Coaches as Counsellors

The point of coaching is to help people achieve more; whether in life or in their career.

In sport, a coach does the same thing; they can’t get on the field and tackle someone on behalf of their team, or volunteer to take the shot on behalf of their athlete.

Why then do some people think that coaching in business might be any different?

The role of a coach in helping someone get past an obstacle or to reach a significant goal, is to ask the questions that allow their client to see past the mental blocks that we all build for ourselves; it’s the job of the coach to offer a view from another angle by asking the client to reflect on something which the coach perceives to be a sticking point, thereby focussing the client’s attention on finding an answer within themselves to unlock or unblock.

However, in the course of an intervention it is possible to find the client dwelling on something that seems to them to be an insurmountable problem, in fact it becomes obvious that the problem is not solvable for other reasons than logical reasoning. The coaching has moved into a remedial situation and out of a coaching one. To ensure a duty of care for the coachee the coach must realise when this happens and then take the appropriate action.

The coach has, I believe, two choices at this point:

Explain to the client that you are not comfortable with continuing to explore the issue, or don’t feel that you are the right person to be doing so. Suggest they find a professional who can advise as well as ask and listen, and who has training in personal and inter-personal counselling.

Explain that this isn’t your key area of expertise, but that you have a degree of experience in such matters and, if they clearly understand that, and are prepared to accept that the dynamic of the intervention is about to change dramatically, continue the conversation, attempting to stay within the bounds of a normal coaching framework, but perhaps offering the client encouragement to keep going through what may be a very testing conversation.

There is a third option; namely that the coach decides that they are perfectly able to help the client and proceeds to offer advice based on their own experiences.

This third option leaves the coach and the client in vulnerable positions, and can backfire in the most disastrous ways. It is therefore to be avoided.

A counsellor can more easily coach than a coach can become a counsellor.


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John Baker, Regional Director, The Jockey Club
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Luke Joy-Smith, Managing Director - Somerset Social Enterprise
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