Are you a Coach or an Advisor?

Coach Or Advisor

By Christine Walter

When I first started training Life Coaching a participant told me that he wanted to be a Life Coach so that people would come to him for advice.  So, I asked him “are you a Coach or an Advisor?” and I left him for a couple of days with the question. 

As a Coach, I often get clients asking me “what would you do?” Not living their life, and often not having the same experience, I strongly believe it isn’t my place to say.  Our role as a Coach is to assist the Coachee in finding their own way forward. 

Here is the difference between coaching and advising.

Coaches enable people to find the way, advisors provide the map

When advice is offered it shuts down the other person’s opportunity to explore their own thoughts and ideas.  Depending on how it is offered it can also deliver the implication that the Coachee is not capable of finding a solution for themselves and this can slow down, at worst, prevent the Coachee from making a change.  Remember, some Coachees don’t believe that they can change, or that change is hard.  Advising can support this belief.

Exploration is key.  By enabling the Coachee to explore options and find their own path forward the Coach is not only permitting the Coachee to find a wealth of internal resources which stimulates self-empowerment, they are also teaching the Coachee that they can resolve their own challenges. Therefore, a good Coach can happily put any prearranged plans aside and work from a place of exploration.  They master the art of asking curious questions and offering opportunities to be a “thinking partner” to the Coachee.  “As if” and “what if” frames of curiosity enable the Coachee to adventure through possibilities without having to decide if they can or cannot.  A Coach suspends disbelief and assists in building belief bridges for the Coachee.

Coaches work in partnership with the Coachee

 One of the important aspects of good coaching is to encourage a Coachee led session.  Let the Coachee decide what the focus is for the appointment.  In business, this can be slightly different if the employee has been brought in with an aspect of their role in mind.  Partnership is still the goal and certainly possible.  The Manager/Coach can raise the topic, offer a brief outline and explore with the employee a way forward.  A Manager who thinks of themselves more as a Coach is valuable in any organisation. 

Any actions from the coaching session should be agreed upon by both parties as a way forward.  This is relevant to any form of coaching.

Advising holds the responsibility

When a Coach takes on the role of advisor they take on the responsibility for the problem and when this is done the Coach is setting themselves up for a fall.

Why? Well, people will only change their way of being when they choose to change. No amount of advice can alter that.  For a person to change, a link to their beliefs, values and identity needs to be created.   It is at these levels that true change can occur.  If the Coachee cannot see the connection or the belief, values and identity that has created the behaviour in the first place is more important, change will be more complicated and slower.  It may even be non-existent.  A Coach finds out what is important to the Coachee about change and utilises that information.

Coaching and generative leaning

Part of our challenge as Coaches, which I do not believe advisors can do, is to challenge the Coachee to extend their potential.  One of our great tasks is to extend the Coachee to the edge of their comfort zone – not so much so that they feel panicked. 

When coaching and when facilitating training, my ultimate goal for the Coachee is for them to experience a generative learning. Put simply, generative learning is a learning that changes the way a person is.  That moment where something occurs that means they cannot go back fully to how they were.  It might be an insight, a realisation, a change of belief – it changes how they think, how they conduct themselves – they change.  Not every session can include a generative learning experience, it is the goal.  

When coaching well a Coach is comfortable in being uncomfortable and asking questions to enable a generative learning experience to occur. Beware of believing that a Coach must stick to the plan; Eisenhower’s quote “planning is everything, plans are nothing” is a good underpinning for any coaching session. 

A Coach comprehends that the Coachee is the master of their own destiny

Coaching truly from this aspect enables the Coach to sit with the Coachee from a place of openness, free of judgement and with the focus being totally on the transformation being sought.  If the Coachee expresses an opinion and/or a course of action, the Coach can ask questions and check ecology, understanding that ultimately the Coachee has the right to make the final decision on the course of action.  Our unconscious mind’s prime objective is to keep us alive.  With survival being the ultimate goal a Coachee will always make a decision with the requirement of survival in mind.  As Coaches our task is to assist them to find peace, freedom and their inner wisdom to transform so survival is enjoyable.

Of course, this article is not to discredit advisors.  There are many roles for advisors in life – accountants, lawyers, marketers, nurses and doctors, arborists to name just a few.  I don’t believe Coaches can be included in the list.