Let’s say I have a leadership problem. The solution? I am looking for a coach who can help me solving this problem. But, nowadays coaching is no longer as simple as that. Like in many other industries as well, the coaching industry is undergoing major changes caused by topics such as AI, VUCA, and digitalization. Central for the coaching industry is, that there are no longer stand-alone challenges. Executives have many connections to stakeholders, systems and the environment, where only the best coaches can really provide support.
About the author
Inge is an experienced executive coach and facilitator who works with senior leaders and leadership teams across different industries and countries. The most important thing during a coaching session for her are impactful conversations that enable leaders to make some positive changes within their organisations. She focuses on increasing connectedness and impact as well as successfully navigating change. Her work experience ranges from managing complex international projects and programs through to managing culture and change processes and has intimate knowledge of starting up as well as integrating businesses. She has almost 20 years of international business experience and is working together with MDI Management Development International for about 4 years already.
From the individual challenge to a transformational coaching
Like almost every business sector, the coaching industry is undergoing major changes as well. The challenges are changing and so must the solutions, we offer as coaches. Many things have changed since I started working as a coach.
In the past, I worked a lot with individuals and their specific challenges. In a coaching session, we focused on current leadership topics and talked about them. Nowadays, we not only work on the challenges from one person but of the whole system the person is connected with. Instead of solving one specific problem or improve specific competencies, I am rather confronted with a complex system of connections, relevant stakeholders, different interests and structures. As a coach, you have to think beyond the individual. You have to think systematically. This skill was not that relevant in the past.
Generally speaking, coaching is changing towards a partnership approach, such as many other business fields as well. The key is that the coach and coachee really work together as a team. As a coach, you must be able to understand the person as an individual but at the same time as a part of a company and society. During a coaching session, you must permanently switch between these two roles. You can’t ask your coachee to tell you the topic you’re working on today. One could simply say: the individuality has increased massively in recent years when it comes to coaching.
But coaching is not only about strong individuality and a partnership approach. It is about changing things. A coaching should not only transform the coachee but as well the economic environment. Coaching is more than just working on the coachee’s skills.
And: as coaches, we must be faster, more agile and we must adapt our methods to the challenges and needs of our time. So far, as coaches, we have worked a lot with 360° feedback and various analyses. This is actually not so effective because you’re looking into the past with those tools instead of working into the future.
As a coach, you have to be much more agile these days to look into the future and not the past
Responsibilities as a Coach – Living a partnership approach
The partnership approach, we’ve been talking about earlier, involves certain responsibilities. The times where you went to a coach and spent one hour with him/her are over. As part of this partnership approach, you as a coach have to support your coachee as good as possible, also beyond the coaching session. In my opinion and regarding leadership development, this sentence applies more than ever “The heroic CEO is dead, long live the leadership team”. This is the reality and the reason why my work as a coach has changed. I still have coaching sessions with individuals, with senior leaders, but I work much more with teams and groups of people than a few years ago. Individual coachings are more an additional measure from time to time. This development is exciting and challenging at the same time. You cannot coach someone for a few hours, get paid for it and you’re done. But you can achieve a completely different impact and experience successes together with the individuals and with teams. This change is taking place throughout the whole training and development industry. In most companies, more than 50% of the employees are millennials by now. They have different needs and a much more personalized and individual working approach. In my opinion, the time of training programs, as we know and realize them today, will be over soon.
Excursus: Artificial Intelligence in Coaching
The Singularity University has built a new app that makes diagnoses, highly complex diagnoses and sometimes even better than most doctors. Some people may start asking themselves: why should I still go to a doctor? Tomorrow we may be sitting at home, uploading our data via a chip and someone will tell us what to do. In my opinion, this will be the reality in less than 20 years.
AI also affects the coaching industry. If you ask Alexa or Siri “How should I deal with my conflicts?” they will have a lot to say. One effect: you no longer have to tell your coachee all the basics because they can find them on the internet. Another effect: many average coaches will probably lose their jobs because they have been replaced by Artificial Intelligence.
