Towards best practice

issue sees the start of a new five-part series by Ashridge Consulting on how to
achieve effective coaching. In this first part, Ina Smith examines the current
boom in the demand for coaching and compares its similarities with counselling

It’s lonely at the top. Chief executives, directors and senior managers
rarely get straight feedback or even hear bad news.

There are few people they can discuss sensitive issues with, or can help
them to think out loud. There are even fewer that wouldn’t mind someone
catching a glimpse of their vulnerability. Small wonder then they appreciate
the confidentiality and personal attention of a personal coach.

Executive coaching – the term commonly used for one-to-one time with an
external coach, consultant or mentor – deals with the individual’s issues and
needs, whatever they may be.

The coach attempts to understand and address them in the context of the
day-to-day realities of the organisation and business situation. It may be the
only way for top managers to gain important feedback on personal performance,
management and leadership style and the company culture.

Strategic objectives

Coaching represents a just-in-time, cost-effective development option that
is also geared to strategic objectives. It is a practical, on-the-job,
results-orientated and time-effective method of learning that may be used to
improve performance, prevent derailment and implement organisational change.
Research demonstrates that coaching is highly rated by clients as a very
satisfactory process for self-development.

It is not surprising that in an ever-increasingly tough and pressurised
business environment, coaching is booming. It is one of the fastest growing
areas of consulting and this trend shows little sign of abating. In the last
few years, there has been a real explosion in its use both as standalone
executive coaching and as a component of a development programme that may also
include training workshops or action learning groups.

There are estimated to be tens of thousands of executive coaches in the US.
In the UK and Europe, more and more consultants are being asked to include
coaching in their portfolios of consulting activities, interventions and
solutions offered to clients.

So, you might ask, what makes it successful? In both counselling and
psychotherapy, the best outcomes have usually resulted from the formation of a
strong ‘working alliance’.

Coaching has some close similarities to counselling, within the boundaries
of an organisational and work context. The coaches must be able to work in a
one-on-one relationship, developing a working alliance that encourages and

– Better awareness of self and others

– Reflection on dilemmas, choices and alternatives

– Problem solving and taking action

– Reviewing outcomes and learning

Coaches encounter a diverse range of clients. Some have been promoted into
new and demanding jobs, while others are managers about to set up new business
units or divisions within restructured organisations.

At times, the individual’s challenges lie within their own management team,
and they can be directly related to their customer relationships. There may be
issues surrounding appropriate leadership styles in complex situations and
personal reactions to change and uncertainty.

Coaching is not remedial. It helps successful managers and executives to
deliver positive results to extremely high standards within difficult
competitive market situations. Coaches must be able to handle the demands of
each individual client by providing some of the roles outlined within the
coaching arena.


When coaching first hit the UK, it was delivered by former chief executives
of successful businesses or champion sportsmen and women. The assumption was
that you had to have achieved something yourself in order to advise other
managers on what to do.

This phase didn’t last long as managers considered the implications of these
assumptions. Do such coaches have the ability to transfer their knowledge and
skills? What processes and methods are they using? Do I need someone to tell me
how to run my business? Have they had any relevant training?

Managers realised that coaching isn’t about telling someone else what to do.
It is a process of self-discovery, a time for reflection and learning and an
opportunity to plan and review the outcomes with an external person, within a
highly-confidential relationship. Occasionally, advice is very useful too – but
only when that is exactly what is needed.

Now, the majority of experienced coaches come from the ranks of psychology
and the behavioural sciences. A coach needs to combine psychological and
behavioural knowledge and expertise with a working knowledge of management
processes and systems. They must be able to tackle a wide range of issues, from
strategy and marketing to interpersonal relationships and conflict resolution.

It is a tall order. Many coaches have described to us at Ashridge Consulting
a sense of "flying by the seat of their pants". They are concerned
about their credibility, competence and confidence and fear coming up against
something they cannot handle.

Many consultants and HR people are aware of the need to raise the quality of
coaching. Ashridge Consulting is responding to a real need to address the issue
of development for coaches and examining how a benchmark for best practice
might be set.

The need to design and deliver a coaching programme presented an interesting
challenge. We knew that our aim should be to:

– Develop coaching and mentoring skills

– Help people understand the theoretical frameworks that support effective

– Provide opportunities to practise both familiar and new coaching skills
and interventions

From conversations with internal and external trainers and HR professionals
who coach people they do not line manage, as well as from many years of
experience as executive coaches, we were able to identify what the most
valuable and vital components of such a programme would be.

Core competencies

We knew that from developing core competencies through to the practise of
‘micro-skills’, any programme should offer theoretical frameworks and the
opportunity to develop and practise both familiar and new skills and

It should take a psychological perspective, which will develop participants’
and their clients’ awareness of themselves and the web of key relationships
within the organisational context to enable and respond to change. Any coach
seeking to enrich and develop their skills, or create a foundation on which to
build a coaching and consulting practice, should have knowledge of:

– Frameworks for conceptualising the role of the individual coach

– The coaching contract and its scope, limitations and pitfalls

– Identification and consolidation of new and existing skills

– The opportunity to develop new ways of thinking and practising

– An introduction to relevant concepts from a wide variety of psychological
theories and ways of thinking about organisations, human processes and dynamics

– Innovative and creative approaches to the coaching intervention

– Managing challenging clients

– Coaching within an international context

– Ethical considerations in coaching

Good coaching results in greater self-knowledge, new perspectives, improved
performance and greater adaptability. The best coaches are those who give
honest, realistic and challenging feedback, are good listeners and suggest
smart action ideas.

In addition, great coaching also comes from the depth and quality of the
relationship that develops between coach and client.

Coaching is an extremely demanding consulting intervention and consultants
who coach must have all of the skills, knowledge and competencies necessary to
provide excellent quality coaching that achieves positive outcomes.

Coaching course on offer

The Ashridge Consulting Coaching for Consultants course is
divided into five two-day modules, between February and October 2003. Following
an additional, but optional, two-day practicum, successful candidates will be
awarded accreditation as an Ashridge consulting coach.

– Module one: Introduction, the role of the coach, the coaching
arena and the three-cornered contract between client, organisation and coach

– Module two: Development of the coaching relationship

– Module three: The organisational context. How do our
assumptions influence what we do and how can we support and enable change?

– Modules four: Skills and strategies

– Module five: Managing client relationships

For more information contact Tracey Field at Ashridge
Consulting on 01442 841106 or e-mail her on

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