Executive Coaching Step 4: Types of Intervention (Part Two)
My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the director of Intact Academy, we train up coaches and consultants from beginners to advanced, from team coaches to consultants. In Team Agility I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products. I work with multinationals, family, businesses and startups. I’m a registered European Union startup coach. I still love my work after 35 years. So I feel very privileged and lucky to be able to contribute to better lives, better business this way.
My book is coming out next year, so watch out for that.
I’m talking about executive coaching. We’ve gone through a general model, contact, contract, problem definition, and the roles and interventions you could have. Now I really want to talk about what types of interventions you can do.
I want to take you through Eric Berne’s eight operations or interventions. My students often ask me, “Now I have the executive coach clients in the room, what do I do with them?” What you do is informed by the contract or agreement about goals you made with them. You can never go quicker than your clients.
Berne believed that doing the interventions in the right order would help you to realise the contract quickly. I don’t think executive coaching is a linear process. It’s an iterative process that goes round and round until the client is ready.
- Authoritative interventions: use your own authority as a coach, to give an opinion, to instruct to suggest. What usually happens for me is the client comes in for executive coaching, I ask them if they know what they’re here for and how they can best use their time with me. This is my opening gambit. And then they tell me their story, a mixed bag of problems.
I could say, “What I’m hearing is_____. At the behavioural level, at the relational level, at the existential level….” At what level do you want to work? What is the most important thing for you to solve today?
- Prescriptive interventions: Prescriptive interventions are about informing and teaching. The client will come to a point where they have a lack of competency, information, or of skills. For example, if someone has a conflict with a colleague, I could offer them a model of psychological games: “Every conflict goes through the same six steps. Would that help you if I tell you that?” That’s a prescriptive intervention. Only give information on the basis of an agreement to do so, else you slip into an expert role instead of the coaching role.
- Informative interventions: The third type of intervention Berne talks about is informative. This is where I give feedback, when it’s needed and asked for (contracted). The client will ask me, “What do you think? How am I doing? In comparison to other teams, am I doing the right thing?” The feedback is informative because it helps them to calibrate where they’re at.
- Confrontative intervention: The fourth type of intervention Berne talks about his confrontative. Confrontation is when you hold up the mirror and help clients see a difference between what they are saying and what they’re doing. A confrontation is always constructive.
I sometimes say that in executive coaching, you are a healer that creates awareness through authoritative, prescriptive and informative interventions. But sometimes you need to be a surgeon cutting through their pattern. In confrontation you’re a truth teller. Often the executives I work with don’t have mirrors around them anymore. They have Yes, people. It’s very rare that people will confront them. Many coaches are very good at the healing part, but not very good at confrontation. To be a good surgeon, you need to know where to cut. To know where to cut, you need to develop a really good diagnostic sense. And that takes practice.
- Facilitative intervention: In the facilitative intervention you are an equal partner in helping them to explore. It’s an invitation to try different roles, to look at their situation from different perspectives. Sometimes I ask them to do that literally in a constellation. Sometimes their homework is to call people at different levels in the organisation to check out their hypothesis about what is going on.
- Cathartic intervention: In the cathartic intervention it’s about helping them connect their body with their minds and their feelings. Often the executives I work with are split. There’s still a myth, certainly in western type organisations, that work life and private life are completely separate. Reconnecting with the body, the somatic experience helps people to connect to the neocortex understanding of a situation to take the right decision.
- Catalytic interventions: Catalytic interventions happen when you paraphrase, specify, interpret, explore enough to create an aha experience. As an executive coach your observations, contracts and interventions have to be connected.
- Supportive intervention: In a supportive intervention you validate, reassure, give them recognition. Often my clients feel a lack of recognition. They’re lonely at the top. We know that you can only achieve your goals as an executive team. It’s such an easy thing to do to say, “Good job, I’m happy you’re here.” It makes people feel better and also increases performance.
I had a coaching client last week, we were talking about the effects of Coronavirus, and suddenly he started to cry: “It’s so hard. I have to front this operation and reassure my people, but no one is reassuring me.” Getting recognition for the ambivalence and uncertainty you are holding as an executive is essential. This is also a function of executive coaching. To create an oasis where people get fulfilled and nurtured.
I do these eight types of interventions always directed at realising the contract. Your client will need different types of interventions to get to that goal. It also depends on the type of client as to what types of interventions they accept. Mix it up, figure out what works for you and for your client, Let me know.