Coaching Tips When your coachee is so empowered they challenge their manager!

Image Credit: photo taken at RHS Wisley April 2017

Helen (not her actual name) phoned me in a state of panic and left a voicemail on my phone.  I knew from previous conversations that her coachees (all identified as young talent in the organisation) had been achieving significant progress but from the tone of her voice I knew she was anxious about something so called her straight back to find out what was wrong.

Helen explained that one of her coachees, who had been referred to her because she lacked self-confidence, had arrived at session 4 and announced that she had been reflecting on their discussions, and was no longer prepared to work towards one of the goals (set by her manager).  She felt empowered to challenge and had decided that she could achieve far more if she could take a slightly different direction.

Whilst Helen was thrilled to see her coachee arrive at this point, she was anxious about how the organisation might react to this news, that one of her coachees was now so empowered that she was going to challenge her manager’s decisions.

 Quick tip:

 The first question I asked was “What is your role?”

The coach’s role is to provide a safe space in which the coachee can explore, reflect and make decisions about the actions they want to take. The coach brings structure to the conversation and a range of listening, questioning and challenging skills to aid this process.

And: the second question: “What is your role now?”

Answer:  all the above and …to support the coachee to think through this decision fully, identifying all the potential consequences of this intended action.


 Helen worked with her coachee as described above, and supported her to prepare the conversation she needed to have with her manager.  And her coachee achieved the (new) outcome that she wanted and is now progressing very well, in a slightly different direction than was originally intended, but one which she has identified as being right for her.

 Deep dive:

 Helen needed to do some more reading, and reflecting on the notion that coaching is led by the coachee, and although there can be organisational tensions in this approach, we need to remember that the coachee is the expert in their situation, and not us.  Whilst managers set performance goals for their staff and may ask for these to be worked on during coaching they still need to be owned by the coachee.  It was also important for Helen to acknowledge that the way she worked with her coachee had helped her to have a breakthrough and this should be celebrated.  As Helen experienced, coaching can be very powerful.

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