clarify values, identify areas of potential growth, and receive the needed mix of challenge and support to enhance growth. Coaches create a vacuum of dissonance to stretch their clients comfortably into new territory.
Coaching differs from mentoring in that the coachees learn by doing rather than observing. Coaching differs from counseling and therapy in that coaching is future-oriented rather than focused upon the past. Coaching differs from training in that coachees learn from their own mistakes rather than mistakes made by previous learners.
Executive coaching differs from other forms of coaching in that the coach does not need to know more than the coachee about the subject matter. In fact, whenever the coach does know more about the subject matter than the coachee, there is a constant struggle to turn the attention toward the coachee and away from the coach.
Unlike mentoring, coaching does not result in a symbiotic relationship. Coaching focuses all of its efforts on bringing out the best in the coachee. In describing how coaching differs from other methods of personal growth, it is easy to see the merits of this style of personal enhancement. Coaching works, because all of its energy is geared toward the individual seeking to develop.
Coaching often involves three phases: identification, goal setting, and encouragement. During the identification phase, a coach may help to clarify the coachee’s values, strengths, gifts, personality and attitudes. Based upon this analysis, the coachee will normally identify an area of focus in which to set goals that will daily lean the individual toward the new vision for this area of his or her life.
The heart of coaching, however, is contained in phase three, which consists of a series of regular contacts between coach and coachee, balancing questions and encouragement to bring about the desired change.
I believe that executive coaching can be a powerful tool for personal growth, especially among pastors and church leaders. Pastors and church leaders are particularly suited for coaching, because of the vast range of competencies expected of them and their responsiveness to techniques of encouragement.
Coaching should not replace any of the other available methods of personal growth. Therapy, counseling, training and mentoring all still have their place in leadership development. Neither, however, should coaching be dismissed as a re-labeled practice from the archives, which adds nothing new to the realm of possibilities in personal growth.
I encourage readers to consider the merits of coaching alongside the current array of leader-development opportunities.
Jeff Woods works with regional ministries for American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.