Guest post by Claire Genkai Breeze

I first began coaching thirty years ago.

If we spend a moment going back in time together we can paint a picture of what work was like and how those conditions created a response called Executive Coaching.

It was a pre personal computer age and if you were a senior executive you were likely to have a personal assistant, an in-tray and a lunch break. You sent letters and waited for replies. You dictated your work to someone who practiced shorthand and you went on time management courses to help you distinguish the difference between important and urgent.

The world of work was viewed as a place where learning to control the environment was significant and the practice of strategy was more widely discussed and taught than it had been before.  In the main people framed strategic conversations in five to ten year time horizons. The individual heroic leader was still a strong concept.  Psychological mindedness was taking hold in organisations as a more commonplace idea.  Military and sporting metaphors were still highly prized and the senior work force lacked diversity.

Into this world the phenomenon of executive coaching was born. The world of the sports coach was brought together with the focus on learning and individual psychology into a form that we still have to this day. The coaching field was unregulated and there was no recognised education for executive coaches or supervision.  It was the coaching equivalent of the Wild West!  Full of opportunity, skirmishes, innovation, mistakes and corporate bar brawls. I secretly confess to missing a little of that edge these days.  It was the age of The Grow Model. 

Today the corporate environment is radically different and the pace of activity and response is more of a continuous flow of unfolding and emerging nuances. Collaboration is just as valuable, if not than, the heroism of one human being and systems awareness is truly with us.  We have a psychologically more sophisticated workforce, and an understanding that coaching is a regular part of leadership and cultural development.  We have team coaching as well as individual work. Diversity in the work force is opening up and we are engaged in the struggle for resilience and talent.  Coaches now have training courses and professional education. Supervision qualifications for coaching are with us.

Time may have changed many things but the value for most of us of the one to one support is not diminished. Many executives have learned the craft of setting goals, organising their work and increasing their self awareness, but they are still hungry for a very high quality conversation, that gives them the space and conditions to think much more deeply and radically about who they are in their work and how they can continue to wake up to the challenges they are facing. I think of these types of conversations as a very satisfying meal. However I find that the habitual methods, models and conversations that we use to do this work can leave a very fine meal delivered on a paper plate. In other words I want to radically break open the protocols and unlock more challenger juice from the coaching or executive reflection process. I am looking for ways to bring coaching into a fully contemporary context.

The challenger coach has questions

What type of coach and what type of coaching actually helps to create and foster challenger leaders in our companies?

What are the assumptions in the grow model about change that differ from challenger assumptions about change, disturbance and anxiety?

How can coaches trained in methods from 30 years ago really meet the challenge of contemporary work?

How can we break open some of the coaching conventions and bring the coaching support closer to the real time action for our clients?

How do the skills of supervision which are concerned more with systems, parallel process, purpose, intention and blind spots offer an experienced client or executive a deeper way to relate and learn than habitual coaching formats?

Warmly and in gassho, Claire Genkai