By Dr. Nathan Baxter, Executive Leadership Coach

There is a philosophy in the coaching world which teaches that you never give the client the “answer.” Instead, you guide them and you work together as a team to help them find the answer. Have you ever wrestled with this issue?

Well, here’s our answer: we reject this view. Early in my career, I tried being the silent Sherpa, and it drove me bananas. I knew exactly what the guys in front of me needed to hear, and yet I watched them struggle through the mental mountains and valleys. Talk about exhausting! After a few sessions I decided to ask, in my most polite and restrained style, “Do you want me to tell you what you need to hear?”

“Yes!” they immediately blurted out — as if to say, You’re my coach. Why wouldn’t you?

To my surprise, I received a lot more praise for this approach. Clients said one of the things they appreciated the most was that I told them the truth in a direct manner. Of course when I believe there’s a breakthrough the client can quickly discover, I’ll ask them guiding questions. But why withhold valuable insight?

In another example, as I trained one of our coaches we reviewed two of her clients’ Birkman® reports. For one client I advised , “You need to be direct with her.” For the other client, I recommended, “You need to build the relationship before you get too direct with him.” We were both glad to learn the suggested approaches worked well with each client.

Every successful coach has this style.

There’s a word for a truth-teller without humility or professionalism: a jerk.

Before you deliver what you think the answer is, you must know the client and understand something about how they are wired. That’s the professionalism component. Most importantly you must maintain a humble attitude. That’s the most important style for a successful coach.

There are times in sessions when I believe I know something a client needs to hear, but I’m not sure if the time is right to share it. Sometimes I need to check myself (humility) and sometimes the client may not be ready to hear it. I may wait three sessions to share it, or I may discover that my insight was not as brilliant as it seemed.

Coaches are truth-tellers.

At Lead Self Lead Others, our fourth core value is as follows:

We are truth tellers.

We value client discovery but we do not shy away from telling them the truth.

We believe truth is what people are really seeking.

We coach because we love people and we believe everyone should experience their full potential. Always bring your best insights and share the truth. And remember to always speak the truth in love. You’ll never go wrong with love as your foundational coaching style.

Questions for the coach:

  • What are two or three of your power messages?
  • How would you describe your natural coaching style.

Dr. Nathan Baxter

Dr. Baxter has been coaching leaders for over 30 years, and for the past twelve years as a coach and founder of Lead Self Lead Others and Real Coaching Success. This article is an excerpt from his new book, Real Coaching Success.

Nathan and his wife Dianne have successfully coached over 3,500 leaders, issued over two thousand Birkman® assessments and 360 performance evaluations, and designed and conducted hundreds of individual, church, and corporate surveys.