Coach's Casebook

To Advise or Not to Advise – What is the question?

To Advise or Not to Advise – What is the question?

One of the themes I discussed in episodes 1 and 3 of the Coach’s Casebook Podcast was the degree of guidance that a coach could offer as part of the coaching process. To say there is a fine line between coaching and mentoring would be an understatement.

The desire to point out a solution that is staring us in the face but is not yet available to client can be overwhelming. Pure coaching, as I understand it, is more about drawing or pulling the resources out of the client. This ensures that any action plan is purely their’s and as we know, involvement generates commitment.

However, I heard a statement recently about the value of coaching that made me think about this approach.

That statement was: “Why should I pay someone to tell me that I’m not doing what I should be doing, I know that already!”

That is a really telling statement to me, because it makes me think that the coach in question hadn’t established the value of coaching in the mind of the ‘potential’ client.

At this level (more on the levels of coaching in a later blog), coaching is not merely pointing out what is not being done…It is a process of discovery to help the client understand; what is not being done, why it isn’t being done, if it should be done and how to take action to ensure that it is done!

The underlying issue for me though was that in some cases, the client is expecting a coach to offer so additional value and advice. So where does this fit in our understanding of coaching and performance improvement?
Peter Hill, in his book, Concepts for Coaching discusses a framework called the coaching spectrum. Figure 1 below.

Figure 1 the Coaching Spectrum (Adapted from Hill 2004)

This is a useful tool for a coach to use to consider how much advice and guidance they are prepared to offer in a particular situation.

It is important to note, however, that there is a psychological desire in each and everyone of us to be thought of as a bit of an expert or able to offer advice. A coach is just a person, and so we too are susceptible to this desire.

We may be expert in our particular field and so think that we can offer sound advice. We may also think that this is the most effective way to help the client over this particular hurdle. And in some cases it may be…


Beware being subject to that desire! If in the coaching environment we are drawn down to the bottom left side of the spectrum, we are vulnerable to 2 things.

1. The client takes the advice and we are inextricably bound into the outcome of any actions taken. We, as coaches can then be accused of giving the wrong advice if the outcome fails and so the trust relationship is broken with downstream impact that could be disastrous.
2. The client does not commit to the advice fully because they do not understand it fully, have not been involved in the development of that plan of action or aren’t able to fulfill the requirements that your advice requires…Leading to a failure and we are back at point 1 above!

With these observations, it is up to each coach to make a judgement as to how much advice they are willing to provide, if any, and if advice is offered, it must be backed up by demonstrable previous success or identifiable as best practice so that the coach is not exposed to accusations of ‘malpractice’ or incompetence.

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