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Does the Client Really Have All the Answers?

October 27, 2017

I’ve been wrestling with this question for some time.  Must I only ask and never tell? Does the client really have all the answers? I recently completed a course intended to prepare me for MCC.  While it truly transformed my understanding of coaching (from an ICF perspective), I also found it frustrating.  When I tried this more MCC –like approach with my clients, many just didn’t want to play along.  (Likely because I had “trained” them to expect something different from me).  All the same, when I recently surveyed my clients about what works about our coaching and what they wanted more of from me, the comment most frequently made was “Tell me what you think!”

Does only asking questions work?

I attended the Institute of Coaching conference in Boston a couple of weeks ago and had the opportunity to get up close and personal with few high profile coaches to ask them this question.    I spoke with David Peterson, head of coaching and leadership for Google and asked him, “How much do you believe the idea that the client has their own answers?”  He responded “If you didn’t know where the bathroom was and said to me, ‘I want to figure out how to find the bathroom”, am I going to ask you how you feel about it, or why you want to go to the bathroom or what finding the bathroom is going to give you? No!  I’m going to tell you where the bathroom is!”  This pretty much summed up what I heard from a number of coaches who attended this very academic conference, focused on the research and study of the efficacy of coaching.  

Also, I had the opportunity to spend a day in a small group with Marshall Goldsmith.  I asked Marshall point blank his stance on the efficacy of the classic ICF-style approach of mainly just asking questions.  His response: “There is no scientific evidence of any kind that proves that approach to coaching works.  Mine works.  I have decade of proof that it does.”  BTW, Marshall requires all his clients sign a contract saying that they’ll do exactly what he tells them to do.  Neat job if you can get it. 😊

Do you break the rules?

Last, I had the good fortune to meet the funny and charming CEO of Coachville, David Buck, at a camp for entrepreneurs that we attended this summer.  We, too, got to talking about this question and he let me know that he had just written an article on a similar topic for Choice Magazine, entitled Breaking the Rules: Is it Time for the Coaching Paradigm to Expand.  In it, he compares the ICF model of coaching to yoga and  his model for “Real Coaching” to the Olympics.  The ICF Co-Active model as he calls it is not about performance and “Real Coaching” is.  BTW, Dave would love your feedback on his article.  You can email him at

What is coaching?

Do my clients come to me because they want to perform better?  Of course!  Do my clients also want clarity and restoration of the essence of who they are?  Do they not only want to perform better, but also BE better? Be more of who they want to be?  Be self creating?  YES!  So, I think for me, coaching is about being with the tension of self-inquiry around what will serve my client best – advising them in a way that can improve their performance or coaching them toward empowerment, resourcefulness and self-authorship.   Or more likely, a delicate blend of both.

What about you?  What do you think?  What is coaching to you?  What model do you follow?   

We’d love to hear about it.

– Alison


Posted in: Coaching

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