Understanding the values that shape your coaching approach

One of the initial topics addressed in coach training is the non-directive nature of the coaching conversation. You may wonder “what is team coaching?” Team coaching is a collaborative and transformative process that aims to enhance the performance and effectiveness of a group or team. It involves working with the team as a whole, as well as with individual team members, to foster better communication, decision-making, and problem-solving skills.

The term ‘non-directive’, similar to its counterpart ‘non-judgmental’, can cause confusion because they both focus on what we should not do instead of providing clarity on what we should do.

There is actually a perspective that suggests that aiming to be completely non-directive as a coach can be an unproductive oversimplification.

Reconnecting with our origins

The fundamental principles of the “coaching approach” originate from Carl Rogers’s person-centered counseling and his related work. Rogers’ approach, which came about in the 1940s, marked a significant shift from the traditional doctor-patient relationship and the underlying belief that the doctor has superior knowledge.

Controversially, Rogers argued that the bond between counselor and client should be collaborative, with the client being the primary actor in setting their goals and determining the means to achieve them.

During the 1950s, Rogers made a decision to abandon the term ‘non-directive’ as he acknowledged that it is impossible for a counselor or coach to completely avoid influencing the client, even if it’s through their mere presence or nonverbal reactions. The dialogue did possess a sense of direction, but it was the client who determined the course, not the therapist’s diagnosis. Rogers eventually transitioned to using the terms ‘client-centered’ and later ‘person-centered’ in his book ‘On Becoming a Person’.

Under the influence

Since we, as coaches, primarily focus on leadership development and team performance, we possess valuable knowledge and insights. Our intention is to ensure that our clients derive benefits from this expertise, while at the same time avoiding the pitfall of simply providing advice.

In the executive coach and team coaching training programs that I lead, I frequently observe individuals grappling with this dilemma – how can I adopt a non-directive approach while motivating the coachee or client team to contemplate matters that I am aware, based on my experience, are worth exploring?

To optimize management in this situation, it is important to communicate that we do not endorse any specific actions for the client to take. However, we do guide their attention toward relevant concepts and perspectives that could be beneficial for their consideration.

Consider this scenario: if a client team expresses their desire to improve their strategy, you can inquire, “What insights have you gained in the past year that could shape this strategy?” (referring to their past experiences), “Who else has a vested interest in ensuring that your strategy is sound?” (taking into account stakeholder perspectives), or “What will your clients expect from you in two years?” (envisioning future needs). Each question steers the team’s focus in a different direction. As the coach, you have the discretion to guide them on which perspective to adopt at any given moment.

Owning our values

As knowledgeable coaches or team coaches, it is important to acknowledge the significant influence we have on our client’s priorities. This raises the question of whether it is suitable for us to consciously incorporate our personal beliefs and values into the equation.

If this situation makes you uneasy, consider this question: if a client informed you that they planned to engage in an activity that strongly contradicts your personal beliefs, like deliberately sabotaging a coworker’s professional advancement, would you be content with maintaining a completely passive approach, or would you feel compelled to challenge them?

The Systemic Team Coaching Diploma emphasizes the importance of considering the broader systems in which a team operates in order to achieve true effectiveness. This involves encouraging the team to adopt an external perspective and anticipate the impact they can have in the future. To facilitate this, the program prompts participants to think systemically by sharing information and posing thought-provoking questions that encourage exploration from a systemic standpoint.

The issue addressed in the AoEC’s climate coaching program is also examined here. coaches are encouraged to consider how they can effectively navigate the ongoing climate crisis with their clients. As both coaches and clients, we find ourselves entangled in complex and destructive systems while striving to contribute to a positive solution.

According to George Warren, one of the program’s co-creators and faculty, exploring non-human stakeholders, past ancestors, and future descendants can lead to exciting and powerful outcomes. This broad exploration allows clients to gain fresh perspectives, new insights, and increased motivation to take bold action.

Standing firm

Central to this inquiry is the fundamental concern: What is your fundamental ethos? Alternatively, what effect do you endeavor to achieve through your leadership and team coaching in the global arena?

In a coaching model, it is understandable to strive for minimal influence over the coachee. However, considering the current challenging times we are facing, characterized by significant social, political, and environmental issues jeopardizing life on Earth, it is equally important to clearly define your beliefs and actively incorporate them into your coaching approach.