Q&A with Chip McFarlane MCC | Facing disruption in coaching

IECL’s Director of Training Chip McFarlane MCC sat down with Nicole Sitosta to discuss how organisational coaching is evolving, and the threats and opportunities that disruption is bringing. He also shared what current organisational coaches need to develop in themselves to move with, and ahead of, the times.


Q: So, Chip, how has organisational coaching been affected by the ever-changing business landscape?

Chip: If you look at coaching’s history, disruptions have always been part of the environment. The initial disruption to “pure” coaching was when coaching was used as a remedial tool to “fix problem children” or help promote executives with “rough edges”. However, in time businesses started to see coaching as a development tool, which forced coaches to stop looking for problems and start thinking about growth.

Another major disrupter in coaching happened when large scale corporate clients wanted coaching panels, using many coaches with different traditions and approaches. This move affected sole traders, as clients were looking for consortiums, or organisations like IECL, for consistency across a larger geographic reach. Fewer and fewer one-man bands were getting a look in for larger jobs, as demands and needs became more sophisticated.

Today, we look at coaching as a wonderful human-to-human interaction, aided by digital programs like Skype or Zoom, which allow us a face-to-face style interaction with someone. There are also tools now that help to guide productivity, that can be brought into the coaching space.

Q: Tell us more about these tools that aid coaching; are these a threat to how coaches can connect with people?

Chip: It depends on how sophisticated one’s coaching is. If you are currently an organisational coach who is limited to the rudimentary foundations, for example basic GROW model, then you will find that there are some growing applications out there that can do that for people, such as PocketConfidant AI. This app provides a series of questions that can guide someone through a coaching experience, with prompts thereafter to see how the user is progressing with their commitment to their actions.

An Alumni member recently countered that to get the most from someone, a human-to-human interaction is important. I said not necessarily; take for instance ‘Dear Diary’ or its adult equivalent, journaling. It didn’t require anyone else’s interaction, and yet you put your heart into introspection.

That said, on the other side, what the self-interaction with a program can generate is a person saying, “I do want to talk to someone, I do want human interaction”, bringing in the possibility for exposing more people to coaching.

Today’s organisational coaches need to use what they’ve learnt to deepen how they coach. For example, coaching can be deepened with life experience. A computer can’t do that. Take your training development beyond the basics.   When people take our Level 2 coach training, they learn the relational piece and can take that to a deeper place in practice. In Level 3, they learn the conversational piece, which cannot be replicated by a computer, as it requires a deep and intimate connection.

As you take your coaching development further, you gain greater and greater nuance, sophistication and subtlety. You are already playing in an obsolete space if you keep your coaching foundational. Bring in the other pieces that will make you relevant to the market place.

One of the things I remember hearing from David Clutterbuck, Coaching and Mentoring Guru and Founder of EMCC, is that the skill level of people who are coming forward as coaches is surprisingly low and they have gone through development, but not taking it and living it. They may have done a degree, but the course classroom is just one piece – you need to get out there and practice and thicken your narrative.

Q: As an MCC you have years upon years of practice.  What’s your advice for coaches with less years of experience in tackling their practice?

Chip: For me, one element is to jump in and do it. Earlier in my career, I would walk off on the side and try to perfect it, to get it right. That became the inhibitor for me. It’s when I started jumping into it and learnt about it from the inside that I moved forward. If you are in rapport with someone, and they get that you care about them. If you make a “mis-take”, not a mistake, they will be forgiving about it, and you can ask them another question and it will land differently. Sometimes they will even say “It’s not quite like that, but it’s like this…”. When a counterpart gets that you care about them, and not what you can get from them, there’s more leeway. You can easily recover from something, rather than trying not to make a mistake.

Keep learning, that’s one of the bigger ones. Coaching is a multidisciplinary craft. See how assessment tools, human psychology and dynamics, plus the world in general can affect your counterpart and pull it into coaching. Allow for multiple points of input to give your coaching depth and breadth.

Chip McFarlane MCC  is one of Australia’s first and most experienced executive coaches and a master facilitator. Chip has the presence, energy and acumen to work with the most senior audiences, holding the room and provoking performance.