How should executive coaches respond when the role of business in society is contested?

By Martin Vogel

Indignant, in any language.
Indignant, in any language.

I’m looking forward to the APECS symposium on the future for executive coaching on 18th June. As part of a group working on the social and business context for coaching, I’ve submitted a discussion paper. I found it a useful opportunity to pull together the themes I’ve been developing at this blog over the past few years. I’ve been receiving a number of requests to access the paper even ahead of the symposium, so I’m posting it here with the following caveat: my thinking on this is a work in progress rather than my last word. Feedback, critical or otherwise, most welcome.

Anglo-Saxon capitalism is experiencing a shift in the socio-economic paradigm by which we organise ourselves. In the period after the Second World War, a consensus was established around social democracy, with its emphasis on welfare, corporatism and mitigating inequality. As this became dysfunctional, it was replaced by a consensus around free markets, managerialism and shareholder value which, itself, is now being called into question by systemic failure. What replaces it will be contested. It could be a more benign form of capitalism in which organisations accept responsibility for greater stewardship of the public realm or it could be something much closer to fascism or something else again. What role, if any, should coaches play in helping executives both to recognise the shift and to play a role in shaping a constructive outcome?

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The limits of leadership

By Martin Vogel

Mandela: too exceptional to be a leadership role model?
Mandela: too exceptional to be a leadership role model?

It may seem perverse in the week that we have commemorated the impact on the world of one man, Nelson Mandela, but I feel the need to cast a sceptical look at our obsession with leadership.

We live in an age which has made a fetish of leaders. As you squeeze into a rush hour Tube train, consider that probably 50 per cent of the people packed around you consider themselves to be on some kind of leadership mission at work. The other half are most likely being harangued by their organisations to step up more forcefully to the leadership plate.

Like the self-help books that offer the promise that you can achieve whatever you dream, the idea of leadership holds out the possibility that there’s no problem in organisations that can’t be resolved by a visionary and driven individual. Yet we’re regaled routinely with stories of mediocrity, organisational failure and leadership shortcomings. Ours is a tired post-industrial culture, in which the complexity of organisations and the myopia of short-term perspectives conspire to frustrate the realisation of visionary outcomes. The veneration of Mandela is testimony to the fact that, as a leadership role model, he was exceptional.

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Organisations need outsiders to challenge their dysfunctional narratives

By Martin Vogel

Groupthink is rarely healthy
Groupthink is rarely healthy

I’ve been reconnecting with my work on narratives in coaching for a seminar I held this week for a City law firm. I was struck by how the prism of narratives helps us understand the enduring power of organisational cultures that foster corporate scandals – and by the questions this raises for our ethical orientation as coaches.

The problem of dysfunctional organisational cultures just won’t go away. Dysfunction is such an anodyne word, it barely scratches the surface of the harm that is wrought by self-serving organisational cultures. This week we heard how a cover-up at the Care Quality Commission of its own failings in inspecting a hospital in Barrow contributed to the needless deaths of at least eight mothers and babies. An organisation that exists to protect the public interest in health care put protecting its own reputation above the safety of patients.

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The counter-intuitive way to achieve results

By Martin Vogel

Happily

In a previous article, I discussed how personal development occurs through connecting “the doing self” and “the being self”. Here I’m going to look at some of the interesting things that happen when we bring the being self into the equation. We often think of coaching as concerning the task-focussed, doing self that wants to bring about change. Paying attention to the being self actually disrupts the doing self’s action orientation by creating a pause for reflection.

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Being vs. doing: how coaching supports personal development

By Martin Vogel

sculpture

How is personal development achieved? It’s a concept that is central to coaching, an assumed outcome for both coach and client. But the ways in which coaching supports personal development are not clearly understood by clients – at least when they first contemplate coaching. This is partly because of the way coaches market what they do.

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Agreeing terms with your coach

How to work with a coach, part 5

By Martin Vogel

The price is right.

If you have been following the guidelines in earlier posts in this series, you should have been able to find one or two coaches with whom you would be confident to work. But what should you be paying for their services?

The price of coaching is a bit of a vexed issue. At first glance, there is not much transparency of pricing. Rather than post their rate on their websites, many coaches prefer you to ask. If you do this a few times, you’ll find that prices for coaching vary a great deal. You can pay anything from £50 per hour for a life coach working in your local neighbourhood to a four-figure sum for an executive coach working in large corporations.

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Jimmy Savile and tacit knowledge: what the past can teach us about the present

By Martin Vogel

savile

The Jimmy Savile scandal is a textbook example of wilful blindness. It viscerally underlines the necessity for leaders to  free up tacit knowledge in their organisations.

The BBC is not alone in facing questions about how it allowed a predatory paedophile to conduct a career of child sexual abuse stretching over decades – apparently to the knowledge of colleagues around him. The NHS, the police, sundry care homes and approved schools among others also have to account for apparent failures in their duty of care. But the BBC holds a special responsibility, having provided the platform upon which Savile built his celebrity as a family entertainer and sustained his powerful influence over vulnerable people. Such is (or was) the trust in the BBC that the halo effect it conferred over Savile possibly encouraged others to drop their guard.

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Story matters – how narrative awareness assists coaching

By Martin Vogel

Coaches can learn from exploring how narratives unfold
Coaches can learn from exploring how narratives unfold

The findings of my academic research into the use of narrative in coaching have been published by the International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring. I interviewed six coaches whose approach is informed by a sensitivity to stories.

The project was an opportunity for me to take further my life-long interest in narrative. My background to this was as a journalist who naturally makes sense of things through shaping events and information into stories. When I first experienced coaching, I was drawn to becoming a practitioner because I noticed an affinity with my earlier career as a reporter – asking challenging and open questions, cutting to the chase, synthesising and summarising on the fly. While my approach has changed since then, I realised that this story-driven frame of reference was still influencing my style as a coach, even though I wasn’t consciously nor explicitly make it a part of my coaching model. So I decided to use my research project to bring some rigour to my belief in the relevance of narrative to coaching.

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Meeting a prospective coach

How to work with a coach, part 4

By Martin Vogel

Meeting
What can you glean from first impressions?

Before you work with a coach, you should aim to meet two or three before deciding which to appoint. In part 3 of this series, I argued that you should never be choosing from a field of one.

When it comes to the meeting, your main purpose is to establish whether there is the potential for a good working connection between you both. At one level, this is a job interview and you are the recruiter. There is a certain amount that you have to ascertain in order to make an informed decision. You have to be clear in advance what information you need to get out of the meeting.

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Looking for coaches who work with stories

By Martin Vogel

What’s the story?

Are you a coach whose practice draws on a narrative perspective, or explores how clients make and tell themselves stories? If so, can you help with my research project?

I’m doing a Masters dissertation on how an awareness of stories can help clients. I want to talk to coaches who work with a narrative perspective. I’d particularly like to hear from you if your approach resonates at all with what I describe below.

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