By Dr. James Eyring, Chief Operating Officer, Organisation Solutions
Almost all training classes on coaching focus on asking questions to help the coachee come to greater awareness and insight based on their own values, beliefs, and perspective. This is known as the Socratic method, named after the Greek philosopher who was a strong proponent of cooperative argumentative dialogue. One popular coaching website even offers 70 questions a manager can use when providing developmental coaching
To improve their impact, managers and coaches need to use two types of coaching: inquiry and advocacy.
The Socratic approach to coaching is inquiry-based. Asking questions helps coachees gain insights and change their mental models or the way they perceive the world. The manager or coach acts as a neutral guide helping their coachees identify their own answers.
This is a powerful tool for a manager! Most managers focus on solving problems and providing answers to their people. The inquiry method of coaching forces them to slow down and listen to their team members. More importantly, the managers are helping their team members explore new ways of thinking, which builds their capabilities to identify future solutions themselves.
A second approach to coaching is advocacy-based. In this approach, the manager or coach provides advice and suggestions, and actively helps the coachee solve problems. The manager or coach acts as an expert guide, helping coachees solve a problem by providing suggestions and new approaches. This approach is similar to some roles that a mentor plays.
This is different to solving the problem for the coachee. Instead, the manager or coach is stimulating the thinking on the part of the coachee and providing knowledge the coachee might not have. Ultimately, the coachee makes decisions and selects how they want to move forward.
Research shows that coachees gain more self-insight with an inquiry-based approach to coaching and they are more satisfied with the coaching session when it uses an advocacy-based approach to coaching. Both approaches lead to behavioural change.
To maximise the impact of coaching, stretch your own skills to include both advocacy and inquiry coaching. When used appropriately, you can have greatest impact; for instance:
Use an advocacy-based approach when:
- The coachee has a steep learning curve because of new job demands. They may need more advice, expertise, and suggestions to stimulate their thinking to take on these new challenges
- The coachee is from a culture or has a personality that responds better to someone with expertise. In this case, start with advocacy, and then switch to inquiry as coaching progresses
Use an inquiry-based approach when:
- The coachee needs to become more self-aware or needs to gain insight into how their behaviours are impacting others
- The coachee needs to reflect and learn from a past experience, when setting goals and when identifying how they want to proceed forward
Next time you hire an external executive coach, ask about the approach the coach uses so that you understand if they will use primarily an inquiry-based approach, or whether they are flexible and use both inquiry- and advocacy-approaches to coaching.
Dr. James Eyring is the Chief Operating Officer of Organisation Solutions and leads the global consulting practice. In addition, he specialises in leadership and talent management and works with companies and executives to build capabilities they need to fuel future growth. As part of his role, he provides coaching to global and top regional leaders. Contact James