Executive coaches have access to a potentially huge number of possible coaching interventions that can each be used to facilitate 'best practice.' Conversely, coaching clients have a similarly large number of potential responses that they could evoke in response to these interventions. As a result, there has been a lack of evidential clarity in the coaching literature surrounding what might be termed "best behavior" on the part of the coach; what are the best interventions to use, and when are the ideal opportunities to use them. In an ideal world, we would be able to use a basic model of coaching interventions so that we can reliably measure which ones work the best in given situations, and so that our coachees can recognize the purpose and validity of such interventions. Given that we don't live in an ideal world, and that coaching engagements are often complex affairs, trying to establish such a model is probably an incredibly difficult task.
Erik de Haan and Viktor O. Nilsson from the Ashridge Business School in England recently proposed a model of coaching behaviors that might be used to close the conceptual gap in this respect, by refining and testing a version of the Coaching Behaviors Questionnaire on 537 coaches, 196 consultants, 559 manager-coaches and 221 coachees. The authors were seeking to establish whether self-reported behavior profiles among coaches would change based on demographic characteristics such as age, gender, job description and nationality. Additionally, the authors wanted to determine whether there were differences between the behavioral profiles of a coach as reported by their coachees, and as self-reported by the coach themselves.
The resulting model that the authors created showed that coaching is ultimately based on three directive sets of behaviors on the part of the coach themselves (prescribing, informing and confronting) and on the part of their interaction with the coachee (exploring, supporting and releasing). Taken together, the model shows that coaches have a broad range of interventions at their disposal: passive listening; directly offering advice or suggestions; issuing challenges or calls to action; providing warmth and support; probing more deeply into the mindset of coachees; inviting the coachee to explore their own mindset and articulate this accordingly. Likewise, each possible intervention can have a range of different effects on the coachee and the coaching conversation, which emphasizes the necessity, on the part of the coach, of striking a balance between direction and facilitation, and of being able to seamlessly transition from one intervention to another as the specific coaching engagement requires.
Some of the findings from the study also showed that there are differences between coaches' perceptions of their own behavior and those of their coachees, as well as differences among coaches in different demographic groups. Female coaches were found to rank themselves higher on non-directive coaching interventions (e.g. helping the coachee release tension; helping the coachee with self-discovery and self-direction; trying to build the coachee’s self-esteem) than male coaches. Older coaches were perceived to be less effective on directive interventions (e.g. giving advice and information or challenging the coachee’s existing assumptions) than their younger counterparts, and were ranked lower in providing active support.
What someone perceived their job role to be - whether they saw themselves as a 'coach', 'consultant' or 'manager' - also played a part here. For people who self-identified as a coach, there tended to be a discrepancy between what the coaches themselves saw as their own coaching behaviors and what their coachees saw. For example, coachees tended to score people who identified as coaches lower on their use of non-directive interventions than what the coaches themselves thought. The implication here is that the way that the coach views their relationship with the coachee (whether they are 'coaching', 'consulting' or 'managing') can affect whether their coaching approach is seen as being based on confronting, prescribing and informing versus supporting, releasing and exploring. This might not necessarily reflect a lack of skill on the part of coaches, but the authors do warn that it might suggest that the coach is so busy with their own ideas that they do not pay enough attention to the coachee's emotional processes. The major takeaway of this study is that a range of coaching interventions can be reliably measured, and comparisons can be made between both samples of different coaches, as well as between the perspectives of both coaches and coachees. Ultimately, tools like the measure developed in this study might be used to determine the efficacy or skillset of a coach with respect to producing particular coaching outcomes. As this approach becomes more refined, we will very likely be able to determine with relative precision which approaches to coaching are associated with desirable outcomes for coachees.
de Haan, E., & Nilsson, V. O. (2017). Evaluating coaching behavior in managers, consultants, and coaches: A model, questionnaire, and initial findings. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(4), 315.