Sarah Hurlow is an Associate Professor in Leadership at Cardiff Business School in the UK. She has worked closely with a range of private and public sector organisations to design and facilitate leadership development programmes, and was Director of the Executive MBA at Cardiff for three years. Her interests lie in the theory and practice of coaching in a variety of settings. She is currently leading a coaching initiative to support the professional development of participants on the Executive MBA programme, and a project to introduce an academic peer reflection process for teaching excellence. Sarah has held a number of management roles including Deputy Head of the Management, Organisation & Employment (MEO) section. She is a member of the Business School’s Shadow Management Board and the Steering Group for Academic Engagement that is part of the University’s Education Portfolio for Change. She is an elected member of the Council of the British Academy of Management with a specific role in the development of the ‘Management Knowledge & Education’ initiative, and has just designed an Education Practice award for academy members. Sarah’s research has a critical orientation, and explores the role of language in learning and identity.
Rethinking Leadership Coaching as Identity Work
The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of the coach in supporting the ‘identity work’of the leaders with whom they work. Conventionally, the coach is seen as the facilitator of a systematic process undertaken by their client to enable enhanced awareness of themselves and the outcomes they hope to achieve. A variety of different interventions may be used thatreflect the orientation of the coach, such as psychodynamic, behaviourist, person-centred and other approaches. However, despite being hailed as one of ‘the most popular topics in contemporary organization studies’ (Sveningsson and Alvesson, 2003, p.1163) little consideration has been given to the concept of ‘identity’ to help clients explore the expectation and experience of being a leader. Reflecting the conference theme of expanding boundaries, this theoretical paper aims to extend the boundaries of theorising by embracing the concept of identity to enhance coaching practice.
An era of ‘liquid modernity’ (Bauman, 2004) has seen increased employment insecurity, job mobility, and intensified performance demands in the workplace, along side a ‘corrosion of traditional identity anchors such as family, work, and neighborhood’ (Thomas 2009). Arguably, this has led to an ‘identity crisis’and a growth in academic studies offering ‘in-depth, often empathetic insights and descriptions that can stimulate and facilitate people’s reflections on who they are and what they do’ (Alvesson et al., 2009 p. 17). Indeed, in the aftermath of successive corporate scandals and the global financial crisis, concern has been expressed about overly ‘economized’ forms of amoral leadership (Bennis & O’Toole, 2005; Ghoshal, 2005; Mintzberg, 2004) and a reformulation of ‘the basic moral-political problem in life [from] what to do [to] who to be’ (Shotter, 1993, p. 118). In turn, this calls for a rethinking of the coaching process from formulaic reflection on options and goals to ‘a situation where an individual [LEADER], actively….considers their identity’ (Alvesson and Robertson, 2016 p 11).