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How to choose the right style of coach for you

Have you ever wondered about how this Podcast got its name?

For me, whenever you step into a leadership role at any level there is an amount of uncertainty about the situation and about what specifically great leadership is going to look like for you as a leader for that team and that set of circumstances. And that uncertainty is a good thing, it creates the space for you to get inquisitive, to discover everything you can about the people you work with, about the company, about the industry, the businesses your company works with, everyone's specialisms and so much more - you get the idea! This curiosity keeps you learning, it allows trust to grow, it enables you to find the best and most engaging solutions to the challenges you and your team face. And those are just some of the reasons I consider curiosity a key value.

But amazing though the skills of curiosity are, they alone are not enough. What you do with what you discover is what matters. In every situation we have a choice about what we do, and once we understand that we are then able to make conscious choices about the things we find when we get curious. Making choices creates action and ultimately delivers results.

I believe that these two ideas underpin leadership and being the best leader you can be, they are the foundation that allows you to add the leadership theories and practices and styles that work for you.

And those two ideas also carry over into my coaching - They are how I approach doing what I do - I coach to make others shine and I do it by helping them get curious and then make choices. I work with them to look at what they know from different perspectives, to work out what they need to find out, what options they have and then to decide which option is best and what they are actually going to do.

So let's take a moment to get curious about coaching itself, so you can make some choices about what kind of coaching is right for you and when.

There are so many people calling themselves coaches, how do I choose?

With so much change going on around us both at work and in the world, in general, it's not surprising that more people are looking for answers and are looking for help with their work, their leadership and their business.

And there is no shortage of people offering to help them, advisors, consultants and coaches. Some days it feels like everyone you meet or see in your inbox, on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and anywhere else you look is calling themselves a coach. And that's why we need to talk about coaching - what it is and what it inst!

And that's where it gets a bit confusing - you know they are not all offering the same thing in the same way, and what they are calling coaching and what they offer varies hugely. And some market themselves so that you think you can't possibly manage without them, playing on your fears and insecurities, narrowing down your thinking, belief and options. Some coaches are clearer than others about how they can help you.

So if you are looking for support in your business and are considering a coach how can you make sure you get the right kind of coach for you and your situation? 

We are going to take a look at two things I hope will help you, firstly how to get clear about what you are looking for from coaching and then secondly we are going to talk about the coaching continuum which is a way of understanding the different types of coaching.

What are you looking for in a coach?

I've always loved the quote from the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland, 'If you don't know where you are going any road will get you there' Finding the right coach for you can feel a bit like that too - if you don't know what you are looking for, how will you know when you find it?

So before you start looking for help in your business, especially coaching help you need to think about what you really want from coaching, so in the spirit of getting curious here are some questions to help you with that.

  1. What difference do you want the coaching to make?
  2. How much do you already know about the subject - are you looking for someone to fill in some knowledge gaps or are you looking for someone to help you apply what you already know to your current situation?
  3. What kind of person brings out the best in you?
  4. Are you looking for someone to take the problem away, to help you with it or to help you work out what you need to do?
  5. Are you looking to fix one very specific thing, to learn how to fix this and other similar problems or to apply what you already know?
  6. To what extent do you want to be challenged and what extent do you want to be supported?
  7. How will I know if this is the right person for me to work with and what questions do I need to ask them to work that out?

And if you are thinking that seems like a lot of thinking and I don't want to do that much work, you may well find that coaching is not the right option for you at the moment and you may be better off paying someone to come in and do the work that needs doing to solve the problem.

What is coaching?

Being coached is a very active process and the more you put into it the more you will get out, regardless of the type of coach you choose to work with. It's not turning up and offloading your problems to someone who is going to fix them, It's not just about fixing things that are broken, it's not just talking and it certainly isn't therapy. Being coached isn't remedial, it is about boosting performance.

So what is coaching? The definition I use is based on Sir John Whitmore's who popularised the GROW coaching model. For me, coaching is the art of unlocking someone's potential and facilitating their performance to maximise their success.

And that still leaves a lot of scope for different types of coaching and I promised you a way of understanding the different types of coaching available. So here we go!

The different styles of coaching

Now I want you to imagine a graph, on the left-hand side the axis is the lasting impact that coaching can have with the impact increasing the further up the axis you go. Along the bottom are the different styles of coaching. The styles have been broken into four groups to make them easier to talk about, but in reality, they blend from one to the next and it's a continuum that builds from left to right. The four groupings are from left to right, Show and Tell, then Teach and Advise, then Mentor and Consult and finally on the right-hand. end Coaching Expert. We will talk more about the characteristics of these in a moment, but here is a diagram to help you picture it.

The Impact of different coaching styles

The final piece of the graph is an exponential, so S-shaped, curve which starts a little way up the left-hand side and shoots upwards significantly somewhere in the Mentor and Consult section of the graph.

Below this line represents how much lasting impact you can expect each kind of coaching to have.

So let's look at each in turn.

The Show and Tell Style Coach

The Show and Tell type coaches will be saying things like I've done this, let me show you what I did. This type of coaching is right for you if you don't know anything about the subject, or you are just starting out with a company and you are looking for actionable tactical advice for a specific situation.

