“You have all the answers you need inside yourself,” is something I believe so strongly that it’s quoted on the early pages of one of my books. It’s the foundation of modern non-directive, collaborative coaching methods. But sometimes it’s also the slowest route to change.
When we want to make changes in life, it’s often driven by a realisation that there’s a skill set we don’t have.
Under the learning ladder model, this is called ‘conscious incompetence’ – we know what we don’t know. But real change happens at the deeper level with the subconscious habits we don’t even realise we’re running. This layer is about ‘unconscious incompetence’, made famous by Donald Rumsfeld’s quote about the Iraq war that we don’t know what we don’t know with his phrase: “There are known knowns… and there are unknown unknowns.”
When you use the collaborative coaching model, the coach never offers advice. They only ever ask questions to help the client to uncover their own answers. This can be a hugely powerful method because it helps the client to create solutions that are uniquely tailored to them. But there are times when this is the slowest way to create the changes they want. And when that client is in a leadership position, time is the one thing they don’t have.
And in a world where more and more managers are being trained to become collaborative coaches using only non-directive language, it’s risking slowing down business growth and staff development, as well as undermining the authority and respect for the leader, as they become reluctant to offer their opinions.
We’ve got out of balance.
Why have coaches become so scared to offer advice?
Many coaches pride themselves on never suggesting solutions to their clients, even if they are blindingly obvious to the coach. “Oh, I never offer advice! That’s not my role!” And for some of the coaching industry regulatory bodies, that’s an important distinction – a coach never offers advice and helps the client to find their own solutions.
Here’s the thing:
The client doesn’t actually care how they get the change they have contracted a coach to help them with.
They care about the results. And when they’re in a leadership role, they want those results as quickly and easily as possible.
Imagine learning to play the saxophone – an instrument with which I tortured my family for many years as a teenager. Imagine if your teacher were working as a collaborative coach.
You’d show up, lesson after lesson, and instead of being taught the techniques that allow your performance standards to improve in leaps and bounds, each time you got stuck they’d ask, “and what do you think you might do, to be able to play that section?” or “which beliefs about your performance do you need to change, to be able to play bar seven?” or “if you did know how to play that piece, what advice might you give yourself?”
We’d be pretty miffed.
And whilst there is a certain amount of self-belief needed to ace music exams, there’s also plenty of technique.
It’s the same with changing your life.
We might well have all the answers inside ourselves, but being forced to navel-gaze and find them, when the person opposite us already knows what they are and that the problem is causing us pain, seems cruel.
The work I do with leadership clients is at an ‘inside work’ level – dealing with the deeply subconscious root cause blocks, fears and identity-level issues that trigger the surface-level behaviours and mindset issues.
There is a time and a place for guiding a client to find their own route through the maze. The insights about how we ‘do’ the problems in our life can be invaluable. But there is also a time to offer well-chosen solutions and shortcuts that allow them to create breakthroughs in minutes, not months.
This is especially important for complex issues such as Imposter Syndrome.
This is why my clients and leadership teams get more than ‘coaching’.
They also get self-study video training for the most common challenges I have seen clients struggle with over the past eighteen years, whenever we identify the need for them. These are short courses they can go through in their own time to teach them techniques that are proven, highly effective and easy to learn on your own.
Then we use our face-to-face (or screen-to-screen) sessions to build on those breakthroughs and create new levels of insight. We’re maximising the value of the time we have together and I’m empowering my clients to learn the techniques they need, for creating change, at their own pace and at a time that suits them.
Technically this means I’m no longer ‘coaching’ – we have moved into ‘mentoring’ and ‘leadership development’. By combining mentoring with online self-study training for the essentials, it means we get to achieve in a few months what might otherwise have taken several years. And my clients get to learn techniques they can use for life, not just during our one-to-one sessions.
That’s why I don’t understand the modern obsession with non-directive coaching. I certainly wouldn’t want to work with someone who dictated what I had do and insisted I always took their advice. To grow a business, it’s essential that your team members at all levels feel heard and empowered. But I also wouldn’t want to feel stuck with someone who would never point out the blindingly obvious solution to me to a problem I didn’t even realise existed until I figured it out for myself – those unknown unknowns.
So, I’m curious:
Why do you think the coaching industry has become so paranoid about offering solutions?
And how do you think we might, as an industry, find more balance on this?
Let me know via the comments.
P.S. If this way of working resonates with you, get in touch and we’ll schedule a chat to find out whether I’m the right person for you to work with.