Coaching: To advise or not advise?

I’ve always been a bit anti-advice-giving in coaching sessions. After all, it’s not coaching, is it? However, the more I coach, the more I realise that this is a time and place for advice. Not a very big place; in fact, so far I’d say less than 1% of total my coaching time has involved giving advice and, if I’m being really honest, all of it was in one coaching session I had last week. Which was a big surprise for me!

I was working with a client who, at short notice, found out she had to attend a NPQH assessment centre. The days were to be filled with a variety of activities, spanning a range of competencies and certainly challenging all who attend. It was great to hear how calm, measured and confident she was in her approach to this, which was exactly what we had been working on. Her biggest concern was the actual interview itself and we talked about why; how she felt about the many other elements of the assessment days, what she would like to achieve at the end of the coaching session, what the challenge for her was, and so on.

The problem, you could say, was that I’m really good at interviews. I’m not going to be modest on this because I’ve got very nearly every job I’ve gone for in the last 7 years, although it hasn’t always been this way, believe me! But what I have developed is a great process to prepare and perform in interviews. I hit a crossroads in the session: should I coach, or should I advise? Coaches don’t give advice. But I know a method that really does work and might really help this person. What should I do? The answer presented itself: I offered my client a choice on how we could proceed. I was really clear that the advice really was only advice, which she was welcome to if she wanted it but that I wouldn’t be offended if she didn’t take it or didn’t use it. I also re-iterated that my aim was only to support her as best I can, but that I needed to know from her which she would prefer: coaching or advice. She chose advice.

I don’t give advice out of habit and the more I coach, the less I feel any urge to give advice. However, the feedback from my client was that it was really useful in this instance and now she had a really good way to move forward in preparing for her interview. For me, the lesson was that occasionally, when coaching, giving advice is the right thing to do, but that you should not be wedded to it and be really clear with the client that it really is only advice for them to decide if they want to use it. Most important of all, let them decide if you are going to give the advice to them.

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‘Sonia Gill is a founder and director of Heads Up Limited, an education leadership consultancy which specialises in supporting schools become outstanding. Their training and coaching is recommended by the 100s of school leaders she has worked with. To find out more visit www.ukheadsup.com.’