Enhancing the Sacred Relationship of Leadership Coaching- How AI Can Bridge the Gap Between Sessions

Enhancing the Sacred Relationship of Leadership Coaching: How AI Can Bridge the Gap Between Sessions

AI is probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on. I think of it as something more profound than electricity or fire.” – Google Co-founder, Sergey Brin

In 2001, Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film A Space Odyssey (1968) showcased the reliability of AI in the form of HAL 9000, an intelligent computer that controls the systems of a spacecraft. Twelve years later, futuristic movie Her won the Oscar for its portrayal of the reliability of AI in helping the protagonist through difficult times and creating a deep emotional bond with him.

Cut to 2023, when AI bots aren’t limited to movies anymore. They are increasingly becoming mainstream for people to get their work done and enhance productivity.

In the world of business coaching, AI tools are increasingly gaining ground to be used along with traditional methods of leadership coaching. A study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology found that AI-based coaching interventions may be more effective when combined with human coaching. The study found that a hybrid coaching approach, which combined AI-based interventions with human coaching, resulted in greater performance improvements compared to AI-only or human-only coaching. Although many coaches have not yet adopted the technology, its use is gaining momentum.

The process of traditional coaching involves a close and trusting relationship between the coach and the client, and typically involves regular in-person or virtual meetings. However, the time between coaching sessions can often cause gaps in the commitment and process of coaching. This is where AI has the potential to bridge this gap and enhance the coaching experience by providing ongoing support, feedback, and insights.

This article is a breadth article, that covers many areas of coaching – executive, leadership, life, health, wellness etc., therefore aiming to provide a cross-section of perspectives which will benefit the readers.

How is AI capable of bridging the gap?

AI has the capability to analyze the performance, behaviour, and personality of leaders allowing for identification of their individual strengths, weaknesses, and areas that require improvement. Moreover, AI can provide real-time feedback and coaching to leaders that is tailored to their specific goals, context, and preferences. For instance, the NBA has been using AI technology to help coaches analyze players’ movements and identify areas for improvement. The technology can quickly analyze vast amounts of data to provide insights into player performance, which can help coaches make more informed decisions on how to train and develop their players.

Closer home, in the world of business coaching, AI-powered tools are revolutionising the impact, accessibility and nature of coaching. By utilizing AI, coaches can thus develop customized learning paths and content to adapt to the leader’s progress, needs, and interests. This innovative technology will then offer exciting new opportunities to advance leadership development.

What can Coaching and AI together bring to the table?

In the realm of leadership coaching, AI can offer significant benefits that address certain limitations of human coaches. For instance, AI excels in speech and pattern recognition, unconscious bias detection, and offers limitless productivity capacity, as opposed to limited energy of human coaches. While human coaches can feel depleted beyond a point after a series of sessions, they can use the AI tools to engage in other part of the process while they take a break.

AI-based assessment tools provide daily notifications based on their specific assessments and remind users of the content that they have learned. Human coaches can also use AI to track changes in a user’s behaviour more easily, which may otherwise go unnoticed.

Sripriyaa Venkataraman, Executive Coach and Founder – Global Coaching Lab and Tripura Multinational, shares, “In the context of executive and leadership coaching, coaches have come to understand that human beings are creatures of habit, and for habits to change, coach and coachee need to work together to support each other. By leveraging AI, coaches can enhance their emotional and intuitive intelligence to understand coachees’ motivations better and use the right level of nudges to help them take control of their unconscious behaviours and operate with the highest levels of awareness. While traditional coaching methods rely on simple communication methods such as WhatsApp or email, leveraging coaching platforms like Simply.Coach can help coaches better manage their engagement with coachees. Through such platforms, coaches can track coachee progress and determine the effectiveness of the coaching engagement. An LMS (Learning Management System) can also be leveraged to share resources, assessments, and feedback, all of which can be tracked by both the coach and the coachee’s manager or sponsor. While maintaining the confidentiality of the coaching engagement, this technology enables a deeper understanding of coachee progress and engagement effectiveness. I strongly believe that in Coaching, the Coach is the Pilot and they can effectively leverage AI to be their Co-pilot to deliver client excellence.

