The book “Challenging Coaching: going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS” is a welcome addition to coaching literature.

It starts out by clearly laying out some assumptions at the root of the profession of executive coaching today.

These assumptions, if unexamined, would limit our effectiveness as coaches:

1 – “The core principles of therapy have been used to provide a structure, an ethical basis, and fundamental principles [to the coaching profession]”.(Kindle Locations 659-660).  However, this introduces a bias in the very foundation of coaching: “The result of this influence is that the skills at the heart of coaching are largely oriented toward counseling skills with a non-directive ethos, majoring on listening skills and the ability to ask powerful questions, and so demonstrating empathy and building a strong rapport between coach and client.” (Kindle Locations 655-657).  However, often coachees are very high functioning individuals. They do not need support per se. They need a challenge in a supportive environment. As the authors point out, “And when we asked leaders for feedback on how our coaching could be made more impactful, repeatedly they replied: “I love it when you challenge me, so challenge me more!” (Kindle Locations 261-262). So the authors exhort us to “be the missing voice of challenge in the coaching conversation”. The traditional approach of coaching carries the risk of collusion and irrelevance, according to the authors. Collusion, when the coach operates in ways which appear to support the clients but actually are ways to avoid difficult conversations that need to happen to help clients make progress. If you are a coach, you know you have been there more than once. Irrelevance, when the focus on individual goals ignores the organizational context.

2 - “what shaped business coaching as it developed was a focus on individual wants, not organizational needs. Many return on investment (ROI) measures from coaching initiatives … reflected this bias, targeting the retention of high performers, improvement in staff survey engagement scores, and subjective feedback from participants rather than progress in specific, bottom-line measures.” (Kindle Locations 296-298). I think this is a very important point. Stakeholders, the organization, the market, the company’s strategy – they all need to be taken into account and somehow be present in the coaching conversation. I liked the idea put forth by the authors that coaches can be thought of as the stakeholders’ representatives.

Starting from these premises, the authors develop the FACTS framework to help coaches be more “challenging”, or rather hit the sweet spot that balances support with challenge. As the authors point out, “The behaviors and skills in FACTS are not used instead of the supportive skills and models of more traditional coaching approaches, but rather to expand on these skills and leverage them to further improve performance and sustain the coaching impact.” (Kindle Locations 382-384).  In that sense, the FACTS framework is a useful addition to any coaching model. FACTS is an acronym which stands for: Feedback; Accountability; Courageous Goals; Tension; System Thinking. Each of these key skills for coaches are to be played in a four quadrant matrix where the axes are support and challenge. The optimum development for the coachees would happen in the high challenge – high support quadrant.

While the tools itself, e.g. feedback or system thinking, are not exactly new, the way they are used to challenge coachees was definitely interesting and worth the read.
I personally got the most value out of the part regarding “Accountability“. I loved the emphasis placed on the contract and the systematic ways in which stakeholders, bosses, organizational constraints & culture are taken into consideration.  However, if you are new to system thinking or to coaching, then the other parts of the model are a treasure throve of insights as well.

Personally I think Solution-Focus does an excellent job in balancing challenge and support, by unconditionally accepting the client’s worldview but at the same time by holding the client accountable for his or her perceptions and words (see “Interviewing for Solutions“, by Peter De Jong and Insoo Kim Berg).

I also think SF practitioners are really good in including stakeholders in their conversations with clients and in their work with organizations.  Adopting a “systemic” stance comes naturally to SF practitioners, simply because “relationship questions” are the bread and butter of SF.

Still, I would highly recommend this book to all coaches, at the very least to be aware of the “blind spots” rooted in our profession’s foundation and of the ways in which they might limit the effectiveness of our work if not examined and remedied.

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