The executive coaching session as a set of work sequences
I'm afraid this will not be the most read article on the blog, but I hope it will be useful for those interested in analyzing in-depth the more subtle dynamics of an individual executive coaching session. Let's start with the duration of a session.
A "valid" session does not have a standard duration, but we can say that the practice tells us that the average duration of a session is about an hour, to arrive at sessions that are extended to two hours. What is happening all this time? What keeps alive and nourishes the coach-coachee relationship? Is there a logical-temporal scan of the work?
If one improvises and does not follow a "scientific" methodology, time passes without logic and the coachee will eventually find himself having traveled a series of confused paths, which have led him nowhere. So how do you organize a session?
First, it should be noted that a "session" is not a continuum undifferentiated, the underlying of which is the conversation between the coach and the coachee. It is a path that develops around and through different phases or "work sequences". For example, a two-hour executive coaching session might include up to ten "work sequences", each defined by an "agreement" between coach and coachee to focus on a specific topic, theme, goal or action plan.
The theme of the agreement is strategic, because it is the expression of the explicit negotiation that coaches and coachees engage in to accomplish the goal. Typically, a "work sequence" begins with a question that helps the coachee define the perimeter of the problem or goal. The formulation and focus of this initial question are important to help the coachee quickly enter the "environmental scheme" of coaching. Let's take a practical example of a question:
"How can I help you on this subject?" or "What do you expect from me?"
These types of questions lead the coachee to focus on their expectations in terms of the help they want to get from the coach, rather than on their personal skills and motivation. They free him from the worry of reaffirming his autonomy and his "power". The various "work sequences" are also marked by interlocution and interruptions. The coach must know how to insert himself in the "onological" flow of the coachee, to keep the "dialogic" channel always open.
It is not a question of interrupting the self-exploratory progression that the coachee has begun (perhaps with a lot of effort), but of consolidating the results, with words or half sentences to stimulate deepening. Each of these phases is a new sequence of work, which serves to renegotiate the way in which the next level will be reached. But what are these half sentences or words? Here are some examples:
- I follow you...
- I listen to you...
These are introductory words or phrases to interlocution that are very open and non-directive. We could say they can sound relaxing. It is no coincidence that they are adopted in Freudian analytic sessions. It is important to remember that they are aimed at accessing a subsequent work sequence, so they must be immediately followed by questions that stimulate action, in the most authentic spirit of coaching. Negotiation restarts immediately to return to focus on objectives. The coach must not grant "gaps" to the coachee, rather he must feed the formulation of the work plan of the next sequence. In this sense, here is a key question introducing the next sequence of work:
- "What do you want to work on now? "
It must be said that the question may sound full of potential fatigue. It involves commitment and effort, which could weaken the concentration of the coachee and make the objectives less simple and light to achieve. The question could be replaced by any of the following:
- 'What's the next topic?
- "What do you want to talk about now? "
Both are introductory questions to a monologue or discussion, which are approached in a friendly and disengaged way. This approach frees the coachee's desire for exposure and sharing, but could cause them to lose focus on goals and resulting measurable results. The modulation of the questions, according to the negotiation stage reached during the session, is an indispensable skill for the coach.
Deciding how to continue the discussion, leaving the coachee the freedom to choose his own exploratory methods, is the methodological key that allows the coach to seek all the opportunities for the development of research strategies, which potentially lie within the coachee. The scanning of the "work sequences" is totally in the hands of the coach and its management depends on the questioning and, therefore, constant (re) negotiation of the coaching process. Greater or lesser "pressure" on the factors of generic framing of the topics of the session, lead to a consequent greater or lesser focus on the objective of the session itself. A question like:
- What is the next result (challenge, goal, etc.) you want to focus on?
It indicates to the coachee that a new negotiation has opened and that a new sequence of work is being entered. Therefore, it must refocus on new (or linked to previous) practical, measurable and operational objectives. The time it takes to come up with a new agreement for a new "work sequence" can take most of the time allotted to the topic or problem.
Often, in fact, clarifying the question on which the coachee wishes to work becomes the centrality of the sequence itself and the real goal can be the identification of an objective. In the course of this clarification process, the coach's questions and reactions often help the coachee change perspective, perceive other options, change problem definitions and rethink their priorities."
About the author
Giuseppe Ando is a C-Level & Executive Coach - Associate Partner at the acclaimed Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching. With a career that presides at the crux of the Venn diagram of Passion, Skills, and Experience, Giuseppe’s reputation as top executive coach has spanned decades. Among his many accolades, he is also recognized for his unique ability to understand and inspire those he coaches to excel professionally and personally while also delivering their organization’s desired results.