Where does "Coaching" come from and what does it mean?

"A (admittedly) very short summary of the history of coaching"

Coaching has in the meantime become the general term for professional management counselling. The first clients for coaching were executives from companies which recognised that they could benefit from clarifying discussions with neutral third parties with regard to difficult working situations or in case of special questions.

Already since the 1960s various counselling forms for employees and executives have emerged which were described as individual, team, or group supervision.

Since the 1970s, part of the professional work has been counselling within the organisation. Reflecting one´s own professional activity complied with the social-political trend of required self-education and critical attitude towards the institutions of socially active professional groups. These professional groups already deemed the reflection of own professional activity and reflection of interactions with colleagues, superiors and clients a material element of their professional activity. Thus, these professional groups overcame the threshold to engage an expert to promote their own professional life as experts more easily.

This development, however, excluded counselling services for managers, i.e. executives in production companies and other profit companies, alone because of the fact that traditional supervision concepts came from the social work- and rather therapeutically-oriented environment.

Since the end of the 1980s, various types of individual, team, and small group counselling services for executives from various professions and hierarchical levels have been developed under the term coaching. Meanwhile, the definitions of this counselling service are focused rather on the individual setting of coaching, a “private” discussion process (W. Looss, 1997).

This counselling setting results from the fundamental and understandable need of managers to have available a protected space external to their organisation in order to receive counselling on difficult management concerns. Within their organisation, they are fixed and dependent on their functioning as executives. They neither can nor wish to leave this role within their organisation which already would have happened had the publicly announced their need for counselling. Such confessions are still associated with the generally feared "no longer functioning" by many managers and employees.

Thus, the counselling development of the service coaching responded to an existing, however, long since not met counselling need of managers in profit organisations and to their special professional situations in these organisations.

The term management is a term of the economic literature and originally described persons which are responsible for controlling management processes and management assurance in companies. Such pure management functions are to be found in all producing but also in service companies whose growth necessitated division of labour. (Schreyögg, A., 1999)

Although the organisational cultures of operational management and social management differ, thus resulting in differing management profiles, the main principle of all managerial actions, however, always is the calculated purpose. All actions of managers must in the end be oriented to a maximum achievement of objectives and/ort he efficiency and growth of a system. (Schreyögg, A., 1999)

During the first coaches had their backgrounds in the economic, technical and legal professional and counselling sector and were able to adapt well to managerial concerns thanks to their field competences from their corresponding operational settings, the social service sector including the applied counselling service portfolio still took a rather negative stance towards traditional management functions such as planning, organisation, personnel employment, leadership and control far into the 1990s.

These different courses of development of occupation and counselling of executives in management and social management have for decades been accompanied by just as differing ideologies as described above.

Currently, counter-trends are emerging: In the view of increasing competitive pressure and economic crises, which in the meantime force social service systems to work efficiently and economically, social management is gradually opening up to counsels coming from the economic environment.

While coaching processes in management predominantly deal with subjects which are only difficult to deal with at the place of work, i.e. above all emotional individual, social and organisational concerns, a counter-movement is emerging in social management.

Social managers increasingly name and process fundamental leadership aspects of understanding and dealing with planning, organisational processes, and personnel leadership as relevant coaching subjects.

The development trends could therefore be described such that management not only concentrates increasingly on the calculated purpose orientation of the managerial activity, while in social management, the interest in calculated purpose orientation of the managerial activity has increased markedly.


What happens during a coaching process?

Coaching is a person- and organisation-related counselling for the professional practice of individual executives. In the course of a contractually agreed discussion process limited in time, counselling is concentrated on the personal counselling of the present management activity of the client in his/her organisation.

Ideally, counselling is performed by a neutral counsel who has no connection to the client´s system such that the client may rely on the fact that he/she - without being afraid of any consequences may tell everything in counselling which at the place of work would entail risks because of his/her leadership role. (Looss, 1997) The contents of counselling are treated as confidential by all persons involved.

