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Coaching for change

This short paper highlights some obstacles encountered in dealing with ‘change’ whether personal or organisational, and identifies some useful, and perhaps unusual, techniques to employ in overcoming these obstacles.
Individual obstacles to change.

Can leaders change? Yes, but only if they want to.

Obstacles to change/leadership coaching – motivation, people are too defensive, complex psychological problems.

Relationship with the coach – trust and respect. The interpersonal connection is too opinionated.

Listening and careful observation required. Seeing only what they want to see. Poor reality-testing. Old Sioux Indian saying, “When you discover that you’re riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”

The leader/client misunderstands change or doesn’t have the skill to change. Keynes said, ”The greatest difficulty in the world is not for people to accept new ideas but to make them forget their old ideas.’

Stuckness – an inability to move on, to make progress. An issue becomes a cul-de-sac.


Hidden ‘competing commitments’ technique is extremely effective in recognising the tension between what the client would like to do and what commitments are blocking him/her from doing so. It helps in a stuck situation.

Focus on arguably the most important elements of leadership – self- awareness, communications and collaboration:

The coach must listen with the third ear. “If somebody tells you you have ears like a donkey, pay no attention. But if two people tell you so, buy yourself a saddle.”

Appreciation by the coach for and understanding of the client’s so-called “inner-theatre”, the highly complex interplay of themes between nature and nurture which determines his/her personality.

Needless to say poor ‘chemistry’ and/or unsatisfactory progress in reaching agreed upon objectives is cause for terminating the coach/client relationship. The sooner the better!

Group/organisational obstacles to change  

Can groups and organisations change? Yes, providing they can overcome uncertainty, concern over personal loss and belief that the change is not in the organisation’s best interests

Many change initiatives fail by not adequately appreciating or understanding the role of human behaviour in organisational performance and change.


The coach and client need to delve into the heart of the basic drivers of human behaviour and identify and manage the hidden dynamics of teams and organisations.

Make use of the clinical approach whereby Insights are drawn from a broad range of disciplines ranging from psychoanalytic psychology to cognitive theory.

The coach transforms himself into a reflective and powerful agent of change. Reflective space is created in the groups and the organisation. Promote a safe environment, an opportunity for the client to see self and others more clearly.

Conflict is inevitable in change situations. This needs to be managed. Paradoxically in certain circumstances not enough conflict is aroused to get the true picture and genuine feedback. In this case conflict has to be stimulated if voices are to be heard and the elephants in the room are to be exposed.

Encourage the establishment of authentisotic organisations – responsible, effective, value driven, with a strong sense of purpose.

Organise a “Culture Audit” to determine the readiness for the change programme being contemplated. Follow up with a change workshop.

Have the so-called “courageous conversations” to lay open all the gremlins that inhibit change.

Clive Knobbs is an Associate at Change Partners.


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