The rapid advancement of technology and AI is driving innovation in coaching. Coaches can take an active role in shaping the integration of new technologies in the coaching field, ensuring ethical and impactful digital coaching solutions.
Coaches can take a proactive role in shaping ethical and impactful digital coaching solutions
The latest wave of innovation in coaching explores how coaches can leverage digital tools and resources to enhance coaching skills development, improve client experience, measure impact, and reach new audiences. However, it is important to consider potential drawbacks, such as exposing client data and oversaturating the market with cheap and ineffective AI coach bot alternatives. Instead of shying away from technological disruption, coaches can proactively explore the implications of technology on coaching practice and human development.
While researching technological innovation in coaching, we asked leaders in the digital coaching space, “What one thing would you convey to coaches about integrating technology into the future of coaching?” From this question emerged four tangible ways coaches can prepare for and shape the use of technology in the field.
Coaches can help shape the future of digital coaching by:
- Leaning into coaching competencies to navigate change
- Exploring how technology provides new opportunities
- Engaging in conversations around AI ethics
- Testing and providing feedback on emerging technologies
1. Coaches can lean into coaching competencies to explore the unknown
Technological disruption affects nearly every industry, including coaching. Not only will coaches need the skills to adapt to changing technologies, but they will also need to guide individuals, organizations, and communities to navigate uncertainty and change. Coaches can lean into their training and professional competencies as they explore technological innovation in coaching. When facing disruption, coaches can approach change from an outside perspective, embracing the opportunity to discover new information and gain new skills. Coaches can use these same tools to navigate setbacks or challenges in adopting new technologies as part of the learning process.
“Much like coaches talk to their clients about moving outside their comfort zone, maybe they’re going to have to get outside their comfort zone too.”
Wisdom Weaver Rosie Evans-Krimme encourages coaches to “get to know the providers, get to know the kind of technologies out there; educating yourself is power.” Exploring the vast market of digital coaching tools, services, and resources can help coaches build awareness and confidence in approaching technological innovation in coaching. A curious gaze enables coaches to evaluate the impact of each tool on the coaching experience for clients, organizations, and coaches themselves. This approach can also help coaches identify strong emotions related to the unknown future, digging deeper into areas of excitement or concern.
At the same time, Wisdom Weaver Jacinta Jiménez reminds coaches that learning new skills or concepts can be both challenging and rewarding. Coaches can set aside time to process complex emotions around uncertainty and change:
“Embrace that duality along the way. When faced with new and uncertain things, it is easy to become susceptible to opposite-end-of-the-spectrum forces that naturally oppose each other and create tension. In other words, we can easily fall into thinking, ‘This is so exciting. It is going to change everything for the better,’ or ‘This is doomsday. This is going to replace us.’ I encourage coaches to try their best to sit at the intersection of the two sides of the spectrum and to observe with discernment the nuances of these advances. I also recommend finding other colleagues and coaches and keeping an open dialogue, having conversations, and learning as much as you can about these advances, because innovation is happening at a rapid pace, and I don’t want coaches to be left behind.”
2. Coaches can explore how technology provides new opportunities for coaching and client success
While investigating technological innovation in coaching, Wisdom Weaver Nicky Terblanche encourages coaches to remember the unique value of the human coaching experience. He invites coaches to draw on their strengths and take an optimistic view toward digital coaching. Nicky suggests, “Coaches should make a concerted effort to stay up to date with developments through the ICF, conferences, and articles. Don’t be afraid of technology because it won’t completely replace you, but it can make you a more effective coach. People shouldn’t be afraid of technology. It’s phenomenal. And it can be a tremendous help.” Viewing technology as an opportunity instead of a threat, allows coaches to imagine new opportunities these technologies provide.
Coaches can also take a needs-based approach, identifying coaching skills development, client engagement requirements, or resource demands, and then search for tools that address these needs. Wisdom Weaver Joel DiGirolamo heads the ICF Coaching Platform Coalition and has been working with accrediting bodies, coach training programs, digital coaching platforms, and individual coaches to build digital coaching literacy and confidence. He suggests, “If coaches can ask themselves, ‘How could I use technology to help me be a more effective coach and to be more productive in my business?’ Those key questions will help them move forward.”
