The Four Faces of Coaching

Innovation; Research
​Jacqui Pollock, Lead Facilitator for Coach in a Box

Coaching is sometimes portrayed as a dark art shrouded in mystery. This is utter nonsense - it’s about harnessing people’s innate ability to motivate and inspire and deploying that ability in everyday situations.

Many principals are striving to develop a coaching culture in their schools - setting up processes for their teachers to observe and feed back to each other through peer coaching. They may even be interested in exploring the potential for their teachers to develop coaching skills in order to coach their students along increasingly personalised learning pathways. So how do we support school leaders and teaching staff to feel confident and competent in their ability to coach others?

A lot has been written about coaching and a whole new industry of executive coaches has sprung up over the last 10 years. Unfortunately, many people create a mystery around coaching so that it can easily be seen as a dark art, beyond the reach of mere mortals. This is, of course, nonsense. In fact, our experience is that most people have, at one time or other, had a huge impact on the lives of friends, family, pupils or colleagues at work and have really helped them to grow, take on a new challenge or have inspired them, through a belief in their potential.  Great coaching is about harnessing this innate ability and using it to benefit those around us.

So, do you have to become a highly skilled coach to coach other people? No, but you do need to do the basics well and, most importantly, unearth and develop your natural coaching talent. It will take more than this article to develop those basics, but it will introduce you to “The Four Faces of Coaching” enabling you to gain an understanding of which face might be your natural style of coaching and which face you might need to develop.

We believe that there are four core coaching styles: Expert, Challenger, Counsellor and Supporter. Expert and Challenger are more directive (push) styles, whilst Counsellor and Supporter are more supportive (pull). In the table below, the left-hand side describes the essence of each of these coaching styles. Do any of these resonate with you? The right-hand side describes the possible downsides if you overplay this coaching style.

The Expert displays a deep knowledge of their subject and a passion for sharing this knowledge with others, linked to the wisdom to offer sound advice and opinion in most situations.arrowThe Expert can become a compulsive advisor, more interested in giving their opinion rather than listening to what anyone else thinks. They can get into problem solving for people who could, in fact, solve the problem themselves and can lose touch with the needs of the person they are coaching.
The Challenger has the vision to see what can be different about a person and the courage to act on what they see.arrowIf too much challenge is used it can begin to lose its impact and the coachee can end up feeling emotionally battered or overly criticized.
The Counsellor displays a strong belief that an individual can discover their own answers and find their own solutions.arrowAt times people need more direct counsel and guidance than the Counsellor will naturally provide. At times, self-discovery can take too long and the immediacy of a situation demands that the coach is able to provide options or a solution.
The Supporter has the ability to see the potential in others and genuinely believe that their potential can be reached.arrowOn occasion, Supporters can avoid tackling poor performance head on (they are always seeing the potential in people). This can be particularly limiting when the context demands results very quickly.

© Coach in a Box, 2007

In our experience we all have our natural styles or faces of coaching - ways of coaching in which we feel more comfortable and that we use more frequently. Whilst these faces of coaching serve us well on many occasions, there are situations in which it may be more useful to use a face of coaching that comes less naturally to us. The following table describes some hints and tips that will allow you to use both natural and your less natural styles of coaching more effectively.



1. Role modelling

It is easy to underestimate the insight others gain from watching you work. Why not allow your coachee to watch you operating in aspects of your role? You will be surprised how much they pick up.

2. Explain in detail

When you are naturally strong at something you can sometimes find yourself “unconsciously competent” - doing something well without knowing explicitly what it is that you are doing, or how you are doing it. However, if you step back and take the time to make conscious your expertise you can then provide a powerful source of content for coaching others.



1. Straight and honest is best

Most of us become anxious when challenging others. The feelings that result from this can distort the message and we are either tentative around the subject or too harsh with the individual, using an aggressive approach. In either case, the other party tends to find the experience more difficult and will often become defensive. Telling the truth with respect is the best way forward.

