Is There Room for Advice in Coaching?

Learning to drive could be a metaphor for the coaching journey. During driving lessons, we stick to strict guidelines: mirror checks, signal use, the “10 and 2” or “9 and 3” hand position on the steering wheel. However, as experienced drivers, we adapt these rules to suit our style and the road we’re on, while always adhering to safety and the law. In coaching, particularly under the guidance of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a similar evolution occurs in the life of a coach. Rules are vital, but there’s room for adaptation. This brings us to a contentious question in the coaching world: Can a coach offer advice or suggestions, and if so, how?

The ICF Stance

The ICF champions a non-directive coaching approach. In this method, coaches focus on guiding clients in self-discovery rather than offering direct advice. This approach is based on the belief that clients have the innate ability to find their own solutions. Research shows that giving too much advice can be counterproductive. It may lead to people relying too much on others, losing confidence, and struggling to solve complex problems on their own. Generally, it’s best to use a non-directive coaching approach to help leaders reach their potential. However, in certain cases, specific advice may prove helpful. The ICF recognises the varied nature of coaching scenarios and permits some flexibility. It’s a matter of knowing when to strictly follow the rules and when to adjust them according to the client’s unique needs.

Perspectives from EMCC and CCE

Other coaching bodies like the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and the Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE) offer slightly different perspectives. The EMCC, for instance, emphasises the importance of context in coaching and mentoring, suggesting that there are times when offering advice might be beneficial, especially in mentorship. Similarly, the CCE recognises the diversity in coaching approaches, indicating that there’s no one-size-fits-all method.

Famous Coaches’ Approaches

Exploring the approaches of coaching giants, who have ascended to the zenith of their profession, reveals diverse strategies in the application of advice. These coaches, celebrated for their impact on both real-world scenarios and top performers, offer a fascinating look at how they interpret the rule of giving advice.

  • John Mattone uses advice as part of his coaching to help clients grow both personally and professionally. He believes that well-planned advice can be very effective in coaching.
  • Tony Robbins uses a mix of motivation and self-discovery in his coaching. He often includes advice in his overall plan for personal growth. His energetic and transformative style shows that advice can lead to big changes when it’s part of a larger strategy.
  • Marshall Goldsmith’s coaching, called Stakeholder Centered Coaching, gets advice from different people involved. This approach lets the person being coached stay in charge, with advice tailored to their goals.
  • Bill Campbell, the “Trillion Dollar Coach,” focused on empowering people and building strong relationships. He used storytelling and open conversations to guide people, letting them make their own choices and stay independent.

These coaches demonstrate that advice in coaching is not a one-size-fits-all rule but a nuanced and adaptable part of the coaching process. Whether through strategic leadership, transformative energy, inclusive stakeholder feedback, or empowering guidance, they show the varied yet effective use of advice in coaching.

When to Bend the ‘Rules’

The key to offering advice in coaching lies in knowing when and how to ‘bend the rules.’ It’s not about disregarding the foundational principles of coaching but about adapting to the client’s journey. The coach’s job is always to help the client. Sometimes, when clients are stuck or need special knowledge, a coach might share ideas as part of a bigger conversation.

This might happen if the client asks for it. Occasionally, leaders ask for advice or feedback when they are unsure, feel stuck or overwhelmed by options. Provided the coach gives their thoughts tentatively, without attachment, and explains the risks of relying on external viewpoints, this kind of help can be okay. Sometimes, the coach knows more about a certain topic than the client. If a coach doesn’t share what they know when it could help, refusal to share insights feels more like withholding rather than facilitating. Non-directive methods still apply to how a coach frames guidance, so the ultimate decision remains with the client. However, a coach sharing their expertise can help the client understand things better.

Coaching is both a science and an art and when it comes to giving advice, the skill lies in presenting these suggestions without attachment, allowing the client to choose their path.

Offering Advice Without Attachment

The art of offering advice without attachment involves presenting options rather than directives. This can be done by framing suggestions as possibilities for consideration, so maintaining the client’s autonomy in decision-making. For instance, a coach might say, “Some clients have found XYZ approach helpful, but it’s important to explore what feels right for you.”

Another way is to use reflective questions, prompting clients to consider different angles. For example, asking, “How might approach A work for you?” leads clients to their own conclusions. Sharing stories about how other people solved similar problems can give new ideas without telling the client what to do.

Providing resources for self-discovery, like articles or tools, helps clients explore options independently. Discussing the pros and cons of different approaches helps make informed decisions. Also, hypothetical scenarios can help clients envision outcomes of various choices, encouraging them to think through consequences.

These techniques enable coaches to guide and share expertise while respecting and maintaining the client’s autonomy.

Balancing Coaching Ethics with Practical Needs

Navigating the ethical landscape of advice-giving in coaching is complex. Coaches must balance the ICF’s ethical standards with the practical needs of their clients. This balance requires a deep understanding of both the coaching process and the client’s unique context. It also calls for a high level of self-awareness from the coach, to ensure that any advice given is truly in the client’s best interest and not a reflection of the coach’s own biases or agenda.

Last Word of Wisdom

While the foundational principles of coaching emphasise a non-directive approach, the real-world application can be more nuanced. Much like the experienced driver who knows when to follow the rules to the letter and when to adapt, skilled coaches understand the delicate balance between guiding and empowering. This balance is the essence of effective coaching – ensuring safety and direction while allowing for individual journey and style.

Coaching unlocks your people’s full potential to drive your organisation’s success. While requiring investment, the long-term benefits are invaluable. By fostering a coaching culture, you position your company for optimal performance now and in the future.

Questions and comments

I hope you’ve discovered some valuable insights here. I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.
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  1. International Coaching Federation: ICF Core Competencies
  2. European Mentoring and Coaching Council: EMCC Global
  3. Center for Credentialing & Education: CCE Coaching
  4. John Mattone’s Approach: Intelligent Leadership
  5. Marshall Goldsmith’s Stakeholder Centered Coaching: Marshall Goldsmith
  6. Tony Robbins: Results Coaching
  7. Bill Campbell: Trillion Dollar Coach

Photo by Pete Nuij on Unsplash