Coaching in Complexity

Remember your first coaching experience at work? Most likely it was “You are doing great, keep it up!” Or, “We need to talk about . . .”

The profession of coaching has been more openly discussed in the past few years as a way to support organizational leaders or those who want to become leaders. More organizations need to be serious about allocating resources to develop and train managers and executives to be competent coaches in the workplace. Coaching on the spot in real time and at a scheduled time over weeks and months is a competitive advantage.


The art and science of coaching is a multi-dimensional field of practice structured to support the professionals leading organizations in a complex market environment. Leaders seeking to leverage a competitive advantage in an increasingly regulated environment are responsible for coaching direct reports, sometimes peers, and occasionally coaching up. Yet, coaching is too often a buzzword and not defined or refined as a sustainable organizational practice.

There are five types of coaching:

  1. Performance coaching
  2. Professional/executive coaching
  3. Career coaching
  4. Development coaching
  5. Life coaching

A coaching relationship may initiate with one of the five types of coaching and a crossover or blend with one or more of the other four are expected and anticipated. Humans are complex beings, and compartmentalization in one area is not easy.

Coaching conversations need to be fluid. For example, a career-coaching conversation is initiated with a direct report and may move to a life-coaching discussion regarding work-life balance. Be clear what the coaching conversation is, and when it turns a corner, the coach is responsible for acknowledging the change in conversation and should seek clarity from the direct report as to which direction is needed. “We started this conversation about your career, and now we are talking about your life at home. Is that the direction you want to go?” If your direct report wants to discuss life at home, are you qualified in that domain?

Managers are expected to be coaches. Yet the professional training is not available in organizations to enact systemic and sustainable embodied change using coaching as a professional art and science. Too often coaching is referred to as an intervention in a performance crisis when the coaching should have started months in advance. If you see yourself as a coach or potential coach, then here are questions for reflection:

  • How do you define coaching?
  • What is your knowledge base in coaching?
  • What is your experience with coaching?
  • Which of the five types of coaching is most preferred by you as the coach? Least preferred?
  • Have you been coached by a certified professional?
  • What did you appreciate about your coach?
  • What systemic change was an outcome of your coaching?

The essential basics of coaching adhere to a standard of ethics that includes boundaries, confidentiality, management of stakeholder relationships, alignment of your coaching skills within the requirements with the coaching engagement, and a high standard of professionalism.

A professional coach is an ongoing learner and engages in advancing the core competencies of his or her coaching. Continuous learning includes:

  1. Self-awareness: Effective coaching is an art and a science and knowing where you are in both aspects of coaching.
  2. Knowledge: Internal coaches need a theoretical base for coaching and understanding of the change processes and principles for individuals, teams, and organizations.
  3. Understanding: Awareness of your behavior in the coach-client relationship and being able to translate knowledge into action through sustainable practice that shifts behavior.
  4. Behaviors: Applying specific skills and strategies in the context of your internal clients’ needs and desired outcomes.
  5. Coach qualities: Awareness and attention to your state-of-being and how your presence and coaching qualities impact your client.
  6. Separation: Your experiences are separate from your internal client’s experiences, perspectives, and future decisions. Draw out the client’s perspective as the place to coach from to reach the desired outcome.

Simple advice: When you are asked to coach an employee (client), and you have not been trained as a coach, clarify the following with the requestor: What is the desired outcome? What are the consequences if this outcome is not fulfilled? Are you qualified?

If you are serious about being a competent internal coach, then reach out and work with a professional coach certified by the International Coaching Federation. They will offer guidance and support. You will see initials such as ACC, PCC, or MCC after their names.

Deedee Myers