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Coach Leader

April 23, 2017

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. —John Quincy Adams

The coach must believe in the possibilities for the coachee, even in the absence of belief of others or indeed at times the coachee themselves. 

The coach’s job is to support development in the coachee around ‘that which is not yet know’, this is the actual growth arena.   

In Johari’s window this is the quadrants unknown to the coachee (blind self) and often that which is unknown to the coach (hidden self). 

The work of the coach isn’t to know better, or to know first, the coaches role is to create the conditions and environment that supports transformational change in the individual and in their relationships with others. 

The coach uses a range of questions (probing, open, reflective and occasionally leading or closed questions) as an encouragement for the coachee to consider new or alternative solutions to the issue(s) they have brought to the session – and of course, as noted above in the hidden self, areas the coach themselves may not have considered emerging as a solution either, and therefore the coach also has the opportunity to grow.  

Fearless compassion

Of note when considering questions is that leading questions can, if not used carefully, suggest to the coachee that the agenda is being led by the coach, to the coach’s end point rather than an internal process of change from the coachee. Closed questions, when overused or not used carefully, can feel like an interrogation rather than exploration. 

The coach’s role is that of fearless compassion – the ability to provide honest (difficult) feedback, from a position of believing in the individual, with compassion rather than a place of criticism – a difficult balance requiring patience and skill. 

Of note however that ‘feedback’ would not normally be in the form of ‘telling’ but is more likely to take the form of probing and reflective questioning in pursuit of the coachee’s understands of self being enhanced, developed and transformed. When providing the compassionate feedback it is more productive and more likely to be ‘heard’ if positive exploration and feedback takes place before highlighting areas for development. When leading with negative feedback the coachee can ‘shut down’, feeling attacked or not validated even if then followed up with positive reflections. When leading with positive exploration the coachee’s natural desire for balance is more likely to enable them to hear the follow up less positive aspects of feedback or discovery.  

Be specific – feedback and exploration to be constructive and to be of value needs to be specific. Exploration needs to focus on specific behaviours rather than generalised feelings. This will lead to specific actions the coachee can implement after the session i.e. feedback is future focused even when learning from the past. 

Scott in her book Radical Candor (Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity) takes a similar, albeit management approach, related to the value of productive feedback rather than ‘ruinous empathy’ from which no-one learns. Although Scott’s managerial approach is likely to be more directive e.g. in an appraisal setting, the same principle of fearless compassionate feedback and exploration is recommended. 

It is not necessarily the role of the coach to understand the system in which the coachee works. If the coach is an expert in the coachee’s area of work it might lead to an outside-in approach i.e. the coach as an outside influence influencing the coachee because they (the coach) have a desired outcome in mind. The coach’s role should be that that of a transformational facilitator, and as we know transformational change always starts from the inside-out. In other words when considering what change means, it is not just about thinking differently, it is also about acting and behaving differently. The outward manifestation of inward change. 
To be an effective transformational coach the coach’s role is to support and guide the coachee to be the change they want to see – this is about role modelling of leadership beliefs and behaviours. 

Coaching influences 

A coach needs to be mindful that there are three (potentially four) areas of influence within the coaching room:

– the individual coachee, 

– the coach and their own self awareness/skills 

– and the coach:coachee relationship.  

Depending on the reason for the coaching sessions taking place there may also be the coachee’s organisation as an unseen, but ever present influence on the ‘desired, transformation. Effectively this brings a fourth influence to bear on the coach-coachee relationship, one which both coach and coachee are aware of, but one which mustn’t become the dominant influence, as was noted above this would lead to outside-in change rather than transformational inside-out change. 

The coach:coachee relationship can often determine the depth of transformational change the coachee is able to develop. Equally however the desires of the wider organisation, its values and beliefs, can impact on the desire for and outcomes of any transformation. 

NB the coach also has to be open to learning within the coach:coachee relationship – no two relationships are the same, the coach must suspend ‘knowing’ for open learning, informed, but not driven by, past experience – in relationships where the coach is pursuing an organisational agenda their own learning is likely to be less impactful. 


For transformational change to be effective it requires the coachee to continuously reflect and revisit agreed actions and behaviours to ensure ‘older’ more comfortable ways do not re-emerge and undermine the change. Of importance when considering what change means, it is not just about thinking differently, it is also about acting and behaving differently. 

Change however comes in two stages, or two depths. Changing something you already do e.g. acknowledging and saying thanks to team members for their input/commitment and relatively easy change is to do more of this, in other words it doesn’t challenge the coachees underlying assumptions that it’s a good thing to do, it merely serves to reinforce it or make it more preeminent in your behaviours. However for someone who sees no need to say thanks e.g. they are simply doing the job they get paid to do, why is that worthy of any additional comment or thanks. The change is more fundamental and can challenge their core beliefs. 

Hawkins & Smith call this ‘second order learning’, it can be characterised by behavioural/emotional change rather than a simply intellectual change. 

This illustrates the intertwined relationship between coaching and supervision – they both focus on the needs of the individual. One ‘supervision’, focuses on the restorative, self care element of the individual, the other ‘coaching’, focuses on the individual growing professionally through change. 


If there’s no commitment in the coaching session, there will be no commitment/action post the session. 

Courage is strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped. Wisdom is prudent strength (Gwande). Fear can initially emerge when the coachee is faced with changing behaviours and approaches that they have practiced for years – but if the coachee desires real transformational change the fear will have to be faced and overcome – it’s the coaches role to support and guide them on that journey. 

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