I recently read a blog post that differentiated surface and deep coaching, placing goals firmly at the surface level. Some coaching models are entirely goal focused, so does that make them superficial and shallow? Do they fail to achieve real behaviour change?
I think there is a danger in assuming goals are simply surface, and also the implication that surface is somehow less valid. I agree there are issues of depth, but perhaps we need different terminology for this to be helpful? The benefits of goals are well established in goal setting theory and motivation. I would prefer to look at goals at different levels, the idea of goal hierarchies – where, yes the initial stated goals may be those in the conscious awareness and achieving them may not lead to real (behaviour) change. For me, the questioning approach is used to establish what is really going on, and whether there are underlying goals that are driving the outward behaviour, sometimes referred to as the “inner game”. These may not be apparent as goals initially, but I see the goal framework as one that evolves through the coaching sessions, new goals arise, become linked to other goals, and through the conversations establish, and hopefully resolve, some of the “deeper” challenges that are obstacles to reaching higher goals. I would argue that in a goal hierarchy model, the idea of being distracted from a goal by focusing on process is still consistent with goals – what we are simply doing is to “surface” more fundamental challenges, turn them into goals and show how they contribute to the general progress.
Certainly I agree with shifting between a results focus and one that explores process in more detail, but doesn’t this reinforce the notion that goals are an important framework, so let’s not be too dismissive of goals in coaching, and perhaps re-evaluate how valuable the “surface” really is, if we use it properly?