By Dianne Baxter

When I think about coaching styles, the first area that comes to mind is how different Nathan (my husband and business partner) and I are in our approaches. He’s like a surgeon who goes right to the heart and starts solving problems. I’m more relational and want to know everything about the client — their family, marriage, professional life, and story. I’m also a natural encourager and love to help my clients build more belief in themselves as we move forward.

We’re similar in our transparency, and willing to share what we’ve learned in our journey — and how we learned it. I like to help a client self-discover, but I’m also willing to share my story.

Nathan coaches like a laser, and I coach like a flood light. I want the coaching environment to be bright and warm before we do the heavy work. I want the client to feel like they are heard, and that I understand them. We almost always have the same insights, but naturally deliver them in different ways.

We both bring the light, but use different styles.

Nathan’s laser-style approach to coaching works for him because the lion’s share of his clients are executives. They place a high value on their time and appreciate a direct approach: “Don’t tell me what I want to hear, but rather what I need to hear to be successful in my leadership.”

His clients love that he is laser focused, and doesn’t take offense. They often thank him for his direct approach. Honesty, I used to think, Man, you are awfully blunt. But as I’ve watched him over the years I’ve realized, it’s his natural style, and he knew exactly how to communicate in a way that the client would receive it.

When I need to give a client constructive criticism, I like to use the sandwich method: start with a compliment, then provide the critique and recommendations, then end with a positive by reminding the client about areas of progress. That’s my natural style.

It’s natural for a new coach to want to emulate a particular style, and that’s okay. Trying new approaches is one way we learn to find our authentic style. It’s like trying on new shoes — they might look good on someone else, but you have to wear them yourself to make sure they are a comfortable fit.

Another way we can learn what coaching style works best is to simply ask the client.

Case Study: Can we adjust our coaching style?

Years ago a new client said to me, “Dianne, you can shoot straight with me. I can hear you better if you tell me what I need to hear in as few words as possible.”

I thought I was being direct. But, I tried to adjust my delivery to better suit the way she was wired. I was still me, but a more direct version of me. How did the coaching relationship turn out? Stay tuned.

We’ve learned to ask clients, “How do you best receive feedback when I need to share something that may be hard for you to hear?” This question opens up important connections that help you both achieve the coaching objectives. But be aware, often a client doesn’t really know what style is best for them. (That’s where the Birkman® assessment is invaluable to us and our coaching team; it spells out what the client needs.) No matter what a new client tells you about their preferred communication style, be a keen observer of their personality — and stay true to your style.

Remember the goal is to be awesome and deliver amazing results. To be awesome, you must stay in your lane. Let’s use an automotive analogy. In a race, which is faster, a sports car with four hundred horsepower, or a SUV with two hundred horsepower? The answer depends on the race course. Around a paved track, the sports car will win. But, if the race is on a rocky dirt road, the SUV will out perform on every measure.

What’s the lesson here? Other than the fact that Nathan and I enjoy renting all-terrain vehicles and touring remote mountain roads, the real lesson is to know what kind of car you are, and what kind of tracks you like to drive on.

It’s true that you can — and should — calibrate your interactions. But, the calibration control only turns so far until it breaks.

If you move out of your signature coaching style, you’ll lose your power and compromise your effectiveness. Power comes from your uniqueness — which comes from your unique story and style.

How did my coaching relationship turn out? We both chose to be direct and say, “Let’s just be friends.” And we still are to this day. It’s good to make some adjustments in communication for your clients, but stay true to your style. It’s a win-win proposition.

Bio — Dianne Baxter

Dianne Baxter has been coaching leaders for over 25 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 her new book, Real Coaching Success.

Dianne and her husband, Nathan, 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.