A Brief History of Coaching
Coaching has been part of a reformation in leadership development that has dramatically changed the focus from generic skills training to tailored capability development. This has the advantage of an individualised and bespoke approach to leadership development rather generic training based on title, role or career stage. As such individualised leadership development mediated by a coaching process has the capacity to fast-track significant developments in leadership effectiveness, (MacKie, 2016). Coaching is predicated on the principles of adult learning where coaches bring their own motivation and readiness to learn and are therefore seen as equal participants in the learning process rather than passive recipients of a more pedagogical method. However many elements of the methodology of coaching have come under increasingly scrutiny. Much of the research into its effectiveness is inconclusive as it relies on self-reports and outcome variables that are at best tangentially related to increased individual or organisational effectiveness, (Lai & Palmer, 2019). In addition coaching has uncritically absorbed some influential ideas including those derived from positive psychology and mindfulness that have had unintended consequences in terms of their advocacy of individual agency over contextual factors and the promotion of placid acceptance in the face of environmental threats, (Bachirova & Borrington, 2020). In addition coaching has adopted some of the more non-directive elements of psychotherapy and behavioural change that make challenging the goals of the coachee and organisation that may not be aligned with sustainable and responsible practice, more challenging.
Is Coaching Implicated in the Climate Crisis?
The issue of coaching’s insufficiently challenging approach and value neutrality has emerged before during the financial crisis of 2009. Immediately after the global financial crisis, a review on the failures of the coaching industry to address some of the systemic issues within banking and finance was published, (Blakey & Day, 2009). Central to the concerns of the authors was the idea that the coaching profession was too passive in the face of their clients’ agenda and too value neutral in the face of unsustainable business practices. In response the authors developed a new model of coaching where challenge, accountability and systemic thinking were core to the process, (Blakey & Day, 2012). The same question has recently been asked in relation to coaching and climate change (Hawkins, 2019). Developing climate change leaders involves a step change in how external entities contract with organisations to support the development of their leaders and how multiple stakeholders and systems are represented in the coaching process. Currently global coaching organisations are beginning to address these issues with many of the core coaching capabilities enshrines in accreditation processes up for significant review including the focus on individualized and often decontextualized assessment, the confidential but unobservable methodology, the lack of broader accountability and the absence of inherent challenge in a process that is significantly derived from the nurturing acceptance of psychotherapy, have had unintended adverse consequences at the organisational and societal level, see Joint Statement.
Coaching as a Sustainable Leadership Development Methodology
Individualised leadership development mediated by a coaching process has the capacity to fast-track significant developments in leadership effectiveness, (MacKie, 2016). There are now multiple meta-analytic studies that support the efficacy of coaching as a personal and leadership development methodology, (Grover & Furnham, 2016). The question for coaching research is no longer does it work but what are the mechanisms and methodologies that enable it to do so. Strength-based leadership coaching has demonstrated significant efficacy in the development of contemporary leadership capability, (MacKie, 2014). Unlike many coaching methodologies, this effect has been demonstrated beyond the level of self-report and in addition, there is convincing evidence that is the specific strength-based methodology rather than the generic coaching approach that is responsible for the observed enhancements in leadership effectiveness. Despite a consensus emerging around leadership as being a key dependent variable in the evaluation of coaching effectiveness, the construct of contemporary leadership has recently been criticised for containing within in several unsustainable assumptions that if unchecked, can lead to poorer outcomes at the societal and planetary level. Sustainability leadership offers the opportunity to redress that imbalance by aligning strength-based coaching with sustainable outcomes beyond shareholder and organisational value. Awareness of the limitations of contemporary leadership models (Link Leadership Matters) allows core elements of a strength-based approach to leadership development to be repurposed towards the development and enhancement of sustainability leadership within organisations
Coaching as a Sustainable Team Development Methodology
Climate change leaders however well developed cannot influence an organisation effectively without leveraging the teams in which they sit. There is compelling evidence that the most effective form of leadership in teams is distributed or shared, (MacKie, 2019) but this requires a recognition that leadership is both malleable and abundant within organisations. In addition to developing leadership within teams, coaching has focused on the structure of high performing teams, (Hackman, 2003) and the process they adopt to operate effectively, (Hawkins, 2018; Clutterbuck, 2019). Structural models suggest that there are certain preconditions that need to be met prior to effective coaching including the selection of the right people, the creation of a compelling purpose and the delineation of interdependencies within the team. Once these essential elements have been developed, there are additional enablers like the evolution of team norms and informal roles that facilitate the process. Teams with a focus on climate change leadership typically develop prosocial and eco-centric norms that establish environmental sustainability as core to their purpose. The emerging question in team coaching is to what extent the team coach influences the process of team development to include ethical and unsustainable purpose, pro-environmental norms and a heightened awareness of planetary boundaries.
Coaching in the Anthropocene
As a methodology of individualized leadership development, coaching has the potential to accelerate the development of climate change leaders. However this will require the evolution of some of the current constraints that are inhibiting coaching’s capacity to effectively develop climate change leaders.