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At risk of being coached?

I met someone earlier this week and we were talking about coaching. The conversation turned towards how some practitioners take a very purist stance towards coaching and how others don’t.

In this instance, a purist stance would be what is often termed “non-directive”. That is to say that the coaches role is purely to ask open questions without directing the client, using the clients own language… The main principle is that the coach does not in any way provide advice or direct the clients actions.

To be pedantic there is no such thing as “non-directive” in any human interaction but that’s another blog!

Whose Risk? 

I’m not knocking the spirit or the practice of “non-directive” coaching. However, this isn’t always what a client wants. In an organisational setting it’s not always what a client needs. So who decides?

Take for example a manager who is having trouble performance managing members of staff. The purpose of the coaching & the contracting with the coach is focussed on improving the managers ability to deal with performance situations.

In the coaching conversation, the manager decides to take a course of action that to an informed outsider would clearly put them & their organisation at risk – say unfair dismissal.

If the “non-directive” coach, identified the risk how could they intervene and remain “non-directive”? It’s a perfectly reasonable & professional practice in any form of coaching (or mentoring) to seek permission to “take off the coaching hat” to offer thoughts or reactions. However, for a purist coach to do this in some way would seem to undermine the whole purpose of being “non-directive”.

Here’s another perhaps more important issue. What would happen if the “non-directive” coach didn’t appreciate the risk being taken. After all this is not what they were employed to do. Could they become complicit with reinforcing the clients’ agenda and decision to take a detrimental course of action?

Who decides what a clients wants and what a client needs? Whose risk is it?

The ill advised need sound advice 

Coaching is not about giving advice. However, it is about care for our clients.

Fundamentally, no amount of “non-directive” coaching will help the ill advised follow a safer course of action. In fact, the above example shows that “non-directive” coaching may even enforce their stance.

In any other walk of life, it’s hard to imagine a paid professional sitting across from their client and letting them pursue a course of action that would put them at peril without raising their own concerns.

Perhaps this is why organisations tend to “buy” coaches with industry & leadership experience rather than purely coaching qualifications.

Does purist coaching make sense in organisations? 

I can’t say never, but I have a long standing concern…

Even though we always strive to help our client determine their own agenda and actions, coaching is a human interaction. Human interactions require us to give of each other and see each other – @Projectlibero puts this very eloquently here.

In organisations, we are working in systems where potential risks and consequences of our actions can be amplified. If we don’t share our care and concerns do we potentially put our clients at risk?

What do you think?


4 thoughts on “At risk of being coached?

  1. Great post David – as always the voice of reason. The coaching offered by the newly qualified coaches who have no business or leadership experience – but lots of shiny new questioning skills – I call 'empty coaching'. They certainly have the ability to provoke some thinking, listen and summarise but may not be able to relate to the situation the leader is trying to wrestle with. This makes empathy hard to achieve and without experience to draw on intuition may be limited.I think there's a balance; in helping coaches and mentors to develop their skills the common development need is around asking more 'content-free' questions. So many new coaches (especially managers as coaches) fall in to the 'Did you, Are you, Is it?' type questioning. I recently worked with a group where I was encouraging them to only use 'What' and 'How' questions and they got round that by asking "How about if you did …" or "What about telling him to …"So, I see our job as helping people to think, organise and structure their thoughts sometimes and where appropriate – move to action. That may mean sharing an idea we have or a technique or pointing them towards a great book or TED talk. It may also be about flagging a risky strategy or illegal action …


    Posted by Margaret Burnside | June 13, 2012, 8:56 AM
  2. Thanks for adding so much more to this Margaret!  Myself & I think many coaches recognise how you describe the role of the coach in themselves.What's striking for me is how in all my interactions in the coaching world, I've never heard coach training institutes, professional bodies or even those prolific authors describe coaching in this manner.  Is it just "safe" for such influencers to describe coaching as being non-directive and offering "advice" as taboo?  That reminds of this blog which is somewhat related 😦 fear is that those who would appear to be promoting best practice standards are (perhaps inadvertently) creating dogma or orthodoxy that in reality serves those at the apex…  John Campbells words from the EMCC Conference last year still ring loudly in my ears : Funnily enough, the significant figures in the UK profession who I've heard or sensed embracing these dialogues are the faculty at Sheffield Hallam.  Perhaps they have the motivation needed to look beyond the group think of others…


    Posted by davidgoddin | June 14, 2012, 10:44 AM
  3. Hi David,

    I think we get too hung up on the terminology and forget that we are dealing with an individual who by nature of the fact that they are engaging with an outside entity is looking to improve their own personal effectiveness. Coaching should take into account individual needs and personality so progress can be made as quickly as possible to the benefit of the coachee without it being too long and unnecesarily arduous. As your post says, it’s all about the client!

    For me I hate dealing with true dogmatic coaches. I feel that it is death by a thousand questions and that the person I am in front of has or should have a whole load of experiences that could and should be shared if I am to find a solution to what I need to progress. I believe that a good coach knows when to step in to mentor mode and offer up some ideas and a concept that could add value to the coaching process but more importantly the relationship.

    Best regards,



    Posted by Peter Ramsden | November 6, 2012, 4:38 PM
    • Hi Peter – appreciate you adding here. Strong agreement with your points!

      I’m a huge advocate of taking into account the individual needs to create the right solution. Yet, so many coaches seem to pursue coaching as a fixed product… you know, 6 sessions of 1.5hrs face to face… How does the coach know that suits the client? How does the coach know that change will be effected in 9hrs?

      It’s another form of dogma being imposed on clients.


      Posted by David Goddin | November 6, 2012, 6:14 PM


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