Transaction or Transformation?

"By Chris Chittenden"

"Some painters transform the sun into a yellow spot, others transform a yellow spot into the sun."

… Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) Spanish painter and sculptor

The term "coaching" seems to have become a catch-all to denote any process of helping others improve their performance and achieve success. So ubiquitous has the term become that you will find hundreds of advertisements for jobs referencing the term "coach" as part of the title or "coaching" as a key ingredient of the role. It seems that coaching is very much the current trend and the expectation is that people in organisations will be able to coach others with little more than a short training course, if that.

Having worked as a professional coach for the past fourteen years, I have been an interested observer of how this increasing use of the term "coaching" is used. This trend has also brought with it a simplification of what it means to coach others. Hence the idea that a little learning about the coaching process is all that is required.

This month, I would like to share with you a more expansive way to define coaching. In our work, we define two approaches to coaching - transactional coaching and transformational coaching. Although these terms may well be defined differently by others, I would like to share our way of distinguishing them.

Transactional coaching relates to the achievement of desired goals and improved performance. It largely involves working with another person to help them develop clearly self-set goals, which are then pursued to success. The development of the skills required to achieve those goals may also form part of these interactions. In our work, we term this approach to development as "first order learning". This appears to be how most people see coaching in an organisational setting. As a result, many organisations establish coaching relationships, whether with an internal or external coach, that have a fairly short life. This makes sense in the context of managing people and helping them become more effective in a specific domain of their work. After all, the vast majority of organisations have a strong focus on financially driven success factors and coaching is seen as a tool to drive that success.

Transformational coaching transcends yet includes transactional coaching. It includes similar techniques, but it relates to personal growth. The term "personal growth" is another term that is well worn and open to interpretation. What we mean by personal growth is an individual's psychological development. Generally speaking, this means an increasing shift from egocentrism to an ethno-centric then world-centric and integral world view. The idea of stages of development is well researched by people such as Clare W. Grave, Jean Piaget, Jane Loevinger and Ken Wilber. This process of development is based on what we term, "second order learning". What underpins second order learning is a simple question, "why do I observe it this way?" With it comes a growing capacity to explore and understand ourselves together with more and more perspectives and, as a result, an ability to deal with greater complexity. In other words, as we move through stages of development, we develop a means to see and deal with more shades of grey. We become less black and white and the result is we can make better decisions in life.

The fundamental difference between the two approaches lies in how the coachee is focused. Transactional coaching starts from the premise that the coachee knows, or will uncover, what they want to achieve based on their existing way of being. As a result, the role of the coach is to help the coachee develop clarity about their goals and then put the strategies in place to achieve them. This can be seen as a process of narrowing focus.

Transformational coaching begins with a different premise. This approach initially seeks to expand the coachee's focus and view the world more broadly as a means of developing goals which address greater complexity before focusing on achieving those goals.

This distinction means that transactional coaching has a short-term and narrower focus, whereas transformational coaching is embraces a longer term view with a dynamic focus that expands and narrows as required.

In coaching, second order learning, and therefore transformational coaching, must involve a deeper understanding of the human condition and a means of interpreting that condition in the dynamic interactions of conversation. Our ontological approach to coaching embraces these ideas.

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© 2012 Chris Chittenden