In this week’s interview, member of the Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision Linda Aspey talks about the strict boundaries of her profession, and the sticky situations that can arise when she is called into organisations.
‘Coaching used to be associated with sports people. Then it went into organisations and became associated with performance issues, but now coaching is happening in all sorts of communities. We deal with many issues including mental health. That presents challenges. Where is that line where a practitioner has to say, “Hold on, we’ve spoken about that area for too long. We’ve stopped coaching; we’re now counselling”? So we’ve got to be on our toes to make sure we’re competent to deal with what is being presented, and that the contract we’ve entered into is clear.’
Linda Aspey has been a member of The Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision (APECS) since it first started in 2004.
Executive coaching: Knowing too much
‘One of my red lines is if the employing organisation has told me something about the individual I’m to coach such as, “They may not know that their job is at risk.” I can’t work with someone when I know too much about them that they don’t know. So I’d end up probably coaching the organisation saying, “How are you going to have the conversation with this person so that we can do some good work together?” in spite of the fact that there may be some changes ahead.
‘Equally, if I were coaching somebody highly valued by the organisation and helping them to think about their leadership, but at the first session they say, “Actually, I’m planning to leave, and I need some help on my interview technique,” I would say, “I can’t coach you on those things if I’m being paid to coach you on what was agreed, but equally I can’t tell your organisation why I’m not going to coach you.” So, we have to come to an agreement about how that’s going to be handled.’
Continuing professional development for coaching
Coaches have a huge responsibility. Coaching is an unwitnessed and often unrecorded conversation between two people. To ensure ongoing competence, supervision is critical. Linda is an accredited supervisor herself, but also sees her supervisor once a month. Additionally, she is in a supervision group that meets once a quarter and has a one-to-one peer supervision relationship with a colleague. ‘All the work I do, I take to someone and chew it over with them. I report back and they do the same with me.’
This ongoing continuing professional development is critical for coaches. According to Linda, ‘It helps make the unconscious much more transparent so that what you do is intentional and conscious. You can see why you’re doing things. Did it work? Was it a good idea or not? There is a learning element to it, and it’s also quite restorative: if you’ve had a really tough session it’s great to talk with someone about what happened. So it keeps us safe and it keeps us boundaried.’
Edited by Professor Andy Friedman, CEO of PARN
First appeared in Newsweek, edn. 13 June 2015