Generative AI machines like ChatGPT have raised a significant question in the coaching industry: Can AI replace human executive coaches? In a recent article by Dr. Jonathan Passmore and David Tee, the benefits and drawbacks of AI in coaching are examined. This summary presents key insights from the article, provides questions for discussion and consideration, and explores the question “Can ChatGPT replace human executive coaches?”
Benefits of AI in coaching
AI has revolutionized the coaching industry, providing scalability for several reasons. One significant advantage is that AI coaching enables individuals worldwide to access coaching without being constrained by the availability of in-person sessions. In the past, traditional face-to-face coaching and virtual assistance through platforms like Zoom limited the number of clients human coaches could handle simultaneously. However, with AI-powered coaching programs, the capacity to cater to a vast number of clients is now determined solely by the available software bandwidth. This breakthrough allows coaching programs and methodologies to reach much larger audiences, surpassing the limitations of traditional face-to-face coaching methods.
AI coaching is more “cost-effective than human coaches” (Passmore & Tee, 2023). AI programs do not need “ongoing remuneration and can operate 24 hours a day without breaks, refreshment, supervision, sick leave or holidays” (Passmore & Tee, 2023). Because AI is not bound by energy or time limitations, the price for executive coaching services can be more affordable for those with fewer economic resources.
AI programs offer the advantage of delivering more objective coaching compared to human coaches. As cited by Passmore and Tee (2023), “tools like GPT-4 can provide consistent and objective feedback unencumbered by emotional states.” Moreover, with proper programming, AI models can avoid giving direct advice or making judgments, following a "ask-don't-tell" approach that aligns with the principles of successful high-impact coaching (Passmore & Tee, 2023). This objectivity and adherence to coaching principles make AI an attractive option for those seeking fair and impartial guidance.
Increased access to data
AI leverages vast amounts of data. Passmore and Tee state that “AI Chatbot-believed coaching can leverage vast amounts of data to provide personalized evidence-based insights, making them 1,000 or 10,000 times more experienced than the most practiced coaching psychologist” (2023). With the increased knowledge pool to draw from, AI can provide insight and questioning from a potentially more research-based data pool than a human coach could.
Drawbacks of AI in coaching
Lack of human emotion
AI currently lacks human “empathy and emotional intelligence,” and the ability to “operate with a sense of humor at the level of most humans” (Passmore & Tee, 2023). While strides are being made to overcome this gap, according to Passmore and Tee, AI is not currently capable of these functions. These features are essential within the coaching relationship. According to the ICF, a core competency of a skilled coach is the ability to “cultivate trust and safety”, demonstrate “respect”, and “show support, empathy, and concern.” While AI continues to advance, it is crucial to recognize the irreplaceable value of human connection and emotional understanding in the coaching process.
Lack of adaptability
AI is not adaptable. Passmore and Tee state that while AI has made “significant strides… these apps still struggle with adaptability, creativity, and playfulness” (2023). While the objectivity discussed earlier produces a very consistent AI coaching model, it also creates a very inadaptable coaching model. As seen in the COVID-19 pandemic, in times of uncertainty and evolving circumstances, coaches require adaptability and flexibility, which current AI models cannot replicate.
Lack of human connection
As often discussed in the Arete Coach Podcast the saying is true, “It's lonely at the top.” Passmore and Tee make the distinction that humans are a “social species” and that the automation of day-to-day services such as “goods ordering” could make the human connection aspect of executive coaching that much more important (2023). Current AI models cannot effectively replace the human relationship built between coaches and their clients.
AI usage raises ethical concerns regarding data security, bias, and objectivity. Passmore and Tee outline the potential ethical dilemmas associated with AI executive coaching in their graphic below:
Moving forward with AI
Although AI tools like GPT-4 present numerous advantages, including scalability, cost reduction, and valuable data insights, they also have certain limitations that call for human involvement in coaching practices. As highlighted by Passmore and Tee, the coaching industry faces a decision: “complain about the changing industry from the sidelines” or “participate in the design and deliver of new applications with a focus on inclusion and ethical practice.” This call to action emphasizes the need for collaboration between AI technology and human expertise to create a coaching environment that combines the best of both worlds. By embracing this approach, the coaching industry can harness the potential of AI while upholding the values of human connection and ethical conduct.
How have you utilized AI in the past, and how do you plan to incorporate it in the future?
Considering the limitations of AI, what measures can you implement to ensure the ethical and secure use of AI in your coaching practice?
With the benefits of AI in mind, how can you harness its power to enhance your coaching?
Given the options proposed by Passmore and Tee, will you choose to “complain from the sidelines” or actively “participate in the design” of integrating AI in the coaching industry?
Passmore, J. & Tee, D. (2023) Can Chatbots like GPT-4 replace human coaches: Issues and dilemmas for the coaching profession, coaching clients and for organisations, The Coaching Psychologist. 19(1), 47-54. DOI: 10.53841/bpstcp.2023.19.1.47
ICF Core Competencies, https://coachingfederation.org/credentials-and-standards/core-competencies
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