How Coaches’ Experiences Influence Their Coaching
by Francine Campone, Ed.D., MCC
This month’s Research Corner digresses slightly from the usual pattern in that I offer a summary of a study which a colleague and I conducted and which was published this month: Life’s Thumbprint: The impact of significant life events on coaches and their coaching . This research represents the first article, of which we hope will be several, based on a global, long-term study on the development of coaches, a study which is receiving in-kind support from the International Coach Federation. The intention of this first published study was to explore how the previous personal and professional experiences of coaches show up in who we are as coaches and in the coaching practices we employ. This article provides the executive summary of the article along with a link and invitation to coaches to participate in the survey.
Several empirical studies show the diversity of professional backgrounds that coaches bring to their practice. What is less evident from the literature is the impact that these and other life experiences have on coaches and their coaching. The Development of Coaches Study was developed adapting a survey instrument used in a long-term global study of psychotherapists, revising items to conform to language and descriptors consistent with the coaching field. A pilot of the survey engendered 80 responses from a diverse group of coaches. This summary addresses the results of the pilot responses to a critical life event question which asked coaches to identify up to three events in their lives which they feel had a significant impact on their development as coaches.
The authors conducted a content analysis of the responses to the qualitative question and identified 174 discrete life events. These were coded and clustered into three categories. Coaching field specific events consist of formal coach training, practice coaching, receiving coaching/mentoring and professional affiliation. Individual non-work experiences include a wide variety of personal experiences, most of which might be construed as challenging: severe illness, death of parent or partner, divorce and similar events. The third category, other professional experiences, includes professional activities, education and training not specific to the provision of coaching. Each category of events was shown to impact a different facet of the respondents’ development.
Coaching field specific events primarily impact the development of coaching-specific skills and knowledge. Representative changes include unlearning consulting skills, allowing the client to lead, being grounded in theoretical frameworks, and having a broad range of tools and structures for the coaching process. Mentoring or supervision contributed to changes in coaching behaviors. Despite the diversity of individual non-work experiences, events in this category engendered self-insight, empathy and insight into the human experiences as well as triggering a search for deeper meaning in life. Other professional experiences varied in their effects. The greatest impact seemed to come from prior experience in counseling or psychotherapy which respondents indicated was helpful in providing them with transferable skills such as deep listening, creating the alliance and identifying individuals who were not suitable candidates for coaching. Leadership and managerial experience stimulated an awareness of the challenges and importance of strong interpersonal skills.
The study shows that different categories of life experience have different impacts, suggesting the need for a multifaceted strategy in the preparation of coaches to address three domains: technical, affective and cognitive. While personal challenges stimulate the development of empathy, a closer reading of responses suggests that life experiences enhance learning when they are adequately processed and integrated. Thus, the formal preparation of coaches and on-going professional development is essential for developing and sustaining active reflection and learning from experience. Respondents identified formal coach education in skills and theory as having a significant impact, suggesting that both elements are important. Given the diversity of prior professional training and experiences of coaches, the results suggest that differentiating coach training and education may warrant closer consideration. Such differentiation might address various practice contexts and introduce the knowledge and skills warranted by the practitioner’s prior professional and personal experiences.
This study represents the first in the framework of a long-range multidimensional study of the development of coaches, currently supported by the International Coach Federation. As critical levels of responses to the quantitative survey are collected, we propose to follow up this investigation with statistical analysis of respondent characteristics, levels and types of engagement in practice, and dimensions of practitioner development over time.
With that in mind, we are starting to plan for the analysis of the quantitative data. We are a collaborative project and we invite researchers with an interest in the data to consider developing a study based on the data. If you or your colleagues have an interest, I’d welcome the opportunity to chat with you. I can be reached via e-mail at Francine@reinventinglife.net or phone at 303-862-7710 (Mountain Time zone).
Please share this with coaches who have not yet taken the survey. They are invited to do so via this link:
Francine Campone & Deepa Awal. Life’s Thumbprint: The Impact of Significant Life Experiences on Coaches and Their Coaching. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice. March 2012. V 5, no.1
Francine Campone, Ed.D., MCC, coaches mature professionals to reinvent their lives by reinventing their work. She is a leader in the coaching research community and deeply committed to the development of reflective coaches in practice. Francine teaches evidence-based coaching and coaching research practices for UTD and enjoys a wonderful life in Denver, Colorado beyond her activities in the coaching field.