Many years ago I attended an in-depth coaching program and eventually gained a certification from an international body. I absolutely loved it and use the tools to this day.

However what struck me about the training that I received is the notion, reinforced at every opportunity that the “the client has all the answers”. However, after coaching leaders in the real world for over 10 years I have found this notion to be wholly incomplete. In a nutshell, it depends on the specific coaching need, for example:

Skill deficits

A lot of coaching that we do falls into the category of skill deficits. Examples of these “how to” problems include performance management skills, influencing skills, time management and strategic thinking. In this case I would argue that clients often do not have the answers – they need to be specifically taught through explanation, role-play and the various resources that are available to watch and read.


Most leaders have blind spots; some more than others and often this is a component of a coaching arrangement. Again, the definition of a blind spot is that the client is unaware of something – it is no use asking them as they simply don’t know. In this case we recommend beginning the arrangement with some combination of:

  • Interviews with colleagues – performed by the coach
  • 360 feedback

Making decisions

Some people are dealing with difficult situations and just need help in making decisions. Examples of this may include strategy, employee decisions, life decisions, etc. In this case one actually can assume that the client has many of the answers. The role of the coach then becomes to ask the right questions so that the client:

  • Understands the full scope of the situation
  • Understands the full range of options available
  • Understands the criteria for evaluating the options
  • Makes the best possible decision

That said, it can still be very beneficial if the coach injects options and ideas into the process that the client may have been unaware of, provided the client remains in control of the action plan.

In summary, although it is important to keep the client in control and draw out the answers that they have, the statement that “the client has all the answers” is not generally true. A business coach had better have a few of their own…

Russel Horwitz