I’m reading Reinhard Stelter’s book about the different generations of coaching. It’s made me think about why coaching has continued to grow in scope and effectiveness, particularly in organisations. It’s also sparked my curiosity about where coaching is going – what is the next generation?

When coaching started it was mainly about goal setting. Sport was a major influence at this stage, and the developing coaching profession borrowed the concept of setting goals and moving purposefully forward to achieving them, with someone at your side cheering and pushing you on. This translated nicely into an organizational context, and coaching became useful as a way of focusing attention and effort on specifying and achieving goals. Coaching became the methodology for putting outcomes thinking into action. ‘What do we want to achieve and how can we do that?’ was the main piece of work in the coaching conversation.

As coaching began to establish itself in organisations, managers, leaders and executives recognized its value as a developmental process, rather than seeing it as a deficit-based intervention. Coaching took its place at the boardroom table and invited those present to clarify their thinking about the future: executives began to think more clearly about ‘where to – and how?’ This type of thinking demanded a protected time and space, and so second generation coaching was born, in which time to think was to the fore. Coaches learnt to hold silence and not to interrupt executives as they discovered the value of taking time and reflecting deeper and differently than they had done before. This luxury, time to think in the workplace, enabled decision makers to think more systemically and to give a finer consideration to the reasons for and the impact of their decisions. The question developed into ‘What’s all this really about, and what if …?’

Then, as executives took the time to think, and to reflect on their thinking, they also began to wonder about themselves, and how come they thought this way (while others clearly didn’t!). That question led on to other questions, such as what their roles were, how they fit in to their own system, and how all this did or did not bring fulfilment.  Their coaching conversations began to include questions about why they did things, why they saw things in a certain way, and why other people seemed to see the organization significantly differently. This shift to wanting to understand oneself became the third generation of coaching, in which meaning making was the theme. Our perceptual framework became the focus and gave rise to the core questions of ‘How do I see the world (my organization)?’ and ‘What’s typical of me in the way I perceive?’

I think we are now heading into a new generation. With the loss of familiar organizational roles and structures, an awkward acceptance of a VUCA future, a fundamental shift in traditional values and with new ways of relating, people in positions of influence are faced with questions about how they cope to the best of their ability with the unprecedented demands that the universe is presenting them. Added to questions about their identity and purpose (‘Who am I?’ and ‘What am I here for?’), they are beginning to ask the vital above and beyond questions, such as ‘If my organization were a person, what would it ask for from me?’, ‘How can I serve?’ and ‘How is my future calling me to be in the world?’

 Reference: Stelter R. (2012). A guide to third generation coaching: narrative-collaborative theory and practice. Springer Verlag.