Coaches – Are We Challenging Enough?

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Come to the edge. We can‘t. We‘re afraid.

Come to the edge. We can‘t. We will fall!

Come to the edge. And they came.

And he pushed them. And they flew.

By Guillaume Apollinaire

Coaches need to be more challenging! That’s one of the main conclusions from the book Challenging Coaching by Ian Day and John Blakey.

When asked to score their coaching style on a scale from 0 (supportive, attending to the clients agenda, with empathy, summarizing and active listening) and 10 (challenging, positively confronts, holds the client accountable, provides honest feedback, challenges assumptions and the coach uses intuition and takes risks), most coaches score themselves between 3 and 6. Perhaps not surprising as most coaches want to help and support people.

However, the authors argue that too often in business (and in life in general) people actively avoid challenging interventions fearing that these will cause disruption and create ill-will. A high level of challenge is not inherently ‘wrong‘. Indeed the absence of challenge in a business environment risks complacency, indulgence, apathy and disinterest.

What are the skills needed by coaches to be highly supportive and highly challenging?

Feedback – providing challenging feedback that informs and inspires, and ensures that praise and recognition for a job well done are balanced with honest feedback on mistakes, learning, and failures.

Accountability -coaching clients are held accountable for commitments without blame or shame. Accountability is extended from personal commitments to alignment with the values, strategy, and ethos of the wider organisation. The coach anticipates the rising tide of accountability in the world at large and is a role model this behaviour in their daily work.

Courageous goals – moving beyond rational, incremental goal-setting models such as SMART, to goal-setting that engages the right-brain attributes of courage, excitement, inspiration, and transformation.

Tension—tension is constructive and is used to optimise performance without risking burnout. Tension in a conversation can be calibrated and dynamically adjusted to ensure peak performance.

Systems thinking— coaching within the big picture issues such as sustainability, values, ethics, and the long term performance that reaches beyond the immediate individual and touches on deeper organisational change. The coach can learn from the world of systems thinking which enables the coach to be a positive agent of change for the wider organisation.

By using the acronym FACTS they grounded the approach in a word that sums up a theme of realism, honesty and challenge. Many coaches may say that they do many of these things already, however, the authors encourage coaches to turn up the volume and consistently do more and take risks to push further.

My own view is that there is probably something in this idea. As coaches, we can want to be liked too much! The challenge for coaches though is to judge where to be on that spectrum at any moment in time. And that’s quite a challenge!

For more information see

Challenging Coaching–Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS is published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing

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