What moves executives today
Nowadays, we have this interesting phenomenon that children learn a lot in school they don’t need later in life. Meanwhile, other skills remain on track. For example, the ability to quickly work together with people you’ve never worked with before – beyond nationalities. That’s a skill you cannot cover or replace by the internet or AI – unless we will all be robots at some point. This is a key challenge for today’s leaders. Everything has to be fast, you face a new situation with new teams and stakeholders and you do not even have 6 months to incorporate. You immediately have to get used to the new situation. In this case, we as coaches, can support them with questions such as “Who am I?”, “How do I affect people?”, “What kind of impact can I have?”
We learn so many things in school, but one of the most important things we don’t – for instance, the ability to work together with different people from different countries.
Nevertheless, the interpersonal relationship is still the focus of the coaching – in all possible forms. Of course, that has a lot to do with communication, whose challenge has increased with the complex systems, we live and work in. People no longer work alone, isolated in their personal “silos”. There is always a connection with partners, not only within the company but also on the outside. This is the reason why everything about cooperation is one of the most important topics during coaching.
Equal to the interpersonal challenges is the time, we currently live in, and all the challenges it brings. Complexity, overextension, the flood of information, aggressive competition, and constant disruption are just a few keywords. So many things are happening at once nowadays. As a leader, you must make sure that your business is running. At the same time, you must be aware of the changes which might come. The speed of change is enormous. Not too long ago, people were starting to talk about VUCA – now it’s here!
When working on a senior level, the question of meaning is central and more present than ever. People are wondering and asking themselves if their work really adds value to the world. “If my life comes to an end, will I be satisfied with what I did in my life?”
Coaching in times of disruption – a conclusion
We all come from areas where it is said over and over again “This is the agenda.” Based on this agenda, things get told, questions asked and on certain actions will be agreed on. But we all know that many of these actions are never put into practice – whether in a meeting or a leadership program. Now, when we think about what makes coaching meaningful and successful, it’s the following: the moment you take part in coaching, something must happen. We must change our mindset from “I am asking a few questions” to “I am doing interventions right now!” Such an intervention does not have to be big, it can be – for instance – just a sentence that triggers something in the coachee. What’s important is that something is happening and that you try to make a difference in this exact moment.
As long as this happens, as long as coaching creates impact, it will persist – still in times of AI – but at a different level with higher quality.
Dear Inge, where do you see the purpose of your work?
Firstly my work is enormously exciting and complex and consistently an adventure. Methodological I always start to work with the principle “We start with the end in mind”. This means that I always try to find out where we have to go. Actually, we never know where the journey of development will bring us and what will happen. That all happens unbelievably fast and this is what fascinates me. I like the complexity and I like working intensively, starting the journey anywhere and find out what it needs to support a person, a team or a company on their way. Most important for me is knowing to have an impact on people and the organization I work with and to make some change. Especially when I think of my kids and their kids. Primarily, I work in the organization sector, in government as well as in non-government and I would like to leave not just chaos for the next generation. I am trying to support the people as good as I can so that they can advance the organization in their way. Therefore, we are all helping to create a better world.
What serves you next?
Many of today’s leaders are asking themselves the question of meaning: Why do I do what I am doing? What do I contribute and what is the point of all of this? Anita Berger accompanies organizations internationally as a consultant in organizational development. We talked to her about the importance of the question of meaning and why the purpose plays a crucial role nowadays.
The digitalization forces almost all companies to change significantly. The technological progress led to some main changes in our society. Based on Khan’s work, we identified 6 core changes: Interconnectedness, the abundance of information, the increased complexity and transparency, less hierarchy and more empowerment and man-machine cooperation. Gunther Fürstberger explained what these changes mean for organizations.
What are the consequences of the digital revolution when it comes to leadership? One thing is clear: a new leadership approach is needed and agile leadership could be the answer. In our agile leadership model, we summed up, what you need to be a successful agile leader in today’s world: the right mind-, tool- and skillset.