Professor Bob Garvey : Coaching Ain’t What It Used To Be

Bob Garvey picture

The shifting meaning of ‘coaching’

Both from experience and from research, it is clear that the meaning of coaching is shifting. This is not really surprising as coaching is a social construction and as such it is constructed by people from practice! Much of what is said about coaching is written or spoken in terms of the coach. We read about the coach’s ‘magic’ or the coach’s ability to ‘hold the space’  to ‘listen’ and ask ‘insightful questions’.  We also hear and read that it is all about a ‘relationship’ and is about the coachee’s agenda. If these two points are correct, then what is often written about coaching and what we experience are not necessarily the same thing! For example, I find it hard to believe that a relationship is made between two people without any exchange of ideas or personal disclosure. We know from reports like The Ridler Report that coachee’s have expectations about their coaches in that they look for credibility.  This comes from the coach’s experience.  



Research on middle leaders in the Middle East

This webinar looked at the findings form some PhD research where the research was interested in the learning experiences of middle leaders in a University in the Middle East. Middle leaders, in any situation have quite a tough time. In Universities, Deans are in this role and they have to deal with faculty staff, administrative staff, professors, students and the senior management team as well as develop an implement strategy for their School, control budgets, generate income and encourage and support excellent teaching and research! The Deans were also part of a coaching programme and the coach made use of the research to influence their coaching approach with each individual.  

Research findings and what we can learn from them

The findings show that there are many factors for the coach to take into account if they are to truly build a learning relationship that takes into account the deans’ specific needs. These include:

  1. Working from an understanding of what a dean may feel they can influence and what they think they can directly control in their context. 
  2. Being aware of and adjusting the coaching approach to suit the learning style of the dean.
  3. Being aware that certain disciplines prefer the technical over the social and interpersonal
  4. Being prepared to ‘work in the moment’ and adjust
  5. Being aware that coaching is primarily and dialectic process and that deans may prefer the opportunity to visualize through diagrams, visualization techniques or practical examples
  6. Being aware that the technical mind set may prefer the coach to use tools such as questionnaires in order to provide ‘objective data’
  7. Being aware of the use of and difference between specific goals and learning goals and enabling the dean to develop strategic critical thinking
  8. Helping to create a calm reflective space to enable the dean to relax and reflect

In essence, this points towards a more genuinely ‘coachee centred’ view of coaching and resonates with Stokes’ PhD Research on the ‘Skilled Coachee’ and Stelter’s idea that coaching is hybridising to become a blend of both mentoring and coaching, or in Stelter’s words a coach becomes a ‘facilitator of dialogue’ and dialogue is essentially two way. 

A final question to consider

Ultimately, there are implications for coach development here and we have to ask – are the current caching competencies competent? 

Bob Garvey


Stokes, P. (2007) The Skilled Coachee. Paper presented at the European Mentoring and Coaching Conference, Stockholm, October. Proceedings available at

Stelter, R. (2019) The Art of Coaching Dialogue: Towards Transformative Exchange, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge