What do Coaches actually do?

Des O'Connell
04th May 2017

< Back to News & Events

What do Coaches actually do?

MC Faculty member Des O'Connell offers an insight into what goes on in a coaching session.

1.  “Is it OK if I talk about this?”

It’s common for clients to come prepared with a sensible coaching topic: 

Coach: So what would you like to work on today?

Client: I’ve been given a new project by my boss and I’m struggling with how to approach it… where to begin.  I’d like to explore that.

But what happens if the coach probes a little?

Coach: OK, what else?

Client: Well, I’ve been asked by a senior director whether I’d consider moving to his division to work with him, which is quite interesting.  And I haven’t given much thought yet to how I feel about that.

Coach: OK, so there’s the new project for your boss; and there’s a job offer from another part of the organisation.  What else?

Client: [Client thinks quietly for several moments. Speaks tentatively]…Well…I’ve been putting in some unforgiving hours these past few months…getting home later and later...working weekends. Little time for my family. There’s the whole “Do I really want to be doing this?” thing …Balance of life…all that.

Coach:  Out of those three, which is the most interesting for you?

What’s so interesting is that the client will frequently choose the last topic, the one that wasn’t initially volunteered, but emerged with probing.  That’s the one they’re most keen to work on.


2.  Becoming more resourceful – “Do I know? I don’t know. Well, actually, I do know”

Asked a specific question the client may say: “I don’t’ know”.  Weirdly, an approach that frequently works is to ask:  “But if you did know, what would your answer be?”  Often the client will respond:  “Well I could….” and then list alternatives for action.  One client I coached for a sales presentation said (in desperation): “I’m sorry, I’m now completely confused.  My mind’s a blank.  I have no idea what I’m supposed to be saying.  I have no structure in my head…what this presentation should look like.”  I asked: “OK, but if you had a structure in your head, what would it look like?”  The client replied (without a moment’s pause): “There’d be an Introduction, Key points, something about The Team, and then The Benefits of using our firm.”  And she was happy to work with that structure!

This technique can be varied to suit different situations.  Here are some other real examples:

To a client unable to come up with an imaginative list of marketing ideas (because, she said,: “I’m not creative”):

Coach: Who in your office is creative?

Client: Jane.  She’s full of ideas.

Coach: OK, if Jane were here, what would she suggest?

Client: Oh, she’d probably suggest hiring a hot air balloon, putting our name on it, floating it above the town…etc, etc.


To a gifted teacher so overwhelmed by her administrative workload she was considering leaving the profession:

Coach: So what conclusions do you draw?

Client: [With a deep sigh] I don’t know.

Coach: What would a friend who cares about you suggest?

Client: Oh, she’d say…[and out came a series of personal insights and action steps that could reduce her admin burden and get her back into the classroom].

In each case the clients found a way to draw upon resources and insights they couldn’t initially see, didn’t think they possessed. 


3.  The light-bulb moments – when it all becomes clear

Always interesting for me is the impact that insight has for clients.  Telling someone something – passing on your  wisdom -  may be met with courtesy (or, occasionally, with a pained look).  But you can usually tell your suggestion won’t be followed.  It’s your idea, not theirs.  But when the client sees something for himself it’s quite different.  A light goes on.  He may become quiet and reflective.  Or smile. What was previously difficult now seems straightforward.  And you know he’s going to act on it. With insight comes clarity; and with clarity, the impetus to take action.  It’s one of those moments coaches love.

What does all this suggest?

Often the answer we seek is lurking just out of sight.  Good coaching can bring it within sight. Bring insight. It gives us permission to explore the issues our mind really wants to work on – often that third thing on the list, the one circling around vaguely at the back of the mind.  It can jolt us from unproductive patterns of thinking. Sometimes it’s like it catches us unawares, surprising us with our own capability. When we’re stuck it gets us unstuck. And reveals new pathways that get us moving again.

< Back to News & Events