Another aspect where AI can make a difference is in terms of objectivity. Research has shown that humans are incapable of being consistently objective. Our perceptions are subjective, shaped by our personal experiences, understanding of the world and our history. This can lead to confirmation bias, where coaches try to confirm their initial hypothesis about the coachee’s issue through their judgemental lens and may be limited in capturing the whole story. This is where AI can help enhance a coaches’ performance by using algorithms created from diverse and unbiased datasets.

AI can enhance coaching in different ways

-Personalised Insights: One way AI can enhance coaching is by providing personalized recommendations and insights based on the client’s data. This can include analyzing their progress, identifying patterns and trends, and suggesting specific actions or strategies. For example, if a client is working on time management, an AI program could analyze their calendar and suggest specific time-blocking techniques to increase productivity. This ongoing support can help the client stay motivated and on track between coaching sessions.

The Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable devices can provide coaches with valuable data on clients’ physical and behavioural patterns. AI algorithms can process this data to offer insights into sleep patterns, stress levels, exercise routines, and more. Coaches can use this information to guide clients towards holistic well-being and develop personalized coaching plans.

-Real-time feedback: Different AI platforms can assist in tracking client progress towards their goals and provide real-time feedback. By analysing data from coaching sessions, AI can identify trends, measure outcomes, and provide visualizations or reports to coaches and clients. This information empowers clients to track their own development, stay accountable, and make informed decisions about their coaching journey.

With the use of AI-powered tools such as sentiment analysis and voice recognition, coaches can gain insights into their clients’ emotions and attitudes, even when they are not explicitly expressing them. AI can engage in conversations, ask relevant questions, and provide support based on predefined coaching frameworks. This continuous interaction keeps clients engaged and motivated while ensuring they receive ongoing guidance. This can also help coaches tailor their approach and provide more effective support, leading to better outcomes for the client.

-Efficient task management: AI can also help coaches streamline administrative tasks, allowing them to focus more on the coaching relationship. For example, an AI-powered scheduling tool can automatically schedule coaching sessions based on the client’s availability, saving coaches time and energy. Additionally, AI can help with note-taking and tracking progress, freeing up the coach to focus on building the relationship and providing support. Coaches have started using a lot of tools in their coaching from configuring smart nudges/check-ins to keep clients engaged in-between sessions, using data to run dipstick surveys – pre, mid, post engagements – to calculate and showcase ROI (Return on Investment) & ROE (Return on Expectation).

In a panel discussion on ‘Technology and Future of Coaching’ conducted by the International Coaching Federation (ICF), the founder of Simply.Coach, Kiran Narasareddy, said, “Tech should help the coaches job easier by saving time and growing their business. This can start with the taking care of mundane tasks like scheduling and tracking.”

-Stakeholders: The new technology can help in involving necessary stakeholders, giving them visibility into the clients’ journey & progress thereby getting their buy-in and also ensuring there is support for the client.

-Knowledge Repository and Resources: AI can serve as a comprehensive knowledge repository, storing coaching materials, resources, and best practices. Coaches can access this repository to enhance their own skills and stay up to date with the latest industry trends. AI algorithms can also curate relevant content based on a coach’s preferences and areas of expertise, making it easier to find valuable resources.

Coach bots and apps: In order to develop meaningful, ethical, and quality-assured AI applications for coaching, it is essential for all coaching stakeholders, including coaches, coaching associations, research institutes, and companies, to participate. Coaching organisations can accelerate productivity by focusing on the emergence of chatbot coaching which can assist in asking a preliminary set of questions and then connect the coachee to the potential best-suited coaches based on the results. These chatbots follow standardized process flows and steps and can use digitally visualized coaching methods. However, it is necessary to incorporate experienced coaches’ expertise and review from coaching associations for meeting ethical standards.

Anke Paulick is an expert in the field of creating bots for coaches and has been a witness to mammoth changes in the industry. “I think over the last few years, coaches have become accustomed to exploring how technology can assist them in growing their business and improving their coaching services. As a result, we’re seeing the emergence of pre-scripted coaching models that can be delivered via chatbots, covering topics such as conflict resolution and feedback delivery using nonviolent communication techniques. Alongside these developments, there has been an increase in the use of self-assessment bots and gamification techniques to enhance coaching experiences. This includes innovative approaches such as using a Tinder-style interface to create a personal values profile.”

