A simple statement but one that is true on many levels and often gets overlooked in our continued development as coaches. A recent conversation with a colleague re-sparked my thinking on the topic of why exactly coaches never* give advice to clients, no matter how much they ask or how good it feels in the moment. This post discusses some of those reasons and I hope it gives you, as a coach, some new perspectives, or reminds you of what you already knew, to deepen your commitment to advice-free coaching.
When I think about advice giving, my thinking returns to redefine my goal as a coach through coaching which is loosely defined as:
A coach’s role is to engage with their clients’ goals as a thought-partner to create transformational changes that honors the clients’ right to self-determination and holds them as a capable, competent leader of their own life.
Your definition may be slightly differently, but let’s run advice giving through my definition to see how poorly it aligns.
“A coach’s role is to engage with their clients’ goals”
Inputting advice into this equation puts the coach in the position of assuming they know the full extent of their clients’ goals well enough to take control. Every goal a client has is essentially a stepping stone to a further desire, there is zero way for a coach to maintain a mental representation of a client’s future goals to the extent that would be required to serve the client. Engagement is a process of taking what the client presents and pushing them further, shifting focus, holding a magnifying glass on certain aspects and allowing the client to state what they see etc. None of these things can effectively occur if the client is trying to get behind the lens you are presenting advice through.
“as a thought-partner”
Advice givers like to use the idea of being a “thought-partner” as an invitation to offer their perspectives. There is absolutely room in coaching for the beneficial sharing of ideas and stories, etc., but only without attachment and when the client derives the meaning for themselves. You will often hear clients tell a story and say something along the lines of “when you hear that story, what stands out to you?” or “what, if anything, from that story might apply to your situation today?” This can demonstrate full partnership in coaching. Saying “you need to do this” is not a statement of partnership, no matter how pure of intention.
“to create transformational changes”
This is the big one. Hopefully at some point in your coaching journey you have heard the saying “coach people, not problems.” If the goal of coaching is a transformational shift, that means that the client will be able to take what they have discovered about themselves, or shifted in their thinking, and apply it to other areas in their work/life. Advice is a one-trick pony. It typically only works in that one scenario and doesn’t serve to develop the clients own thinking. Advice also decreases a client’s belief in their capabilities by reinforcing a model of external problem-solving. Many coaches work with clients that have some level of imposter syndrome – the feeling that they are not qualified/capable to do the role they are in and will someday be found out and fired. Consider the damage that could be created by reinforcing these beliefs by giving them “the answer.” They will take the advice as further evidence of their deception instead of experiencing a shift through coaching that utilizes their strengths to increase their competence and belief in their abilities in this role, and other future roles/scenarios.
“that honors the client’s right to self-determination and holds them as a capable, competent leader of their own life.”
A coach believes that their client is both fully capable, and the master of their own destiny. If you don’t feel this way about your client, it may be time to strongly consider why you are coaching them and who it is serving. A coach’s role is not to replace the client in their organization but rather to develop their client to step more fully into their leadership potential. Through coaching, I have realized that no matter how good my ideas are, the client and only the client can determine their path forward. This is because an idea is worthless without implementation and unless the client creates the solution, they won’t be able to see or manage all the details and obstacles that will arise. They will face resistance and that resistance will be met with resentment to their coach’s bad advice instead of a commitment to the goal and the capacity to maneuver obstacles to achieve it.
Advice goes against the very foundations of what coaching relationships are built from. The value a client will get from your undivided pure coaching energy will be more powerful and will set them on a trajectory that will see coaching value continue long after the engagement is over. Most coaches that find themselves giving advice simply want to help a client that is stuck but miss the opportunity in their discomfort to add even greater value by sticking to their coaching values and tools.
My intention is not to discourage any coach who has given advice but rather to shift the focus to what could be possible in these moments when you want to give advice if you could truly stand in your clients’ greatness and use your coaching gifts to draw out their full potential.
In your greatness,
Cade Murphy is a champion for the development and protection of pure coaching ideology.