In my world of business and executive coaching my clients often beg of me in some form or fashion to “tell me what to do coach.” And my greatest temptation always is to respond by . . . well, telling them what to do. The dangers in this are twofold. First of all most of the time if I tell them what to do I’m probably unqualified to do so, for they have a much greater understanding of their business and circumstance than I’ll ever know – plus most of my clients are much smarter than me. More importantly, though, if I am too quick to offer advice I have robbed my client of the opportunity to come up with his or her own solution which is inevitably going to be much better than any advice I could ever give.
The International Coach Federation (ICF) in its infinite wisdom has established eleven core competencies that all credentialed coaches, of which I am one, are trained in. Three of those competencies specifically address how to deal with this issue “tell me what to do coach”. The first is “active listening” (core competency #5) defined by the ICF as the “ability to focus completely on what the client is saying and is not saying, to understand the meaning of what is said in the context of the client’s desires, and to support client self-expression,” in other words to really listen. The second related core competency (#6) is “powerful questioning” which is the “ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client.” And the third is “direct communication”, or the “ability to communicate effectively during coaching sessions, and to use language that has the greatest positive impact on the client.” (Source: ICF website, www.coachfederation.org)
So let me ask you, when you are searching for ideas, answers, or solutions do you really want someone to tell you what to do? Is that what you really want? Or wouldn’t you rather come up with it yourself? In seeking counsel aren’t you really just needing someone to listen – actively listen – to your situation and help you dig deeper so you can create your own ideas, answers or solutions? That’s why the ICF core competencies are such powerful tools for coaches like me.
There are times when I do know the answer and on rare occasions I find it appropriate to share that. But most of the time I find that clients are much more capable than me. My job is to help them realize that. Or as I heard at a coaching conference several months ago “sometimes what people need is a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage.”