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The Democratisation of Coaching

Some time ago I heard the phrase ‘democratisation of coaching’ being used by a friend of mine.  Our conversation was one where he was reporting how the phrase had been used in an accusatory sense to challenge what he was trying to achieve.

At the time I knew I was interested in what ‘democratisation of coaching’ actually meant but because other thinking was occupying my mind the phrase fell like a seed onto unfertile ground.  A couple of months on, nudges from conversations and reading various articles have moved that seed along to more fertile ground where it has now taken root.  The growth of my thinking on ‘democratisation of coaching’ has been in three broad areas:  where it is something to be considered as a positive; where it is something that others might regard as a negative; and in the form of a challenge on the possible risks of the ‘democratisation of coaching’ and how they might be mitigated.  This first blog is based on my personal commitment to increase the reach of coaching and where it has taken me.  It is one in which my response to the question ‘Is democratisation of coaching a good thing?’ is ‘Hell, YEAH!’

I had been coaching for many years in my public sector roles before taking the plunge and setting up my own business, Alpamayo Coaching Ltd.  Like everyone I have spoken to who has a similar experience of setting up a coaching business, I grappled with what label to attach to myself, what my elevator pitch should be, and what my professional purpose was.  I am going to restrict my writing today to the last of these three; professional purpose.  It was by far the quickest enquiry for me to answer.  My purpose as a coach, aside from doing great work in partnership with all my coachees, is to broaden the reach of coaching into hitherto under-represented communities.  Although I had not come across the phrase I was ‘all in’ on the mission of democratising coaching!  I have followed this path in my work as an independent practitioner since the outset and it is also the basis of a long and happy relationship with Know You More, who share this intention in their work.

I have always sought diversity in my client base as part of my effort to grow the reach of coaching.  I have another motive for this too.  It fulfils my own goal of having a coaching approach that engages in the exploration of difference as a means of unearthing new thinking and feeling in a coaching partnership. 

A TAYT process map drawn up some years ago. Still relevant and hopefully mapping to the narrative shared here

I was realistic from day 1 that my personal contribution to growing the reach of coaching was going to be small.  Years ago, my solution to this was to try and convey the message that coaching was available at three levels which where distinguished by who was involved and how (un) limiting the associated resource was.  I called the solution after one of the phrases that I use to capture what I do as a coach, ‘Thinking about your Thinking’ (TAYT).  Whenever I raised this in conversation with others, including coaches, it was met with what ranged from polite interest to varying levels of concern about the risks outweighing the benefits.

That was around 2017/18 and, my oh my, haven’t things changed since then.  The mental health and wellbeing agenda have moved front and centre.  COVID has accelerated thinking about how to support and get the best from people working in more diverse ways.  Organisations across all sectors are realising that what will make them different is the creativity of the people who work for them.  All of this, alongside other developments, has created a desire to understand developmental relationships, such as coaching, and what they might have to offer across all levels in an organisation.  It is becoming increasingly rare to get through a day without someone invoking the need for a coaching culture!

A measure of the change is in how people respond to the notion of self-coaching.  The 'first level' of 'TAYT' & self-coaching activities like structured self-reflection and building self-awareness, reap developmental rewards.  What was also significant to me is that we are each an unlimited resource in support of ourselves.  Self-coaching is available to all as it requires just ……. each of us.  Now this message seems to have gained a certain currency.  Certainly, there are more references to self-coaching in the leadership media now than there were before the onset of COVID19 (for example, How to coach yourself (Forbes 2022); How to become your own career coach (HBR, 2021)).  I remember giving a webinar to NHS Scotland called Self-Coaching for Self-Care (2020) and was astounded at the level of interest in the topic.  So self-coaching is now a thing and I believe that can support the democratisation of coaching.  What is required is for the message about the value of reflective practice, self-awareness and self-regulation to be sent and resent, alongside simple and accessible tools in support of learning.  It’s not without risk and should always be encouraged as the start of a sequence of possibilities in resolving a challenge, rather than the be all and end all.

The second level of TAYT is peer-to-peer coaching.  Perhaps more accurately I am thinking of a wider use of a coaching approach in professional interactions, between peers, and throughout an organisational structure.  From a resource perspective, it is more limited in that self-coaching simply involves a trusted other, yet it is much more ‘available’ than access to the services of a professional coach.  This approach has gained real traction over the last few years as organisations seek to mainstream the benefits of coaching, without the requirement that everyone becomes accredited as a coach.  I have enjoyed playing a part in providing coaching skills training in support of this approach in a variety of settings (including 'Build Up' with Know You More).  Of course, this approach comes with some risks too, most particularly someone inadvertently stepping beyond the limits of their competency while they are applying their coaching skills.

My belief is that with the appropriate skills carefully built via proportionate training in the above areas there will be benefits to a wider community than currently have access to professional coaching.  Further, those who have explored the value of coaching the realms of self and peer to peer interactions are likely to be better equipped to know when working with an accredited coach is required.  If they decide to do so, perhaps they might also be better equipped to get the most from the experience.

Moving in to the future, I will continue on my mission to widen the reach of coaching in how and who I coach.  I also hope that the current direction of travel of imbuing larger cohorts of the workforce with coaching skills will continue to grow the amount of activity in the first two levels of TAYT, in the longer term leading to a greater diversity of accredited coaches coming into the industry too.  Whilst I cannot claim undue influence in this shift in behaviour it is gratifying to see something that I envisaged in TAYT as a model for the greater democratisation of coaching, actually happening.

If there is anything about self-coaching, peer to peer coaching, or be coached by an accredited coach which you want to talk about some more please do get in touch with me.


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