Dabbling with the minds of leaders and society

The RSA has just published a report entitled; “Beyond the Big Society – Psychological Foundations of Active Citizenship”. You can download it here: http://www.thersa.org/projects/social-brain/beyond-the-big-society. It’s a fascinating read, making a call for far smarter interventions in the psyche of society.

It focuses on the model of adult psychological growth developed by Prof Robert Kegan – a model that is used by quite a few business coaches.

This builds on a previous report on transforming behaviour change: http://www.thersa.org/projects/social-brain/transforming-behaviour-change again, applied to the nature of society and the human dimension within it. Much of the evidence it draws on has a lot to offer the world of business coaching..

There has been an explosion of coaches in recent years which, in theory, I don’t have any problem with. There’s plenty of evidence of the effectiveness of one-to-one discussion on personal learning and especially in changing attitudes and values.

However, any kind of intervention that is psychological in its nature brings ethical questions and I think we need to be aware of these before we get stuck in!

A few years ago, I was Group HR Director for a very large organisation with around 150 so-called “High Flyers”. As a part of the development process that I inherited all of them were encouraged to have a coach. I did a confidential review with all of them and established that 30 had actually got one. I then asked both the individuals and the coaches to complete a simple questionnaire – anonymously. They were each asked to identify the areas that they addressed in their sessions (eg business planning, self-confidence, motivation of others, politics – the list went on to list about 25 aspects). They were each asked to rate the effectiveness of the coach/the learning of the client in each area. Finally, the coaches were asked to outline the professional qualifications and experience that equipped them to perform their role.

The ‘effectiveness’ of the coaches was generally rated reasonably high. However, the distribution was quite spread. When I compared the lower quartile with the upper quartile and looked at the professional background of the coach, there was a marked difference. Basically competent coaches had limited extensive professional training and mid- to no- management experience. The highly competent ones were all professional psychologists or similar and all had a personal career path that was comparable with that of their client.

The range of topics addressed in their sessions paralleled this. The top ones focused on attitudinal and behavioural dimensions of the client’s work, largely internal factors, whereas the less effective ones focused on the planning, goals, and how to deal with team and individual behaviour – largely day-to-day and external factors.

This led me to question what we were doing, as a business, paying for unqualified and inexperienced coaches working on less impacting aspects of performance. But it also raised the issue of whether some of the middle (and therefore ‘normal’) ones were actually dabbling in areas that they had no real understanding of?

Of course, the sample size was far too small to draw any serious conclusions about, but it is an issue that has concerned me ever since.

I’ve written before about the concerns that I have with what some people perceive as state-of-the-art team behavioural models, most of which actually date from the Vietnam War or even earlier military conflicts.

Well here we have ‘psychology’ being applied on a societal, political playing field. Again, I am sure it is necessary, but please let’s pay some attention to the relevance and expertise of those applying it.

Graham Wilson – 07785 222380
the-confidant.info | executive-post.info

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