In Newsletter
One question has already been raised more often in my supervision and mentor coaching sessions by fellow coaches than any other: “What do you do when your coaching client asks you ‘What do YOU think?’?” Over the years, no other question has come close to the variations of this most popular question – I am sure we have all experienced it in our coaching careers – and over the years I have answered it in a variety of ways. 
I think it is fair to say that we coaches normally see this as a practical issue – we are trained to be non-directive – and perhaps we forget that it is at least also an ethical dilemma. Moreover, the ICF (and I am sure most of the other professional bodies) holds the basic tenet that our clients choose what they want to deal with and are invited to choose how that will be dealt with too. Underpinning this is the belief that our clients ultimately know the answer to their dilemma or challenge. For many of us, that’s the rule – accordingly, when our client asks their Most Popular Question (their MPQ), that basic tenet is our first thought.

At the same time, as Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, a problem can’t be solved with the same level of thinking that caused it and whether we know the quote or not, this piece of conflicting commonsense is often embodied somewhere in our system.
What is our job as coach then? Is it to follow the rules or to facilitate the joining of our client’s dots. After all, ICF Core Competency 2 (and again I am sure other bodies have similar guidelines) requires us to embody a coaching mindset, a concept that is largely described in terms of non-directiveness. The coaching mindset is intended to unlock the deeperor wider level of thinking Einstein hinted at. 
So, the issue, as I see it, is that in asking us for our opinion, our client is creating an ethical conflict: do they ultimately know the answer? If not, am I obliged to ask them questions to unlock the answer? If I accede to their request, will the great god of coaching strike me down with lightning (normally in the form of the client repeatedly using this tactic in subsequent sessions)?
Well, where do we start? I think the real answer is to be found deep inside all of us and lies in the answer to the question: what is our client actually buying when they choose us to coach them? Once again, we have some stock answers, but I think, in essence, they are buying our coaching maturity and our personal maturity. “Maturity” is a big word and, of course, it’s a never-ending journey – so I am suggesting that they are buying our level of maturity as a person and as a coach in order to achieve the outcome they seek, to unlock that deeper and/or wider perspective. Almost by definition, they are buying our hierarchy of values – how we prioritise and apply our values. What is our most important non-negotiable value? Here are a couple of quotes that very accurately reflect my thinking:
“On a personal level, everyone must answer the following question: What is my highest aspiration? The answer might be wealth, fame, knowledge, popularity or integrity. But if integrity is secondary to any of the alternatives, it will be sacrificed in situations in which a choice must be made. Such situations will inevitably occur in every person’s life.” Murphy Smith
“There is no god higher than truth.” Mahatma GandhiIf then, I am first to live with integrity in answering the MPQ, I need to ask myself why I am a coach, a supervisor and a mentor coach? My answer (and it may not be yours)? To help my respective clients to grow as people, as coaches, as leaders, and to keep growing long after our relationship may have ended so that they can be at their ever-improving best more of the time (aka making the biggest difference I can make in their lives aka my coaching purpose).
Which brings me back to our initial question? What should I do when my client (whether leader or coach) asks me what I think? Well, firstly, there is no right or wrong answer that can be applied every time it is asked. As so often with ethical questions, it depends…! It depends on what is going to best help my client achieve their coaching purpose and mine. Invariably, as Einstein suggested, it’s about helping them broaden or deepen their perspective around the issue. If the situation calls for me to remain a catalyst, then I might retain my so-called coaching mindset and ask them questions that call on them to ‘think again’ or I might share an observation that is hopefully equally catalytic. If I think, no feel, that being more authoritative will lead to greater growth, then I might share an experience, a story or a model or tool that will do the job and, as quickly as possible, return to a more non-directive approach (perhaps by asking them how this works for them).
In doing so, am I being true to the basic tenet that our client has the answer AND simultaneously embodying a coaching mindset? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. For me, this particular issue is about hopefully retaining integrity of my coaching purpose.
But, hey, that’s me. What do you think? (Oops!) I would be really interested in hearing how you respond to The Most Popular Client Question (especially if you disagree with me!). What would also be interesting for both of us (I hope), is to hear which parts of this content made you think – the questions or my sharing my opinion? I hope to hear from you!
Recent Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search