Magnify Coaching Skills – Coaching Conversations

Each coach has their own natural approach to coaching. Unfortunately, they often rely exclusively on this approach rather than adapting to the needs of the individual being coached. This does not lead to successful outcomes since the coachee’s needs are not appropriately met. There are three dimensions to effective coaching, including; how to coach, when to coach and what to coach. A coach can improve her effectiveness as a coach by adapting her approach in each dimension to the needs of the coachee.

How to coach. A coach should take a directive or a non directive approach to coaching, not based on which his natural style, but rather, based on the needs of the “coachee”. Hersey and Blanchard propose in their theory of Situational Leadership that the leader should adapt her leadership style based on the readiness level of the employee. If the employee is new to a task, insecure, or unable to perform the task, the leader should take a much more directive style. If the employee has more experience and is more able to perform the task, then the leader should take a more non directive approach (Hersey, Blanchard and Johnson). Each individual has different needs and attitudes. An effective coach adapts his approach to meet those needs and attitudes. He can be directive; giving advice, telling and/or teaching what to do and how to do it, or non directive; asking questions and helping the individual come to their own conclusions, depending on the preference and needs of the “coachee”.

When to coach. Coaches can chose to provide a programmatic, ongoing approach to coaching and/or provide circumstantial coaching in response to a specific need and or circumstance. Programmatic coaching is utilized to develop skills or behaviors over time. For example, a sales coach may provide selling skills coaching to a sales representative over time, or an executive coach may provide coaching to high potential managers to prepare him for further responsibility in the future. Circumstantial coaching is less formal and given at any time in response to a specific need.

What to coach. A coach may decide to coach on specific tasks, skills, or behaviors or she may take a holistic approach, showing more concern about the person’s overall growth and development. For example, the sales coach may provide coaching on specific coaching skills, while the executive coach may be looking at the whole needs of an individual to help them take on a broader leadership role.

I once worked with a peer who preferred a very direct style of coaching. He was a busy executive who felt only direct and immediate feedback had impact on his team. He only coached when he felt the circumstances demanded. Furthermore, he only focused on the behaviors and skills needed to get the job done and never took a holistic look at the needs of his team. This individual had a reputation of getting results; however, he scared away and/or offended many along the way. Those who needed a more non directive, programmatic and/or holistic approach soon left the organization, or worse, became unproductive and resentful. In the long term, this executive became less effective, and was finally asked to leave. As Kouzes and Posner explain:

“…forever erase from your minds the image of the coach as that stern-faced, chair-throwing, dirt-kicking, ass-chewing tough guy who yells orders to the players. Maybe it makes good sports theater, but it definitely does not produce outstanding business performance. What you’ll get instead is a demoralized group of disengaged constituents who’d rather quit than excel. Success in the one-to-one leadership context is dependent on the ability of the leader to build a lasting relationship in which the talent sees the coach as a partner and a role model” (Goldsmith and Lyons, p. 137).

One of the best ways for a coach to build that lasting relationship is by adapting his coaching style and approach to the needs of the individual he is coaching.


Hargrove, R.A., (2003). Masterful coaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.

Hersey, P., Blanchard, K.H., and Johnson, D., (2001). Management of Organizational behavior: Leading human resources – Eighth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Marshall, G. and Lyons, L (2006). Coaching for leadership: The practice of leadership coaching from the world’s greatest coaches. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

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