The Teach and Advise Style Coach

Moving along the continuum, we then have Teach and Advise. You will be able to spot those teaching and advising as they will be saying things like 'I've built some knowledge and some experience around this, let me teach you what I know. This type of coaching is right for you when you are looking to build your expertise in a specific area.

The Mentor and Consult Style Coach

The Mentor and Consult type coaches will be saying things like 'I've built considerable experience in this as you can see from my career history. I can diagnose your exact problem and suggest things that will help you resolve your issues.' This kind of coaching is right for you if you know about your subject and your situation and are looking to refine your knowledge and for hints and tips about applying what you know to your situation.

The Coaching Expert Style Coach

And finally, on the right-hand side, we have the Coaching Experts, If these people were not busy asking you lots of questions to help you work out what you are looking for, these people would be saying things like 'I have all the things the other three groups have plus the skills and techniques to help you work things out for yourself. They are experts in coaching, and may also be experts in particular topics. Working with this kind of coach is right for you when you are ready to take action, to make lasting changes happen, to be challenged to think differently while being supported as you do, when you are looking to stretch your perspective and apply what you know in new and different ways.


All of these fit within the definition of coaching being the art of unlocking someone's potential and facilitating their performance to maximize their success. The art is knowing which type of coaching to use when. If for example, a fire alarm is going off in an office you are visiting you don’t want a coaching expert to ask you if you notice anything different about the environment at the moment, what happened when you noticed something like that before, what options you have and which one you are going to pick. Instead, you want someone to use show and tell type coaching and get you out of the building immediately!

What changes with the different styles of coaching?

So what changes as you move from left to right on the continuum? Typically the amount of coaching experience that someone has grows from left to right, but there are some fundamental differences in the way they will work with you too. Understanding these five criteria will help you know what kind of coach is going to best meet the needs you identified when you answered the questions earlier.

The five criteria are:

  1. Who sets the agenda for the work you do together, towards the left of the graph at the show and tell end, the agenda will be set by the coach, and you will be setting the agenda more and more as you move to the right-hand end where you are working with a coaching expert.
  2. The same pattern is true for the second criteria, who is making the decisions about what actions you should take, the show and tell coaches will do this for you, while the coaching experts will facilitate you choosing the next best step and the decision will be yours.
  3. Those are both reflected in the third criteria, who does most of the talking during your sessions together, generally, the closer someone is to coaching expert, the less they will say, instead they will focus on listening and enabling you to articulate your thinking.
  4. The fourth criteria that changes as you move along the continuum is how prescriptive the process is. The closer your coach is to the show and tell end of coaching the more defined your work together will be and the less room there is for it to be personalised to your requirements or situation. The coaching expert on the other hand will have a huge array of tools and techniques that they can switch between depending on what you need and what is working for you in that moment.
  5. The fifth and final criteria that changes is how you will be able to apply what you are learning and working out with your coach. In show and tell coaching you will learn what to do in a specific set of circumstances, and how widely you can apply what you are learning grows as you move towards the coaching expert.

Interestingly price is not an indication of what type of coaching you are going to get - given that the impact of working with your coach grows exponentially as you move to working with a coaching expert, it might be logical to assume that you would pay more for it, but my observation is that very often that's not the case. I've seen people who are very firmly in the show and tell category of coaching and with very little experience charge thousands of pounds to be in a group programme of coaching while for those who are coaching experts coaching is a vocation and it is part of who they are, so probably shows up in every conversation you have with them.

These are the coaches who are demonstrating curiosity and helping you do the same, and working with they may well be not only cheaper than you think but also higher impact in terms of results both now and in the future than you think. I had a lovely catch up with an ex-client of mine recently - it has probably been 15 years or more since we last worked together and he reached out to let me know that the things he worked out and learned from our time together have supported him throughout his career and enabled him to now be the Group IT Director for a multinational engineering supplier.

Summary & Taking Action

So we have covered a lot in this episode, why being curious and making choices matters in leadership and how that shows up in coaching, and in the coaching I do . We have looked at the range of different things coaching is, form showing and telling, through teaching and advising, then onto Mentoring and Consulting and finally onto where it is all about Curiosity and Choice, coaching experts. And we have looked at how to work out which kind of coaching is right for you right now and how to tell the different types of coaching apart.

The things I share in this podcast are based on my experience. Some will be more relevant to you than others and it's up to you to decide what you are going to do with them. My hope is that you will find something you can take and apply. But that's up to you and it's exactly what being a Curious Choice Leader is all about, getting curious, building your understanding and then making some choices about what's best for you, your team and your business.

So the question I would like to leave you with is 

Which kind of coaching would benefit you most right now? 

If you found this episode useful and thought-provoking I would love it if you subscribe and share it with others who you think would find it useful too. It would also be brilliant if you could leave a review where ever you listen to podcasts

If you would like to know more about my coaching and implementing these ideas please get in touch and let's talk about how you can become an even better leader, one curious choice at a time. Thank you for listening, and until the next time stay curious and I look forward to talking to you again soon.


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