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Five Big Questions About the Practice and Profession of Executive Coaching

In His Keynote Leading Edge Consortium Address, David Peterson Discusses the Questions Psychologists and Coaches Should Be Asking

By Stephany Schings, Communications Specialist

Why is it so easy to be a good coach and so hard to be a great coach?

“These are the types of questions that perplex me,” says SIOP Member David B. Peterson.  “Because nobody ever talks about them, because they’re very fundamental to executive coaching, because we dance around them.”

Peterson will address this and other important questions in executive coaching at SIOP’s 4th Annual Leading Edge Consortium October 17-18, entitled “Executive Coaching for Effective Performance: Leading Edge Practice and Research.”

During his keynote address, Peterson will pose a series of provocative questions, explore new perspectives on the field of coaching, and offer specific suggestions for coaches and others interested in advancing the profession and practice of executive coaching.

Peterson, senior vice president at Personnel Decisions International, leads PDI's executive coaching services with responsibility for 200 coaches around the world. In his experience, he said, the fairly new field of coaching has left many important questions unanswered, or worse, unasked.

“We provide superficial answers, partly because the field is new and it’s just taking shape,” he said. “People come at coaching from their own backgrounds and perspectives. I-O psychologists come at it one way, life coaches come at it in another way, and people tend to put the other party down rather than learn from them.”

Although the coaching field is booming and coaches are proving to be effective to organizations, Peterson said the field should not become complacent.

“Coaching is rapidly becoming a commodity,” he said. “And with that, people start looking for the lowest price instead of the best coach and that might push a lot of high-priced coaches out of the market and cheapen coaching.”

Peterson said psychologists and coaches need to continue to push the practice and field of coaching to question itself and improve.

“What I’m trying to get at is the fact that just because things are going pretty well, just because we have some research, just because coaching works well for a lot of people, doesn’t mean we should stop changing and evolving and making coaching better,” he said.

Peterson’s questions will cover a variety of topics regarding both the practice and field of coaching, including questions about research on coaching and who makes a good executive coach, and will reflect on the topics brought up throughout the first day of the consortium.

“I have a dozen questions worth exploring, but I won’t finalize my presentation until I hear what is discussed during the first day,” Peterson said. “Undoubtedly, something will come up that is worth exploring in more depth.”

 Peterson will also question long-held beliefs in executive coaching, such as the role of feedback in the coaching environment.

“Most people take for granted that feedback is necessary to coaching, but is it?” Peterson asked. “Certainly it can be useful, but how did it become such a core part of the very definition of coaching?”

At the root of his presentation, Peterson said, he wants to ask a lot of “why?”

“‘Why don’t people do this?’ ‘Why do people assume this?’ And ‘why aren’t more people asking these questions?’” he continued. “These are all things I want to consider, and I am hoping it will spark conversation.”

To answer his first question: “Why is it so easy to be a good coach?”

“One reason is that it’s always easy to see any problem more clearly when you are objective and external to it,” Peterson said. “So almost anybody who listens to what someone is saying can be helpful.  It’s easier to solve problems when you aren’t enmeshed in them.”

And what makes it so difficult to be a great coach?

“There’s a lot to it, and I will delve into it in my keynote presentation, which I hope will encourage coaches and psychologist to start asking and answering more of these questions themselves.”

David B. Peterson is senior vice president at Personnel Decisions International, where he leads PDI's executive coaching services with responsibility for 200 coaches around the world. Based in San Francisco, his consulting work specializes in coaching for CEOs and other senior executives in Global 100 companies, as well as helping organizations design their own coaching programs.
David is the author of two best-selling books that provide practical advice to help people develop themselves and coach others: Development FIRST: Strategies for Self-Development (1995) and Leader As Coach: Strategies for Coaching and Developing Others (1996). An expert on coaching, executive development, and leadership effectiveness, he has been quoted in Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Business Week, Time, and USA Today.

He received his PhD from the University of Minnesota specializing in both industrial-organizational and counseling psychology. His BA in linguistics and anthropology is from Bethel College in St. Paul, MN. He is a Fellow of the Society of Consulting Psychology and the American Psychological Association.