The concern of the client results from his/her present professional situation, which e.g. is experienced as being complicated and which requires a solution, or which is experienced as being constructive and requires broadening of competences and consolidation. Counselling concerns may also result from re-structuring within the organisation, thus requiring a new orientation within the organisation or broadening or modification of the professional position. Such organisational changes may result e.g. in higher-level competences which are to be worked on in a very personal learning process within the scope of coaching.

Established personnel development concepts often do not deal with the concrete needs in view of such special concerns of individual executives. Mainly, they remain rather general and thus biased if the concerns of a larger group are to be covered. Traditional forms of the offer range may be classified from two points of view: On the one hand, seminaries are offered which serve the imparting of knowledge and which are merely cognitive-oriented. On the other hand, trainings with psychological orientation are offered which are to promote emotional learning. (Schreyögg, A., 1999)

But it is neither pure rational and general learning nor the training of social and personal competences on the basis of various psychological and socio-psychological concepts which may guarantee that the learned facts can be linked to the concrete world of living and work of the participating manager.

In comparison, coaching accounts for this problem by always being able to discuss with the individual executives the specific technical aspects relevant for the situation. This renders possible a technical- and emotion-oriented learning. This is a living learning which guarantees both coping with problems and perception of competences and their consolidation and extension.

As regards processes and contents, coaching is performed in parallel to the present occupation and thus the results of the counselling can be transferred to the occupation itself in a more concrete way.

The situation described by the client is first diagnosed in subsequent sessions and then worked on in an exercise-focused way. The steps practised at the place of work can be evaluated in the following counselling sessions and new consequences as well as further options for action can be considered, worked out and planned. The reflection on the transfer of the facts learned is a central element of coaching.


What is coaching against the background of situation dynamics?

If a coaching process takes place against the background of situation dynamics, the professional reality of the client is jointly (re)constructed, experiences and reflected in individual counselling settings. Alternative accesses to understanding can be worked out from different points of view which also contribute to exercising roll distance and roll flexibility.

With regard to desired or required changes in the organisation, competences are deepened, new competences are learned and/or the scope of knowledge and action of the executive is broadened in order to facilitate an adequate transfer to the client´s organisation.

This counselling work for executives may thus be understood as working at the managerial activity with all its personal, social and organisational aspects. I would like to describe the objectives as conscious, clearly intended professional effective and personally satisfying action of executives. (G. Fatzer, K. Eck, 1990)

Situation dynamics as background theory of managerial counselling was developed by Herbert Euschen (Ludwigshafen 1983). It is a product of the theoretical work of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Situationsdynamik e.V. and above all resulted from the historical, arts, and socio-political subjects of the 1970s.

Without neglecting its roots in history and humanities in its further development, the continuous research, based on which situation dynamics is further developed as background theory, is oriented to the current need of the counselling clients and their organisations. Concept developments, too, are oriented to the present development and design processes and the counselling need which can be deducted from the client´s point of view.

A reflecting and practising concept of situation is the decisive factor for the fundamental attitude of counsels working with this theoretical background. I would like to describe this concept as follows:

Situation can be understood as a description of itself in relation to the world as a construct defined in time and space. Such attempts to describe are daily events in the life of all people which are not always made consciously.

It is, however, always the competent, i.e. successful construct result of the person describing with which he/she knows how to move in his/her world in a thinking, acting and communicating manner.

Such, even unnoticed, descriptions serve the coping with unavoidable tensions occurring in the individual itself and between the individual and others when interacting in institutions and organisations.

While the individual is describing his/her situation, he/she explains it to him/herself and others, thus providing a social meaning and thus sorting things out in his/her world. (W. Fuchs et.al., 1988)

In the sense of situation dynamics, coaching is a discussion process in the given situation. The discussion process cannot only be structured by the four aspects of the situation but can be understood and designed in its dynamics. These four aspects are the I, we, factual, and intentional dynamics of the situation whose mutual relationship makes it possible to perceive the complexity of the given situation and to assert a designing influence. (Euschen, H., 1989)

The idea and concept of the situation dynamics serve as socio-scientific basis of the professional use of various reflection and counselling approaches which on the basis of system-theoretical principles may provide or link psychoanalytical as well as group-dynamical and organisation-psychological and system-counselling models, depending on the client's need.