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Revisiting the Five Stages of Executive Coaching

In 2005, Samuel M. Natale and Thomas Diamante wrote an important article titled, "The Five Stages of Executive Coaching: Better Process Makes Better Practice," in Journal of Business Ethics, Vol 59, No 4 (pp 361-374). I have found great insight in this article and thought it would be a good addition to the Arete Coach core body of knowledge on executive coaching.

The authors write that while there is much literature on executive coaching, that much of the material is anecdotal and not empirical. And the definitions used for coaching at the time were of loose description with no clear definition. Natale and Diamante seek to shine a light on what they they term the "Five Stages of Executive Coaching."

  1. The Alliance Check. Prior to the coaching session and early in the coaching agreement process, the coach ensures that they are in alignment with the sponsor and client (the coachee), and determine confidentiality will be maintained, and under what terms, and that there are no conflicts of interest. After these preliminaries, the client must determine if the coaching relationship with the coach will be a good one? Can they trust the coach? Do that the coach may have a hidden motive? And is this coaching session merely a ploy to for some other corporate sponsor reason. The coach seeks for an alliance check-in; declaring transparency, factuality, and a back-and-forth dialog with the client on their perceptions coming into the coaching relationship. Trust is paramount for the alliance to be confirmed and believable in the coaching relationship.

  2. The Credibility Assessment. At this stage, the executive (client) explores... why you? What are our credentials, background, and experiences. This credibility assessment occurs because and Natalie puts it, "the executive is concerned about your impact on them." The coach stays in this space until the client is ready to move on to questions about the engagement, and any methods, tools, or practices to be used in the sessions. The researchers encourage Coaches to stay in this stage, until the comfort level of the client is visible or expressed. In other words, "let it simmer before rushing on."

  3. The Likability Link. This occurs as the client compares their style to the coaches style. The executive may be gauging the coaches 'self-confidence, knowledge, intensity, and focus.' Coaches are encouraged in this stage to explore what the coaching relationship will be, what it will look like, or become over time. The coach explores the operating style of the client, and may shift their approach to be more accommodating to learning styles and pace of the client.

  4. Dialogue and skill acquisition. At the time of writing of Natale's research, the approach from here was to explore the four-factor (4F) model (as developed by Diamante and Primavera, 2004) that provides a rubric for understanding self in relation to business demands. Through dialog and practice, the client becomes more self-aware about triggered or "automatic reactions (cognitive, behavioral, or visceral) and acknowledge the opportunity to freely choose a reaction that better fits their circumstances." Executives may respond with physical state responses by attaching or attributing significance to these sensations, as part of their learning process. Whether the self-interpretation of their reactions is correct is a matter for exploration in the coaching session; regardless, all client expressions are real and matter, though they may be incorrectly aligned with a behavior, pattern, or fact. In this way, the cognitive attributions of thought, and the interpretation of actions, contributes to the narrative to be explored in the coaching session. The researchers point out a frequent error of coaches is rightly or wrongly attributing purpose, meaning, or motive to the actions; and coaches are encouraged to ask questions, and not be judgmental in the coaching session. The authors' write that 'emotions, often deemed a barometer of reality, gain immediate attention (like acting out), however interpreting emotions is challenging as emotions are complex. or perhaps, as is often the case, to justify behavior. "Skilled coaches will not shy away from feeling states and will integrate emotion (and its impact on behavior) into the coaching process."

  5. Cue-based Action Plans. The final stage is action planning. The action plan delineates in behavioral and cognitive terms the specific actions, plans, and terms that the client will seek to accomplish after the coaching session. The authors' write, "action plans that delineate 'cues' are advised since they can be written down. "The 4F model articulates the important role of cognition, affect, physiology and behavior and their interactions."

The authors' write, "The 4F model views the executive as being 'personally accountable' for change -- not only responding to events in the business environment but also in a self-determination mode. Through self control (physically, intellectually, emotionally and behaviorally) the executive contributes to the nature, meaning, importance and consequences of the event to which he is 'responding.' It is important to remember, people are what they do, what they think, and what they feel, and the 4F model seeks to provide a framework for discovery of emotions and cognition in the coaching session.

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