Coaching is goal-centred, client-centred and focused on results. The distinguishing factor of great coaching is that clients learn a huge amount about themselves and their situation as the coaching develops, but very importantly, the coaches are not teaching the clients.

Almost every new coach who I meet at training events asks the question,

‘Do coaches give advice?’

I reply with "there are many coaches who do and there are many coaches who do not". The question that often follows is,

‘Should coaches give advice?’

My reply is that it really depends on the coach’s definition of coaching and where that coach sits on the continuum of coaching from directive to non-directive. I would not tell another coach that s/he can or cannot give advice; that is a matter for each individual coach. I do however have a clear view as to where I sit on the continuum and some of the reasons for that positioning. My starting point is that there is a massive difference between using coaching skills and actually coaching. Many people come to coach training events because they want to add coaching skills to their portfolio. Coaching skills are, after all, great life skills to have. Who wouldn’t see the benefits of attentive listening, asking powerful questions, goal setting, challenging limiting beliefs and helping others to move toward their desires? 

‘The art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another.’

At its simplest level, the coach enables the client to define clearly where they want to be, (perhaps need to be in corporate coaching!) and then to work with the client to identify the steps forward. Coaching is goal-centred, client-centred and focused on results. The distinguishing factor of great coaching is that clients learn a huge amount about themselves and their situation as the coaching develops, but very importantly, the coaches are not teaching the clients. It is the sequenced, probing and purposeful questions from the coach that allow pertinent insights from the client to surface. Those moments offer clients the greatest value and give coaches the ultimate reward and satisfaction for their efforts. In the purest form of coaching, which I also believe is the most beneficial to clients, there is no room for advice giving. That is a bold statement. My belief is that coaches with great skills, used in non-directive ways, can help their clients achieve fantastic results without input, advice, stories and prompts. There is a place for all these ‘assists’, but I believe too often coaches resort to these aids too quickly. This denies clients their opportunity to discover those insights for themselves, to really tap into the potential they possess and to enjoy the satisfaction of discovering their own great steps forward. The access to this level of coaching is for the coach to develop fantastic skills and then to use those skills in a non-directive manner and in my opinion, this is what sets the superb coach apart from the average. I believe that coaches do their clients a disservice when they ask questions to lead the client to discover what is already in the head of the coach, rather than accessing the client’s inner wisdom. 

‘My coaching is only as a good as the options the client generates.’

As our belief and skills in the coaching process grows, so our desire as coaches to offer suggestions decreases. There is a time factor here, you may say. Offering suggestions can speed up the process. True or false? It won’t surprise you to hear me say, ‘False’. The value of coaching lies not just in helping clients get to the end of a session with options, but in building motivation, raising awareness, generating ownership and commitment to change. All my experience suggests that giving advice hinders all the above and reduces the possibility of life-long learning. 

‘It often takes longer to do things badly than to do things well.’

Advice often springs from the thought we have, ‘If I were the client, I would…’ We all spend much of our daily lives passing information we receive through the filter paper that asks, ‘What does this mean for/to me?’ As coaches, the art of being able to be a clean and clear space is a constant challenge. We need to remember that we are not the client. There are often huge differences – gender, age, experience, background, faith, to name but a few. Our advice is often from a different context, different culture, is historical and reflects our preferences. Once we get an idea, we can become less objective and at worst, may become focused solely on that one thought. As a result, we adopt a whole variety of assumptions that accompany our opinion, most of which mean we take our attention off the client’s map of the world. Their map is always the key one. You may think, ‘If the client had all the answers surely they wouldn’t need coaching?’ Wrong … they may have some great ideas but they haven’t found solutions yet that will work well for them to their satisfaction. Some clients can recite loads of options but that’s not the end. In these scenarios, the coach needs to find out what the client is really seeking for from the coaching. Is it to build desire, raise motivation, or face the fear? The coach needs to help the client discover the vital missing link to ensure their success! That comes from great questioning.

For more advice on effective coaching review our CPD Programme

*Effective Coaching by Myles Downey (Texere Publishing, 2003)


Myles Downey The Coaching Academy Coaching Questions Facilitating performance of other Should coaches give advice? Do coaches give advice? CPD Programme


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