The Consulting Psychologist Fall, 2004, vol. 6. no. 2
Interview by Laurie Moret, Ph.D.
Coaching continues to be an exciting career avenue pursued by countless psychologists and others. However, while many agree that coaching assumes certain broad characteristics, there is a wide variance in how we practice this intervention, what training we consider essential, and how we manage unique challenges.
This Spotlight article focuses on a few areas that demonstrate the complexity of a seemingly simple intervention. Jackie Gnepp, Ph.D. (Humanly Possible, Inc.) provides her thoughts and insights on topics ranging from coaching unique populations to how to partner with human resource professionals in organizations.
What do you believe are the top 3 issues facing the field of coaching?
Jackie Gnepp: In my mind, there are 3 major issues that relate to the future of coaching within the field of psychology:
1. How will we, as consulting psychologists who coach, distinguish ourselves from the legions of other professionals and quasi-professionals who also coach?
2. How can we, as consulting psychologists who coach, do a better job of embracing the findings of scientific psychology and applying these to our coaching activities?
3. Can we, as consulting psychologists who coach, move beyond the “assess and remediate” approach of the past decades into a more positive psychology focused on the success and self-actualization of our clients?
What do you believe are the key differences in coaching different types of individuals (e.g., women, entrepreneurs, small vs. large organizations)?
Jackie Gnepp: I have come across a very interesting difference between for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. In for-profits, managers seldom rise to upper executive levels without considerable prior experience as managers. These senior executives are selected, in good part, because of demonstrated managerial skills.
The career path in not-for-profits is often different. I have coached a number of clients who were selected as CEO's of their not-for-profit organizations largely on the basis of their success at pursuing their organization's mission, rather than on the basis of a progressive record of management competence. Indeed, many leaders of not-for-profit organizations have had little opportunity as managers for training, practice, or mentoring. Thus, they can find themselves in positions of great responsibility but with little preparation. I have found these not-for-profit executives eager to learn and grateful for a sounding board. I have been impressed by their openness, their concern for ethics and values, and their willingness to reveal themselves as human.
What has been your greatest challenge in the coaching industry personally?
Jackie Gnepp: My greatest challenge has been to help organizations recognize the value of coaching as an investment in their best people Successful executives who are offered coaching understand that it is a signal about their future career, and they repay their organizations with their best efforts and loyalty.
In contrast, when coaching is recommended only as a "developmental opportunity" (read, "remediation"), organizations turn a highly rewarding activity into a much more mixed experience. One consequence is that it makes it harder for executives to seek out coaching proactively.Another consequence is that managers who benefit from coaching by demonstrating increased competence, confidence, and value to the organization, often take their knowledge and improved skills elsewhere, because they can and because they save face by doing so.
Do you partner with internal management and HR during a coaching engagement? If so, how?
Jackie Gnepp: When coaching is requested by the organization, I like to get buy-in from the individual to be coached prior to meeting other members of the organization.Sometimes internal management or HR holds the view that a problem resides in the individual to be coached.I always strive to reserve judgment on the sources of problems.I want the client to know that I bring a systems perspective to my work with organizations.
For me, partnering with internal management and HR means involving them in determining the goals for the coaching and eliciting their cooperation in making the coaching successful, e.g., by allowing for experimentation with new behaviors or providing public support for the person.Subsequent to the assessment phase, I include the coaching client in all meetings with internal management and HR, a practice that ensures the integrity of the coaching relationship and builds trust.
How do consulting psychologists become competent coaches?
Jackie Gnepp: Consulting psychologists who are both competent psychologists and competent consultants have all the necessary skills to be competent coaches.With experience and, where possible, mentoring, these psychologists develop into confident and accomplished coaches.I would dispute the idea that qualified psychologists need telephone courses, certificates, or workshops that derive their tools and techniques from unlicensed coaching associations and schools.Building on a rich knowledge base of social psychology, organizational psychology, counseling psychology, cognitive psychology and learning, we are perfectly and uniquely positioned to develop our own coaching approaches that stem from our expertise as psychologists.
What steps did you take to establish yourself as a coach and build a client base?
Jackie Gnepp: I am often asked this question by people who have had difficulty establishing themselves as coaches and building a client base. The question presupposes that taking the right steps will lead to a thriving coaching practice. In truth, I believe that the current demand for coaching among potential clients has not kept pace with the explosion of interest among consultants of all stripes in providing this service. As a field, we have not yet reached the "tipping point," when every executive and high-potential manager feels it necessary and appropriate to engage a qualified coach. The Society of Consulting Psychology could play an important, even pivotal, role in creating such a tipping point. Working together, we can have a far greater impact on our practices than we can by just marketing ourselves individually. We must, as a group, meet the challenge of increasing the appreciation of the practice of executive coaching.