I am a coach, I tell you what to do!

As much as we state it in the beginning of a coaching contract, some clients continue to want us to tell them what to do. As if we knew. I recently had an experience with a senior client who was very disappointed that he only developed ideas by himself, even though I had spent time in the “chemistry call” making it very clear that I cannot and will not tell him what to do. The most I can do is share my thoughts, but whatever the client decides to do would be up to him.

In coaching, we support clients in their learning about a topic, about themselves, about how they learn. If we encourage them to rely on our advice and assume it is “correct”, we are doing the opposite: instead of thinking for themselves and developing their “thinking muscles”, the clients lean back and let the coach do the work. John Whitmore, the father or modern day coaching, defined the purpose of coaching as “creating responsibility and awareness”. It is hard to do that by giving advice.

In the coachosphere, we find different positions on the topic of “advice”. The International Coaching Federation seems to reject advice as part of the coaching relationship. The European Mentoring and Coaching Council seems to be more lenient, as they include mentoring in the activities that they cover. In the wild wild web, we often find “coaches” who tell people what to do. The dominant narrative on Instagram seems to be: “Do what I do, I will coach you to beauty, success and photoshopped pictures on a non-existent yacht”.

So how do we navigate the waters of client expectations vs. our own profession as coaches? Here are some questions to consider (and I am trying to stay clear of giving advice here):

  • How do you define your success as a coach?
  • If the client is stuck, how do you feel?
  • How do you align with how the client wants to grow?
  • How do you hold the awareness that only the client can determine the pace and topic of their growth?
  • What happens in situations when you think you know something that may be helpful to the client?
  • What happens when you hear the client praise your expertise as a coach?
  • How do you define what you do as a coach?
  • How do you measure your value as a coach?

I find this topic not an easy one. Most coaches I know are motivated by the desire to help others. They are humble, empathetic, kind human beings. Yet, they live in a world which wants them to prove that their conversations are valuable and worth their money — a catch 22. There is no way you can measure the impact of a conversation or compare impacts of two different conversations. There is no possible control group, every case is different and we cannot turn back the time and also have no second universe at our disposal for comparison.

It remains a personal question: How do I do my best to show up as the best coach I can be for every client?

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