Here are some noteworthy examples of a variety of AI-powered applications that offer valuable support to professionals.

-Chorus.ai is a conversation intelligence platform that leverages AI to analyze sales calls and meetings, enabling coaches to identify areas where sales representatives can improve and gain insights into customer behaviour and preferences.

-CoachHub is an AI-powered coaching platform that links employees with professional coaches. Through AI, the platform matches employees with coaches based on their objectives and preferences, while also providing coaches with insights into their clients’ progress.

-Hogan Assessments is an AI-powered platform that delivers personality assessments and coaching reports. The platform employs machine learning algorithms to analyze data and furnish insights into individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their potential for success in various roles.

-Nudge Coach is a health coaching platform that uses AI to offer personalized coaching and support to individuals. It tracks data from wearables and other health devices and applies machine learning algorithms to offer tailored recommendations for enhancing health and wellness.

-Humu is an AI-powered coaching platform that harnesses data to help employees improve their work habits and boost productivity. The platform examines data from employee surveys and other sources to deliver personalized coaching and feedback that helps individuals achieve their goals.

Can AI replace human coaches?

According to a study published in the International Coaching Psychology Review, the potential for AI to enhance coaching is promising, but it also has several limitations that must be acknowledged. One major concern is that AI lacks empathy and cannot fully grasp the intricacies of human communication, which are fundamental to effective coaching. The relationship between coach and client is a sacred one built on trust and rapport, and AI should be used as a tool to support and enhance that relationship. The human element of coaching is still critical, as coaches bring empathy, emotional intelligence, and intuition to the table.

As Prof. David Clutterbuck, Practice Lead at Clutterbuck Coaching And Mentoring International Ltd. wrote on a Linkedin post, “If a human coach is simply following a prescribed process or formula, they can easily be replaced by an Artificial Intelligence. The AI is not really intelligent, which suggests the coach is not using their own intelligence. The challenge to coaches is therefore: What do I bring to coaching that a smart machine cannot or does not? A starting point is My humanity. We bring ourselves. But the more we rely on process and ritualistic models, the more like the machine we are…”

What does the future look like?

The use of AI in coaching holds great potential, but it is crucial to acknowledge that it is still in its infancy and requires further research and testing to reach its full potential. One of the major considerations when using AI in coaching is the importance of privacy and security. Coaches and clients must be mindful of the data that is being collected and ensure that it is being used ethically and with the client’s consent.

Additionally, it is important to consider potential biases in the AI algorithms and work to mitigate them to ensure that the recommendations and insights provided are fair and equitable. Paulick says, “As a coach, it is imperative that you are transparent with your clients regarding your methods and motivations. Be explicit about how you handle private coaching conversations and obtain consent when necessary. Additionally, it is crucial to distinguish between human and machine interactions during sessions. By clarifying these fundamental aspects, coaches can foster trust and establish healthy boundaries with their clients.” With the ethical and proper use and integration of AI, coaching can become an even more effective tool for personal and professional growth.

As more and more human coaches begin preparing for increased collaboration with AI and seek out opportunities to leverage its benefits in their coaching practice, these tools will start becoming more reliable. This is why it’s best if coaches approach AI technology with an open mind, recognizing the potential benefits it can bring to their coaching practice.

To be more accepting of AI tools, coaches should start by familiarizing themselves with the technology and exploring how it can be integrated into their coaching practice. This includes seeking training and support from experts in the field to ensure that they are using the technology in the most effective and ethical way.

Leadership coaches must also understand the limitations of AI technology and not rely solely on the data-driven insights it provides. They must use their human judgment and intuition to understand the context behind the data and make informed decisions that are in the best interest of their clients.

It is therefore imperative to approach the integration of AI in coaching with care and prioritize the development of ethical and effective AI coaching tools. Collaboration between human coaches and AI can lead to significant improvements in coaching practices, but it is essential to ensure that AI is utilized responsibly and effectively.

As the coaching industry continues to evolve, it is essential for professionals to focus on developing their own transformational value, embrace technology and learn to use it creatively to their advantage. While tools like Chatgpt can be incredibly useful, it is crucial to ensure that they are used effectively to improve outcomes. With a commitment to both personal growth and technological innovation, coaches can continue to thrive in an ever-changing landscape.

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