6) What are the different methodologies of "soft" vs. "hard" coaching?

01/01/2011 00:00

    The 360o feedback, Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator (MBTI), Action Research (AR) and the GROW model are four common approaches in psychology-based ("soft") coaching. A fifth, the Nescience Method (NM), is taught in some coaching programs but lacks credibility in the C-suites. Executive coaches almost always work as individuals rather than as members of a coaching team (e.g. the multiple coaches for different aspects - offense, defense, fitness -  of a professional sport). Hence they have developed their own personal methods and procedures. There are almost as many of these as there are coaches!

    Christopher Raum presents 113 tools in his books (some 700 pages) in German: Coaching Tools (2008) and Coaching Tools II (2009). Just two examples of them are the "Lerntreppe," the learning staircase and "Ziel-Navigation," goal navigation. The format is a collection of articles by over 60 different authors (of widely differing quality), cf. www.amazon.de

     The tools and techniques of "hard" strategy coaching are discussed at the subpage of that name at Services. There 36 of the more important tools are briefly presented. These range from SWOT (1950s), the BCG cow/star/question mark/dog matrix (1960s) and Porter´s Value Chains (1970s) to DWBDG, BOP, MOP, FOP Analysis and ZEBRA in 2010.

    In this article we limit ourselves to a few brief comments on the five popular "soft" tools mentioned in the first paragraph.  To discuss these in turn:

1) 3600-degree feedback 

    Its origins lie with the German military in World War II. In management, the phrase refers to an individual being evaluated by everyone with whom he deals: direct reports and other subordinates, colleagues, superiors, with a self-assessment as well. In some cases the feedback is extended to customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. The master coach Marshall Goldsmith (cf. Eminient Referrals at "About Us") has popularized this method.



    The Myers Briggs Typology Indicator, a personality assessment, was derived in 1917 by the Katherine Cook Brigss from the typological theories presented in Psychological Types (1923) by Carl Jung (1875-1961), the Swiss psychologist who had studied under Sigmond Freud. Katherine´s daughter, Isabel Briggs Meyers (1897 - 1980) graduated first in her class from Swarthmore College in the U.S. in 1919. She went on to work for Edward H. Hay, then a bank personnel manager in Philadelphia, to learn testing techniques. (Edward Hay is the founder of the Hay Group, discussed at the "Four Lords of Coaching" at the subpage of that name in the menu on the right.)  The concept was commercialized as the Myers Briggs Typology Indicator (MBTI) in 1961 and became increasingly popular.  Estimates of how many people a year take the MBTI range all the way up to 2,000,000.


    Bridges focuses on strategic issues ("hard" coaching)and not on behavorial ones ("soft" coaching). Therefore we do not assess leadership with 360o-degree evaluations or use MBTI. We feel these approaches are more appropriately the province of coaches with a background in psychology. The next two tools, Action Research (AR) and GROW, are cross-functional, in that they both can be used in a personal or in a business context.


3) AR

Action Research is a term coined by Kurt Lewin (1890 - 1947), a social psychologist who studied leadership styles. He developed this iterative approach in the 1940s. It entails the following steps:


        - Identifying a general or initial idea

        - Reconnaissance or fact finding

        - Planning

        - Taking the first action step

        - Evaluating

        - Taking the second action step



    The GROW model is generally attributed to Graham Alexander in the early 1970s. The acronym stands for:


        - Goal

        - Reality

        - Obstacles

        - Will


It was modified and promulgated by a colleague, John Whitmore, who started his own coaching firm and wrote Coaching for Performance, Nicholas Breadley Publishers, London, 1997.  One of the best known coaching books, it emphasizes asking questions and using the GROW model for prompt action and peak performance. It also treats the dynamics of team development and positions coaching as the essential team leadership skill. A 4th edition with new material was recently published. (The book has been translated into German as Coaching für die Praxis, a Heyne paperback.) To briefly elaborate on the model:

        - Goal  The end point needs to be precisely defined.

        - Reality  The gap between what is, and what could be: what steps are needed to bridge the gap?

