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Your Responses to ‘Does the Client Really Have All the Answers?’

November 17, 2017

We received dozens of responses to our blog post “Does our client really have all the answers?” and we’re grateful to everyone who openingly and honestly shared their thoughts with us. It is clear that this is a juicy question at the forefront of coaches’ minds, your minds. So juicy and important, in fact, we are working to provide time and space to further this conversation via a webinar platform. Stay tuned, details to come.   

Did you miss our initial blog post? No problem, you can get caught up here. 

It turns out, our coaching community has been mulling over this hot button topic of whether coaches should advise their clients or not. And while this topic seems to be at the top of mind, the conversation around it takes many different valuable shapes and forms. With hopes of continuing this important conversation we are sharing a summary of your valuable perspectives. 

Do You Coach Outside of The Lines? 

Overwhelmingly, you answered YES.  You regularly reach beyond the traditional co-active approach by:  1) doing what works for the client with recognition that all clients are different, which calls for a unique approach for each 2) doing what the client hired you for by coaching (mentoring, advising, and educating) them to improve performance, attain goals, and achieve their defined results (whatever they may be) and 3) holding your clients creative, resourceful, and whole – while warning and advising  them if there is a cliff ahead. 

One of you summarized this approach so eloquently:

 “The coach works to create the delicate balance between sharing information that expand the client’s knowledge in combination with questions that enable the client to expand their thinking through reflection, creating new learning that supports their needs and goals.”    

Giving Clients a Nudge

Some of you have found advising, directing, and “a little nudge” are essential to getting your client’s “unstuck.  Here’s what you had to say about offering a little something extra: 

“Some (clients) need to be taken by the hand, guided, and shown some options, even provided with suggestions or advice that they can take or leave, of course. Coaching, for me, is more than just listening and waiting for them to come up with their own answers (or not).”

“Do I ever offer my thoughts?  Sure, when the client runs dry, I’ll ask if I can offer up an idea or if he or she wants to do some brainstorming.”

 “Questions are important. I have gotten MUCH better at asking them. But – it’s not enough, sometimes.”

How Did We Get Here?

Some of you reminded us of the humble beginnings of the ICF core competencies by reflecting on how they were created to intentionally separate the coaching profession, created a platform for incredibly successful coaches, and now can be a springboard for continued conversations in the evolution of coaching:

“The ICF Core Competencies and certification track were developed at a crucial time in the emergence of the coaching profession. We, as a coaching collective, were becoming scrutinized by other professions that didn’t understand how we weren’t treading into their regulated areas and because we didn’t have a self-defined, self-regulated unified body of knowledge with a foundational set of competencies and a way to assess and measure proficiency in them, we left ourselves open as an emerging profession, to become defined by OTHER professions and adhere to outside standards of proficiency.”

The Questions We Are Still Asking Ourselves 

Some important and intriguing questions came up for some of you reflecting on the process of “when it comes to moving away from the client being the one that has all of the answers” including:

  • Where is the line between coaching and consulting?
  • How do we measure a coach’s ability to advise properly and correctly?
  • What if the wrong advice is given and has large repercussions?
  • How do you keep the client from holding the coach in a hierarchal position as the smartest one in the relationship?
  • How do you teach a client to be resourceful when they DON’T have the answers and you are not around as their coach?
  • How do you avoid client dependency on the coach for guidance on how to think and act?

We are inspired by the stories you shared around how YOU delicately balance the tension of self-inquiry around what will serve your client best – advising them in a way that can improve their performance or coaching them toward empowerment, resourcefulness and self-authorship:

“I’ve been doing some pro bono coaching recently for a good friend who is a business owner, and he’s been struggling with how to lay out clear expectations for a staff member who is in charge of all their marketing.  It’s a conversation he’s avoided for a long time.  I tried the coaching approach first – had him walk through pros/cons of having the conversation, asked him how he could approach the performance gap, asked him what’s been holding him back.  He just wasn’t seeing it.  Finally, I told him I thought he was avoiding a conversation he needed to have and that if he wasn’t direct, he was doing his staff member a disservice.  Once I gave him that little poke, he opened up and admitted he was afraid of being vulnerable with her about his lack of leadership.  I told him that vulnerability could increase trust and get the staff member to more readily hear the feedback – what he was avoiding was the very thing he needed to tap into.  Once we had that conversation, I shifted back into coaching and empowered him to build the plan for actually having the conversation.”

Some of you pondered how “the gurus” who have changed millions of lives through coaching fit into the equation. But wait, would Tony Robbins make it through the ICF exam?

“I read an article some years ago that claimed that Tony Robbins with his very directive coaching approach would not be suitable to pass an exam from the ICF. That made me think, that there must be something wrong, if somebody like Tony Robbins and his incredible successful method would fail.”

Where is the Coach in the Coaching?

Finding the space to interject with some “me” seems to be part of your special sauce and an essential way to coach, advise, mentor, educate, and consult your clients on the journey towards their goals (why they hired you to begin with). Many of you have experienced the value of a diverse toolkit when it comes to your coaching methodology:

“Do I provide advice?  You bet your biscuits I do!  I was just speaking to a colleague yesterday about this issue, someone who I have the privilege of mentoring.  I said to her that if a coach won’t be honest with their clients, who will be? When my clients hear about my downfalls or struggles they know that I bleed too, and our relationship is strengthened.  Also, it gives them the opportunity to learn and grow from my experience as well. ”

Another coach shares the importance of giving the client what they are paying for:

“My clients would fire me in a minute if I didn’t inject some “me” into the coaching. With that I mean, they WANT my perspective, shared experiences, suggestions and any resources I have for them. They WANT me to be a partner with them and act as a confident peer where they can say what’s really on their mind and not into a void of endless open-ended questions.”

“I try to default to a coaching approach, but I always have the “consultant” and “mentor” in my toolkit.”  

And finally, while you use a lot of tools in your toolkit, you recognize that the most transformational and valuable life shifting moments for our clients most often come from what our clients discover for themselves:

“Hands down (though), the biggest and most deeply resonating a-ha moments I’ve seen clients have over the years were the ones they found themselves, not the ones I had for them.”

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, now that we know we are all wrestling with this question, where do we go from here? As coaches, it is easy to become siloed and create our own processes. We must continue to leverage what our experience and gut is telling us by walking the line of coach, mentor, and advisor. We must keep pushing the boundaries through engaging in these uncomfortable conversations with the larger coaching community. We must use our voices and experience (with our clients best interest in mind) to successfully shape the future of coaching as a profession.

We invite you to continue to conversation.  Watch for our upcoming webinar to keep the dialogue going.


– Corrie

Corrie Weikle
Director of Training | Learning In Action

P.S. We have several upcoming EQ Profile certification courses. Check out our course catalog.

Posted in: Business of Coaching|Coaching

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