Listening vs. Giving “Advice” in Executive Coaching: A Balancing Act

Most often when people describe what executive coaching is and is not, one of the golden rules mentioned is that to be a good executive coach, we should NEVER give “advice”, provide solutions, or tell our clients what to do, or how to do it. We are instead there to listen actively, ask questions, mirror and rephrase what our clients say, challenge their assumptions, so as to help them look at situations from different angles and to strengthen their self-awareness levels. With that, we can hope clients will find the solutions to the challenges they might be facing by themselves.

This is without any doubt an extremely valuable service we offer to our clients, as the higher their seniority level is, the harder it gets for them to benefit from this type of intervention from those around and below them.  The tendency from the latter would probably be, indeed, to show how useful and smart they are by problem solving and offering solutions, and to absolutely refrain from providing constructive feedback or challenging the leader too much.

SO YES: there is a lot of power in staying away from anything that resembles consulting/mentoring/problem solving/saying what to do in executive coaching.

What happens when clients actively ask us to share our views/thoughts, advice on how to proceed? This is a situation that actually happens rather often. Shall we just respond with another question which would sound like: What are your thoughts on this? Or What would you do if you had a supportive self-talk? Or What are some options you may want to consider? Yes, we probably should. At the same time, I believe, we would also add a lot of value by asking authorization to share a few best practices and/or theories about common leadership competencies with which leaders often struggle with. As executive coaches, if the industry background we come from does not matter so much to be effective, our expertise with regards to leadership competencies does matter. I believe it is normal for a C-suite leader to expect quite a good know-how from us on best leadership practices, and on competencies such as communication effectiveness, delegation, feedback provision, managing as a coach, establishing authority, decision making, to mention just a few.

SO YES: good executive coaches should also have a good tool box with diverse best practices, theories, frameworks related with leadership competencies that they can share and offer to their clients when need be, to help them thinking on how to move forward.

To sum up, in my view, good executive coaching is a balancing act between being a mirror, an accountability partner, a devil’s advocate that provokes reflection and self-questioning  and being a leadership expert who can share different tools for clients to choose from without this being perceived as giving advice.

Picture Vanessa Pro 2018.jpg