Coaching in the Digital Age

Is coaching in the digital age different from traditional coaching?

Muhammad Abubakar Siddique

As a coach one must be aware of the distinction between traditional and digital coaching. Even though the basic principles of coaching remain the same; but what is required to be a coach in a digital world is a question that should start bothering everyone, from coaches to managers.

Coaching in the digital world is different.  There are four factors proposed by Rong and Shi in their book Business Ecosystems that we believe coaches should keep in mind while preparing a coachee in a digital world: Adaptive Solution, Platform of Trust, Creativity, and Enabling Mechanisms

Adaptive Solution

Before the digital world, everyone was focused on preparing individuals to be adaptive to the environment. Being adaptive was a core leadership skill on which almost every coach used to focus on. In the digital world, things are changing at an extremely fast pace that it is no more possible for individuals to be adaptive for every new change. What coaches now need to focus on is to train leaders to produce adaptive solutions instead of being adaptive themselves. Being adaptive as an individual means to mold oneself according to the situation but with the birth of digital age, situations are not always predictable. One needs to draw a line at being adaptive as we all have limits to flexibility. But producing an adaptive solution is different. It means to produce solutions which can adapt to every new situation without bringing a huge change in the personality of the person. It requires a mindset which has both strategic thinking and diversity in thought to come up with solutions that are adaptive to the situation at hand.

Platform of Trust

To come up with adaptive solutions leaders need a platform where everyone can contribute. To build such a platform requires an ability to trust and to be trustworthy. As a coach, your job is to develop a mindset in which one does not have insecurity. Solution platforms require a contribution from every player and most important one is your competitors. In digital ecosystems, you co-evolve with your competitors. For instance, Samsung while being a competitor of Apple is also a supplier of it. It requires courage to build such platforms where you expect contribution from every stakeholder. As a coach, it is your duty to train your coachee with courage and clarity of thought so they can build such platforms where they can co-evolve with competitors, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders.

Creative Problem Solving  

Solution platforms can only provide us with the information and heuristics about the potential solution but converting them into adaptive solution requires creativity. Creativity in the digital world is not just about problem-solving. It is a proactive solution to the problems which don’t even exist for now. These solutions are creative enough to adapt  to any problems that may appear in the future and they can tap any opportunity that may arise soon. In traditional creativity, problems come first and then solution whereas, in digital creativity, you build such solutions which can tackle possible problems of the future. You do lots of contingency planning. As a coach, you yourself must be ready for this kind of creativity. This is a litmus test for the coaching in digital era i.e. can you yourself be able to produce adaptive solutions for the problems of your coachee that are yet to arrive? If not you better start training yourself first! After all, a coach has to be ahead of the time.

Enabling Mechanisms

The last factor to be taken into consideration is to have a bird eye view of enabling mechanisms. Enabling mechanisms include regulatory policies, market trends, new products, customer expectations and societal changes related to your business. One cannot survive in digital era if he/she is not aware of these trends. All of these factors are affecting businesses in a very strong manner. As a coach, you must make your coachee aware of these mechanisms and help him to keep an eye on the business ecosystem at play.

To conclude, coaching in the digital era is not a piece of cake. It requires connectivity with the environment. It requires the skill to develop the connectivity first. Only by using this connectivity, one can come up with the solutions that will help coachees to thrive in the digital era.

Muhammad Abubakar Siddique is currently pursuing his doctorate in Operations Management from LUMS. His areas of interest are business ecosystems, innovation, and the  complex adaptive systems.

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