Instead of testing coaching technology in client engagements, coaches may benefit from experimenting with tools in a low-risk setting. Wisdom Weaver Jonathan Passmore suggests that coaches can “start today with new technologies and test them, play with them, break them. Then start to incorporate into your practice the useful ones, the ones that complement your way of coaching, and that can help your clients in the sort of work that you do.” For example, coaches can experiment with AI technologies to create unique art pieces, rewrite content for a new audience, generate a reading list on a new topic, or outline tasks for an event. Other tools, like VR headsets, can be used to experience immersive videos or games. Experimenting with new technologies outside of coaching practice helps coaches imagine unique applications for each tool while gaining confidence in a low-risk environment.
“Coaches are going to have to up their game a little bit in how they interact with technology and take some risks.”
3. Coaches can engage in industry and peer conversations around AI ethics and application
Coaches play a vital role in guiding industry conversations around AI ethics and accountability. Ultimately, coaches want to use technology to create beneficial impact for coaches and clients. Reflecting on the future of coaching and global trends in digital transformation, Wisdom Weaver Anke Paulick believes, “In the end, it will be coaches using AI replacing coaches not using AI. This is why I encourage everybody to think about how to partner with artificial intelligence, how to use it for your practice, and how to use it in a good and ethical way.”
The ideal application of digital coaching tools involves technology automating basic aspects of a coaching engagement to support coaches in devoting more time to complex tasks. Coaches have an interest in ensuring that new technologies are effective, safe, protect client confidentiality, and uphold client autonomy. To learn more about the application and limitations of digital coaching tools, coaches can look for guidance from coaching bodies, researchers, digital coaching platforms, and professional chapters. Local events, continued education, and workshops offer more active platforms for coaches to voice concerns and learn from peers.
In the interest of protecting clients, Wisdom Weaver Alex Haitoglou emphasizes that coaches are essential in addressing AI bias. “We’re much better off being inside the discussion and the debate as an industry and as individuals, seeing what is possible and shaping what it looks like, rather than leaving it to outsiders. So, if anything, I would call coaches to engage, learn, grow, and shape how AI will influence the practice of coaching.” To shape conversations around bias, he believes coaches should be active in testing tools in different contexts to make sure they are beneficial for clients from different cultural backgrounds or contexts.
4. Coaches can test emerging technologies and provide feedback to improve coaching tools
Coaches can play a direct role in shaping digital coaching tools by participating in research conducted by coaching programs or digital platforms. Digital coaching platforms like BetterUp, Ezra, and CoachHub actively collaborate with coaches and researchers to solicit feedback and improve the digital coaching experience. The Institute of Coaching (IOC) posts public calls for coaches to participate in coaching research, including research in digital coaching. The IOC has also launched a Research Consortium on Human-Centered Leadership, outlining human skills of the future and the role of coaches in guiding human-tech integration in the future of work. Outside of formal studies, coaches can give feedback on digital coaching tools and AI coach bots to help improve these technologies.
“I would urge coaches to use their experience and expertise to be part of the conversation…The future of coaching is with technology, but no one has the perfect playbook here to really understand how it’s going to look. Coaches have to be an active part of this conversation, to head experiments, and shape the best practice of tomorrow.”
Feedback from human coaches will always be an important part of digital coaching design and delivery. Because AI language models lack human intuition, they may struggle to interpret emotions, figurative language, or culturally specific content. Coaches can help guide the application of these tools as a coaching support by supervising AI-human coaching conversations. Coaches can also monitor the use of coach bots to confirm that conversations are relevant, safe, helpful, and unbiased.
A Call to Action for Coaches
As technology continues to evolve, coaches play an important role in actively engaging in conversations around the application of technology in the coaching industry. Coaches can examine their fears and hopes for new technologies, participate in peer-learning opportunities, and stay up to date with ethical guidance from accrediting bodies. Coaches may also need to help their clients navigate workplace disruption as advanced AI tools modify or replace certain roles. By taking a proactive approach toward technology and applying coaching qualities, including curiosity, optimism, accountability, and collaboration, coaches can shape the integration of technology in the future of coaching.
We invite coaches to imagine a future where technological innovation in coaching creates the best possible outcomes for coaches, clients, and the world. As coaches and humans, your experiences are valuable to guiding conversations on ethical, safe, and beneficial digital coaching tools.
Learn more about how technology is reshaping the future of coaching:
- Wisdom Weaver Jonathan Passmore and TLI Board Member Woody Woodward highlight emerging needs in coach training and education
- Coach-IT training program on digital coaching technologies and services
- EMCC Ethics Guidance for Providers of Coaching, Mentoring, and Supervision Using Technology and AI
- ICF Coaching Platform Coalition outlines research goals and recorded webinars from the Coaching Science Community of Practice
- TLI Workshop at ICF Converge 2023: How Coaching and Artificial Intelligence Can Collaborate