Telling the truth with respect

2. Use ‘fact impact’ feedback

Always explain your intention and give the facts:

a. Why you want to make the challenge.
b. The specific data; give one or more specific factual examples (what you saw, what you heard), and the impact it had:
  • The thoughts that arose in you or others (the interpretation).
  • The feelings that arose in you or others (the reaction).
i.e. “When you …” (the fact) “I thought/noticed/ felt …” (the impact).

N.B. Be careful with opinions and judgments. If you must give them, label them as such, e.g. “It was easy for me to think that …’.

(Opinions and judgements are based on interpretation and not necessarily the truth – until you check them out.)



1. Do not try and solve the problem, listen, reflect more, ask less

It is easy to underestimate quite how leading (closed) many of our questions are. By asking a question we tend to invite others to think in a particular way. As a result it is generally worth thinking about doing more reflection and less questioning.

The best way of reflecting is to simply repeat back, using the same key phrases and, if possible, the key statement the other party has made.

Another useful tool is TED questions, which are intentionally non-leading.
Tell me ... (e.g. more about that)
Explain ... (e.g. your thinking here)
Describe ... (e.g. what you saw).

2. Feelings are worth more than thoughts

In many coaching situations “feelings” will get you to the solution quicker than your coachee’s rational thoughts and opinions on a subject. Leverage the power of “feelings” in coaching by naming them and describe what you see and feel in others, e.g. “As I listen to what you are saying you seem frustrated …” or “I can hear how sad you are about …”.



1. Believe in them

One of the great abilities most people have is to be able to sense when someone else believes in them. If you can see the potential in someone, it will rub off and it will do so even more if you demonstrate this belief by trusting them with responsibilities that are important to you.

2. If it’s so obvious to praise people, why is it hard to do?

Two of the most common reasons why people hold back on praise are:

“It will come across as patronising.”

FACT: If “facts” are given rather than simply “interpretations”, praise rarely comes across as patronising.

“Negative feedback is more useful, you cannot do anything with positives.”

FACT: Most people are overly self-critical because they see the negatives more than the positives. You can act on positives ... by doing more of them!


Coaching on the go

The most valuable coaching you can provide is in the moment and this can take numerous forms, be that debriefing a difficult situation, unpicking a difficult decision together or helping someone realise why they are the best person to take on a particular challenge.

Consider this scenario:

A principal invites one of her senior teachers to present a new initiative to the next School Council meeting. Her natural style is to offer her expertise, which is always gratefully received. So before the meeting, she sits down with the senior teacher and runs over the content of the presentation, offering suggestions on how it could be even better. However, during this session the teacher becomes more and more quiet. Perhaps the Expert face is not what is needed in this scenario. Using a Counsellor face, the principal could recognise the fact that the teacher seems to be quiet and ask how he is feeling about doing the presentation. From this exploration she discovers that he is comfortable speaking in front of children but gets really nervous when he needs to present to adults. The principal could then switch to a Supporter coaching style and help to build the teacher's confidence in his ability to talk passionately about this subject matter and help him see how he can use their natural engaging style with adults as well as children.

The best coaches position themselves so that they are on hand to provide help when it is most needed and are able to flex their coaching style to meet the needs of others.

Coaching can be a hugely rewarding experience, not only for the receiver of the coaching but also for the coaches themselves. Creating a culture within a school where pupils, teachers and leaders alike are all willing to be coached and to coach others can foster a vibrant learning environment fit for twenty-first century education.

Jacqui is leading a one-day workshop on Thursday 7 August 2014 at Bastow for leaders interested in “Creating a coaching culture” in their schools. Before the workshop, participants will be matched with a coach for a coaching session, to help them to identify their natural coaching style. The workshop will then offer an intensive opportunity for participants to:
  • Understand some fundamental coaching models and processes, such as the GROW model, levels of listening and the perceptual positions process.
  • Observe coaching simulations designed to model these processes.
  • Put some of the theory into practice through coaching triad work.
  • Explore how to implement a successful culture change by using all change levers available, and build a change plan relevant to your own school context.