The Emergence of a New Coaching Paradigm for the 21st Century

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Last week I joined several hours of the fabulous 24 hour conversation hosted by the Climate Coaching Alliance  In this, and in other coaching forums I participate in, I notice that coaches passionately care about making a difference and contributing to tackling 21st century social and ecological challenges but so many feel STUCK in the “directive vs non-directive” coaching debate.

In a previous article I argued that much leadership development and coaching activity has for the past few decades been going round in circles. I drew on the metaphor of mobile phone technology – we’ve been adding more and more apps (horizontal development), whereas what we actually need is an operating system upgrade (vertical development). It struck me this week that the directive vs non-directive debate in coaching circles could be viewed through this framework too. Round and round it goes like a broken record. And yet, if we lift our heads up, there is a whole new level of consciousness where the debate is no longer relevant.

Coaching approaches have developed alongside successive stages of vertical development in leadership thinking. From command and control hero leadership, via a skills based focus (coach as instructor), to a process-centric performance orientation (coach as motivator), to the humanistic person-centric model (coach as facilitator). With a growing awareness of others’ perspectives and the ability to empathise, coaches have moved along a spectrum from directive to non-directive. We’ve gone from the coach (me) having the answer to the client (you) having the answer. It’s an ‘either I’m right or you’re right’ sort of distinction.

And yet the global challenges we face are not simplistic, either-or problems to be solved with linear, reductionist thinking. We live in a complex, ever evolving web of inter-connectedness and it is precisely our collective inability to think and act from an eco-systemic awareness that finds us standing on the verge of collapse.  

If we apply this to coaching then we must recognise that it is impossible for us to stand outside of the client’s world and ask neutral, non-directive questions. Whether we like it or not we ARE part of the client’s world and we ARE part of the system. From this perspective we are liberated from the old debate. The ONLY option is an eco-systemic ‘us’ awareness where the coach is a collaborator and the coaching conversation is a holistic mutual enquiry. This higher level of consciousness invites the coach to step right into the coaching agenda and sense from within. Our sharings with the client then come not from a projection of our thoughts based on accumulated knowledge or patterns of the past (directive), but from a knowing that emerges from the intelligence of the heart; a different cognitive capacity. 

In the climate coaching conversations last week we explored what ‘permission’ we were waiting for to go further. It seems to me the very question of permission assumes we are separate from the systems of our clients and of the climate crisis; that there is an entity outside of ourselves that has the power to give us permission. Who are we projecting that on to? The client? Their organisation? The professional coaching bodies?  As one participant so beautifully put it: We already have permission – as human beings. 

So, coaches; 

Instead of debating the relative merits of 2 outdated paradigms let’s step into the new emerging 3rd.

It’s time to unlock not only our clients’ potential but ours too; to liberate the intelligence of our hearts and souls.

 It’s time to move beyond the tired directive vs non-directive debate and embrace a generative coaching dialogue as human beings and mutual enquirers. 

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