The paradox of coaching for results: Doing less to get more

As our students progress through the Center for Executive Coaching program, they discover a fascinating and important principle about coaching: Often, the less the coach does, the better the results for clients.

There are some traps embedded in this seemingly paradoxical principle, so let's expand on it a bit.

The idea of this principle is that we should listen, ask powerful questions, and let the client have their own insights. When we do this well, the client tends to come up with creative ideas that they will implement.

Unfortunately, the inexperienced coach often falls into one of two traps when working on this principle.

Trap #1: Being too laid back. Here, the coach doesn't do much of anything. He or she asks lots of questions that go nowhere, and ends up frustrating the client.

Solution to Trap #1: The above principle only works when the coach is very skilled. An expert coach can ask one or two questions in a session that gives the client an entirely new way of looking at an issue, and moves him or her forward in a powerful direction. That is the goal. At the same time, sometimes the coach has to intervene with an observation or piece of advice to help the client get unstuck. 

Trap #2: Being too directive.  At the other extreme, the coach is too active. He or she makes suggestions, asks all sorts of questions, and does way too much work. By the end of the session, the coach feels like the smartest person in the room. The client leaves the session nodding in agreement with everything the coach said, but does not  implement anything. This is common when the coach comes from an executive or consulting background, and hasn't yet made the transition to coaching conversations and methods. We learn a lot about what the coach would do in the client's shoes, but not a lot about the client.

Solution to Trap #2: It is much more powerful to give up the need to be smart, and instead focus on getting results that the client will actually implement for improved performance. This is the true art of coaching.

At the Center for Executive Coaching, we work in depth to show you methodologies to coach clients through a variety of challenging situations — whether it is to understand and improve who they are as leaders, or to face their biggest organizational issues and opportunities. We also train you on the key conversations and processes to using coaching to get results for clients. We go into a lot of depth in these areas. starting with assessments and processes, and progressing through specific situations that you will likely encounter as you build your practice and work with clients in complex coaching situations.

However, our ultimate goal is that you achieve mastery — the ability to sit with a client and use the most elegant path possible to get phenomenal results for him or her while building a long-term, trusted advisor relationship. To do that, you have to keep this paradoxical principle in mind: Do less to get more.

I remember reading about a consultant who took over one of the top consulting firms in the world. The article quoted a colleague as saying the following about him: "When he goes into a client meeting, he will be silent for a whole hour, and then asks a single question that changes the way everyone thinks about the issue we are discussing." While this individual was a consultant and not a coach in title, I believe that he followed the same principle that we strive to achieve as coaches.

If you decide to get into coaching as a profession, please keep this principle in mind. It will make your professional life that much more fulfilling, and your clients that more grateful for the value of your work with them.

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