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Non-Directive Coaching Isn’t Soft

When I decided to really adopt a non-directive coaching approach as a method to help people grow, I engaged an employee that worked for me about a challenge he was facing. I asked him, “What are some options that are available to you?” He said, “I don’t know. What do you think I should do?” I responded, “Well, I think you might start by identifying some of the options you might consider.” He said, “It would be easier for me if you told me what you think I should do.” I redirected, “Well, what are some things you might consider?” Exasperated, he said “Can’t you just tell me what you would do?”

It was then I flipped to a more directive mode of coaching. I said, “I could tell you what to do, but I don’t want to. I want to help you learn how to think about this so you don’t ever need me to tell you what to do. I hired you because you’re smart. What do you think you could do?”

Hard Stuff

Some managers and leaders believe that because they aren’t directing, dictating, and telling the person they are coaching exactly what they want them to do, what they need them to do, or what they would do in a situation, that it somehow makes them “soft.” Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing “soft” about helping someone grow. There is nothing soft about helping someone draw upon their own resourcefulness and creativity. But it’s more that.

While a non-directive approach may feel softer, it is actually “harder.” The person being coached is being forced to think through their challenge for themselves instead of relying on someone to provide them with an answer. It can be frustrating, especially as it forces them out of their comfort zone and requires them face their own beliefs and behaviors. It’s easier to have someone tell you what to do, resist and resent it, and occasionally use that person as the scapegoat in a moment of cynicism.

Over time, the person being coached is being moved from “dependent” to “independent.” This process helps to develop the person being coached both personally and professionally. And I promise you, it is anything but soft.

Being directive eliminates the need for the person being coached to think for themselves. Always being directive will destroy initiative, resourcefulness, and growth–and it will destroy your leadership pipeline.


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