Pragmatic advice for coaches, managers & leaders

How to avoid coaching like a robot

Attend many commercial coaching programmes and you are almost bound to be shown a coaching model that it is suggested you follow in your practice. There are many of them about. Probably the most well-known in the UK is the GROW model that was made popular by Whitmore (2003) where coaches take clients through a path of Goal, Reality, Options and Wrapping it all up. But there are plenty of others: ACHIEVE (Dembkowski and Elridge, 2003) that focuses on Honing goals and Valid action; and even POSITIVE (Libri, 2004) which again centres much of its formula around Insight (level of commitment to achieving the goal) and Team (who will you share your goal with?). Each has at its core the identification of and action planning for, success, against a clearly stated goal.

I think these process models have probably helped thousands of people engage in coaching, grasp the understanding of the philosophy of coaching and in turn, help others succeed.

The limitation of these models however, is that they can become overly-relied upon. Coaches only moving in a linear way from one element of the model to the next e.g. I can’t explore the Reality of your current situation before we have fully explored the Goal – if I was a coach relying on the GROW model. I have had the pleasure of meeting Sir John Whitmore and reading his work. My understanding is that he never intended that coaches apply the model in such a restricted way. And nor should you; regardless of the model.

If you analysed my coaching conversations, indeed those of any experienced coach, it is highly likely that you would be able to show that I covered elements of pretty much any coaching model within my work. However, it would certainly not be in an easily identifiable way and I am certainly not following any prescribed route.

I don’t coach to a model and here’s why …

I want to engage with the human being that is the client. I bring all my attention to what is being said and what is not being said. I can’t do that if I am consciously moving someone through a process. I want my client to feel they have engaged in a challenging but fully supportive conversation that they lead. The broader goals may have been dictated by the sponsor (person funding the programme) but the client rather than the coach should hold the balance of power in the coaching conversation. I contend that cannot happen if I am overly reliant on a model.

Why do some coaches find the need for such a model-heavy approach?

I think they may be several reasons, outlined below are a few of the most common:

1. In my experience of developing coaches individually and in organisations, there is a level of security that a model can bring. The clear steps help a new coach “keep on track”.

2. A model brings an element of tangibility to a coaching conversation, that not having a model lacks.

3. Remaining on track with a model may limit the opportunities to go into deeper conversations; some coaches may be reluctant (sometimes rightly) to engage in discussions of such depth.

My advice is if you feel the need to have a model lead your coaching, try putting in the backseat whilst you remain in the co-pilot’s seat (yes, the client is in the pilot’s seat!). Keep it as an aide memoire, something to refer to, but try flying without the autopilot on. Have a go at going where the client leads (within reason) and see how that effects the results that you help your client achieve. I think you may be pleasantly surprised.

Photo credits

If you want to improve the results of your business and that of your clients, contact me here or glenn(at) and we can discuss how I can help you to improve your coaching skills and the results you are able to produce.