The Four Faces of Coaching – Finding the Natural Coach in Me

Drs. Sheila Boysen, Mike Cherry, and Lesley Page

The most effective coaches are those who deliver coaching using a blend of their own strengths with a style that best fits the coachee as well. When coaching others, we often lean on technical coaching approaches to deliver our message. For example, we might focus on developing our ‘active listening skills’ because that’s what we’re told the best coaches do well. But while this textbook approach can be helpful in some circumstances, it often misses the bigger point: at certain times in coaching, we get the opportunity to truly make a difference in someone.

The Four Faces are the fundamental approaches to coaching and mentoring. By understanding which of the faces you most closely identify with, it will be easier to bring your strengths to the fore, build on your less-used face, and lean on the natural Coach in you to make a big impact. In other words, you’ll have the ability to focus on the opportunities when you can really make a difference before honing in on the technical skills that help fine tune someone’s performance.

The Four Faces

The Chllenger: By first understanding where a person is coming from, a Coach then has the ability to effectively challenge a viewpoint.

  • Challengers see the world through a different lens than most and are prepared to challenge the way that people think about a problem as well as an individual’s behavior or mindset. They are not attached to traditional ways of doing things, nor are they afraid of delivering difficult messages.
  • If they believe a person is undervaluing themselves, they will gently but firmly challenge that person to take themselves more seriously. Similarly, if a person has blind spots, a Challenger is able to bring those issues to light, either by confronting directly or by surfacing indirectly through conversations.
  • Challengers tend to expect high standards and often encourage continuous improvement. They help others uncover new ways of doing something and actively try to unlock the courage and creativity needed to achieve far-reaching goals.
  • To avoid overplaying their strengths, a Challenger should maintain awareness of a coachee appearing emotionally exhausted or distant from the discussion as a result of feeling criticized.

The Counselor: I believe that with the right coaching, an individual can discover answers and develop solutions on their own.

Counselors are active listeners who have a gift for helping people resolve problems on their own. Through the questions they ask, the Counselor helps an individual unpack an issue and see the overarching assumptions they may have about themselves or about a situation.

  • These coaches are patient and encourage people to talk about their feelings of uncertainty, anger, or lack of confidence. They are confident in emotional territory.
  • The best Counselors do more than simply let people talk about their challenges: they also help to shed new light on an old problem by introducing it from a different point of view. They can remove the heat out of a situation by helping all parties to see more clearly.
  • Counselors offer their perspective sparingly, but when they do, their insight proves valuable.
  • To avoid overplaying their strength, a Counselor should acknowledge when a person requires direct counsel and guidance rather than self-discovery, especially in situations demanding immediacy.

The Expert: Having deep knowledge on this subject, I am passionate about sharing guidance and wisdom with others.

  • The Expert uses their experience or expertise of a situation to offer advice on how to approach a particular situation. They often know the best way to approach a problem and are skilled at sharing that perspective.
  • The best Expert coaches are also able to see when a situation demands a slightly different approach from the one they are most familiar with and can use their expertise as a starting point, rather than the answer. Further, they acknowledge that a situation is outside the realm of their expertise.
  • Experts are effective, direct instructors that help break complex challenges into manageable steps to make a situation less overwhelming. They lead by example and often serve as a source of inspiration and admiration to those around them, without coming off as unrelatable or ‘out of reach.’
  • To avoid overplaying their strengths, an Expert should not become a compulsive advisor, someone more interested in giving an opinion rather than hearing another point of view, especially if it hinders a person learning how to problem-solve on their own.

The Supporter: Every person has the potential to do great things, some just need the right coaching to help them reach that potential.

  • Supporters have an acute eye for spotting and nurturing talent. They see the best in people and find ways to ensure the coachee knows that they believe in them. They give praise and recognition easily and are particularly effective at finding stretch opportunities to help others unlock their potential. Supporters combine these skills with good mentorship to help build confidence in the face of a big challenge.
  • They are good at helping people own and solve their own problems while providing the appropriate level of support so that the stretch isn’t too great.
  • Supporters are willing to trust their coachees with significant tasks and allow them the space to make mistakes to learn along the way.
  • Supporter coaches are skilled at turning around poor performers or people who have been judged harshly by others. They do this by forming their own opinion in the face of a commonly held belief and are less prone to make quick judgments. As a result, they build confidence in others by forging loyal, trusting relationships and taking calculated risks with people.
  • To avoid overplaying their strengths, a Supporter must be aware when a situation requires direct, honest feedback, especially related to poor performance.

We all have natural preferences that we tend to rely on and use in our coaching relationships. This organic style is what leverages our strengths and makes our coaching unique. However, given the range of people and situations you work with, having flexibility in your style is also important to practice.

About Dr. Sheila Boysen

Sheila M. Boysen, Ph.D., PHR, BCC, MCC is Master of Organizational Leadership Program Director and ICF ACTP Director at Lewis University

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