        - Obstacles/Options  These need to be broken down into their components. What are the options to overcome the obstacles?

        - Will/Way  - "Where there is a will, there is a way." "What one man can do, another can do." Commitment, intensity and persistence are prerequisites for achieving ambitious goals. The options to do that need to be specified with action plans for the W´s: Who does What, When, Where, with Which Wherewithal.

    The GROW model shares the virtue of simplicity with its strategic counterpart, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Both these popular models share a Socratic base, viz. the asking of questions. Making the strategic shifts that drive sustainable competitive advantage depends on having asking the right questions. "36 Tools & Techniques" provides the framework for the questions Bridges poses for strategic issues.


5) NM

     The Nescience Method, or undirected coaching, is an approach based on questioning. Nescience means lack of knowledge or awareness. The central tenet to this method is that the coach does not ask penetrating questions based on his profound knowledge of the subject in question. In fact, his being totally ignorant of the subject is viewed as an advantage. His questions will therefore be uncontaminated and value free. Specifically, as a coach he must avoid advising, consulting or otherwise transmitting knowledge. The neutral questions serve as a guide for the client to discover the answers entirely independently.

    The classic text Teaching and the Case Method by C. Roland Christensen of Harvard Business School is 350 pages about how to ask the right series of questions to a group. Anyone who has had experience teaching the case study method knows the effort it takes to prepare the right questions. These can lead to the class generating creative "out-of-the-box" solutions, ones which the questioner had never dreamed of. "Winging it" with some general questions yields dramatically poorer results. 

    Because of a passionate predilection to the case study method, the author makes no bones about disparaging the unprepared, unknowledgable questioner. The Nescience Method is worthy of the same respect as astrology, horoscopes, graphology, and scientology. The origins of executive coaching lie in sports. Master football and tennis coaches are not in great demand by ice hockey and skiing teams - and vice versa. To coach a sport requires some specific expertise -- as does executive coaching for the C-suites. In Appendix I below two expository hypothetical conversations about a paradigm shifting innovation are presented as ironical cases in point.


Appendix I: Two Conversations

    Case I: The Nescientific Coach (with no relevant knowledge) Posing Questions

Coach (after small talk): "What´s the problem?"

Client: "Recaferated concavitation."

Coach: "How would you explain that, and its impact, to someone unfamiliar with it?"

Client (laughs): "If you complain to an opthalmologist about cataracts, you don´t expect him to ask you to explain them and the impact of going blind. And if we don´t fix this soon, we will be flying blind."

Coach: "Fair enough. So have you used more of an inductive or deductive approach to the problem?"

Client: "We inverted it and then reverse-butterflied it."

And at this point, what is asked next?  Let us see how the expert coach fairs.


    Case II The Coach (with expertise) Posing Questions

Coach (after small talk): "What´s the problem?"

Client: "Recaferated concavitation."

Coach: "What has been your approach?"

Client: "We inverted it and then reverse-butterflied it."

Coach: "Cubed, I assume, but wet or dry?"

Client: "Correct. Both."

Coach: "How did the Betas react?"

Client: "They didn´t. That´s what we can´t understand. We´re flying blind."

Coach (after long silence): "So how did Phi change?"

Client: "Phi!? We´ve been so focused on Sigma, we never even looked at it. I don´t think it will be relevant. Wait, you just gave me a terrific idea. Kappa -- therein may lie the answer. I never would have thought of Kappa if you hadn´t asked me about Phi.* That´s what I call catalytic coaching. Great question, thank you."


*The exchange is a word play on "Six Sigma" and "Phi Beta Kappa." The former is a statistical quality control procedure originally developed by Motorola in 1986. The latter is the most prestigious academic honor in the U.S. The award, a small gold key, is often affixed to one´s watch chain or worn on a lapel. The society that awards it was founded at William and Mary College in 1776. Of the 2300+ universities in the U.S. about 275 have Phi Beta Kappa chapters. Almost half (131) of the 312 U.S. Nobel Laureates are Phi Betta Kappa holders. (Wikipedia, 2010)


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