There are many different styles and approaches to leadership coaching, and there is no one right answer that will work for every client! However, in this article, I’d like to show the distinction because two styles, through presenting a recent story from my own life.

About 1 month ago, I had my first baby with my husband. As prepared as we thought we were for this new darling person in our lives 24-7, we found out quickly that we were grossly mistaken. Many days, our newborn cries for 3-4 hours almost inconsolably, despite being well-fed, diaper changed, burped, sung to, temperature checked, etc. etc.

My husband is usually convinced he knows what is wrong with the baby(he usually thinks it’s trapped gas). Without getting into too much gory detail, my husband then proceeds to maneuver the baby into various positions and techniques he reads about online to release the gas, including massaging the baby;s stomach, bicicyling his legs, and giving him gas drops.

Usually, these techniques result in the baby getting even more agitated than he was before(though my husband swears it’s helping! :)).

My approach, on the other hand, is slightly different. I tend to have no idea what’s wrong with the baby, though I may have my hypotheses. I try them out: maybe there is too much light in the room, so I darken it. Maybe he’s still hungry, so I feed him some more. When all fails though, I resort to the only thing I know I can do: just holding him and soothing him, letting him know I’m there for him 100%. I hold him in my arms loosely, however, letting him move around in whatever way he naturally wants to. I don’t “try” anything, but i simply observe him and try to understand what seems to bring him the most comfort.

This freedom with support has a magical way of relaxing his nervous system. Surprisingly many times(though not always), that is all it takes to quell his crying spells and calm him down.

The “Fixing” Coaching Style

So what does this have to do with leadership coaching styles? Too often, I find coaches can be in a rush to “fix” a client or give them a ready answer, without fully exploring and understanding the REAL problem. This can most commonly happen with coaches who are already seasoned and experienced in their fields and seem to think they have all the answers. It is a more “masculine” style of coaching that is definitive, active, and certain.

This style is useful, perhaps, when a client is dithering for weeks or months and making no progress because they are unable to make a decision! However, it runs the grave risk that the coach has misread the actual problem or hurdle holding their client back, and is instead just solving for the “symptom” – thus providing short-term relief, or no relief at all!

For example: A client may present with the problem that they are unable to get a promotion in their current job. A coach who uses this “fixing” style will dig into his arsenal of experiences and recommend to the client to find a new company to work with, where he/she has better career growth prospects.

The problem is, this may or may not be a TRUE solution to the problem. What really needs exploring is WHY the client is unable to get promoted in their current position. Is it a lack of confidence, or poor communication skills? Is it an inability to collaborate fully? These types of problems are likely to follow the client around, no matter what company or role he joins. Thus, finding a new position would just be a temporary fix, at best.

Furthermore, the side effect of this coaching style is exactly what it sounds like: developing a leader who always believes they have the answer, when in fact, they don’t! The client learns to be a leader who practices one-way communication: from leader to team members. He/she just wants to fix problems asap, rather than really delve into the root cause of them, thus simply putting on a temporary band-aid. Doesn’t sound very effective, does it?

The “Collaborating” Coaching Style

On the other hand, a coach can simply listen, empathize, and be endlessly curious. She can listen to the client describe the problem and try to fully understand the depth of it. Once she has done so, she can try to mirror the emotions the client is feeling: “It sounds so frustrating being in a situation where you’re trying so hard and not feeling recognized.” She can then begin to explore with the client “What do you think you might be doing that’s causing this?” “Where else do you do this in your life?” “How do you think you could change this behavior?” etc.

The majority of the coaching session would be less prescriptive and more exploratory, brainstorming ideas and strategies together and coming up with a couple that the client feels good about pursuing. This also helps develop a leader who is open-minded, exploratory, and empathetic: one who is open to two-way communication: receiving input and ideas from team members and building on those ideas. Sounds like a better recipe for success to me!

The moral of the story is: our primal needs have not changed much since we were babies! We, as human beings, usually desire support, understanding, and some level of autonomy from others — rather than authority and being imposed upon!

Coaching is about collaborating, and not fixing, a client. It is about helping the client discover their own solution by providing them unconditional security and non-judgment. A coach is allowed to have their opinion, for sure, but they should also be ready to be totally wrong. Demonstrating this openness and vulnerability as a coach is the surefire way of helping develop a truly effective leader for the modern day.

If you believe in the collaborative leadership coaching style and would like to learn more, visit CultureCounts.io and explore what we do, and then get in touch!