Coaching provides a space
for leaders to develop habits
that allow them to flourish
with confidence and competence.

One of the common questions I get from folks who are trying to decide if I am a good coaching fit for their organization is, “What is your coaching style?”  

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This is a very interesting question and I usually answer with a phrase used by one of my first coaching clients who described me as having “both heart and edge.”

However, a study published in the December 2018 issue of the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research has shed some interesting light on describing coaching style.

The thing that makes the study so interesting is that the researchers proposed that coaches in the workplace present with four different coaching styles. Confronted with this research, I began to wonder how my style might fit into this newly proposed typology.

As I studied and reflected on the the four different categories, I struggled to fit myself into any ONE of them. Through some deeper reflection, it dawned on me that I have engaged all four coaching styles as I listen to my client, determine his/her needs, and flex my style accordingly.

Below are the four typologies suggested in the research study, a brief description of each, and a short little case study of the work I did with clients that fits within these frameworks. The names of the clients have been changed, but each of the scenarios are quite common in my executive coaching practice.

Client-Led . . .

In client-led coaching, the orientation of the coaching is on the relationship. The coach is attentive to the client, asking many questions and explores issues in an easy going manner. Empathy, rapport, and compassion are maintained. The client is primarily responsible for bringing the agenda to the coaching sessions.

Nelly is a national brand leader for a top tier pharmaceutical company. The organization holds a top 20 ranking according to both Science and Fortune as being a great place to work. Nelly is someone who prizes personal development and whose organization wants to give her opportunities to stretch and grow. Nelly values executive coaching because the relationship gives her a safe place to bring issues and to think out loud. So many times a leader just needs a thinking partner. Someone to process issues without people on their team creating work that really no one wanted done or thought was a good idea. Every month, Nelly will bring what is on her mind and my role is to listen and ask germane questions that help her think more deeply about what is going on in her business or personal life. The value in this type of coaching is creating the space for the client to think and grow in a safe environment.


The coaching orientation is less personal than in the client- led style. Often instructions are given to the coach about what inputs and outcomes are required in the agreement. There is more of a formality to the process including written reports and documented action plans. Instructional, informative, and clarity are prioritized. While the coach can still build credibility with the client there is less emphasis placed on the relationship and more emphasis is placed on the information.


Kelly is a long-term employee at a regional distribution company. The organization is in Fortune Magazine's top 50 places to work and in the top 10 places to retire from. The organization takes leadership very seriously and puts its associates through a battery of tests such as the Hogan Leadership Forecast Assessment, a narrative 360, and the Bates Executive Presence Assessment. The organization asked me as an external coach to do a few interviews and provide input on Kelly and his current leadership with direct reports and peers. In addition, as the coach I would discuss future leadership needs to be developed using an internal leadership model. I also administered an Emotional Intelligence Self-Assessment and a pre-coachiing survey so that I could get a more complete picture of Kelly’s leadership abilities and potential. My role as the coach is then to collate all of this information and provide an assessment of where Kelly is at in terms of his leadership abilities, along with any development opportunities that may surface. The report is to be written and covered with Kelly then shared with the organization. Kelly has the opportunity to add comments, but the report on leadership is from the view of the coach.


In the dialogic stye, the coach is doing deep exploration with the client including emotional reactions, drives and motivations, values and worldviews, choice of words, and both short-term and long-term outcomes. In this style, the coach actually takes a less active role and instead holds the space for the client, allowing for a sense of reflection rather than propping up the conversation or finding solutions. Empathy, calm, curiosity, and reassurance characterize the style. There may even be times when the conversation does not appear to be purposeful or moving forward. The coach must be skilled at keeping the client engaged during these times.


The first time I met Robert was because he had a meltdown conversation with his CEO. He told his boss that he just couldn’t take it any more, he couldn’t work with all the pressure, he had no work family balance, and that he wasn’t sure he could do his role any longer. Now the CEO was smart enough to know that while Robert was frustrated for sure, very little that he was communicating was actually true. Robert loved his role, he loved working hard, and he really enjoyed the people he worked with. As an executive coach my role became to help Robert do some deep exploration into the frustrations he was felling and the lack of impulse control he had shown with the CEO. We talked a lot about what motivates him and what he values and then how he was communicating those things through how he was approaching his work. Our conversations had both a tactical, short-term focus with me always bringing Robert back to his long-term overall career objectives. Overview: Participants will develop an understanding of the impact that emotions have on productivity and execution in the work environment. Via interactive discussions, group work, and peer coaching, the learner gains knowledge of how and when emotions impact workplace judgments and decisions, then use acquired skills to apply tools that facilitate enhanced execution. Improved work efficiency and interpersonal communications are direct outcomes of this training session. Self-awareness will be created by a validated and reliable emotional intelligence leadership self-assessment. Customized applications of self-assessment learning will be made to individual current work situations. Action plans will be written for individual development based upon content learned in the course.

Process-Led . . .

Characterizing this style of coaching are structures and techniques such as goal setting, activities, and/or exercises. The coach is actively working with a myriad of interpersonal techniques and strategies. Often there is less time spent on reflection and more focus is placed on a particular issue the client is experiencing, then following a semi-prescribed structure to assist the client in solving the issue. Structure, process, technique, and leadership by the coach describe this style. While relationship is important, it is not emphasized as the coach focuses engagement in structuring the process and ensuring the client hits the goals and targets.


Peter showed up in my coaching practice after his boss threw her hands in the air and said, “I love the technical skills you bring to this role, Peter, but I cannot keep apologizing for your behavior and how you treat other people.” After completing an interview style 360 feedback process, it became clear to me that Peter was a technical expert in his field that people valued, but how he treated others had landed him at a point where no one trusted him or wanted to work with him any longer. It had gotten so bad that people would avoid meetings if Peter was involved. Coaching was focused on helping Peter understand how he was showing up and establishing a plan with specific goals on how he could change his behavior. We had very deep and productive discussions on the actions of others that triggered Peter into behaving poorly and what he could do to lessen his trigger response. Peter also learned in the coaching that people valued his technical expertise, yet all that value was lost in how he was showing up. He needed a logical approach to solve what he called “irrational behaviors." The work we did was logical and based in neuroscience literature. At the end of the coaching, Peter's boss was singing his praises when she told him, “I no longer have to apologize to people for how Peter shows up. In fact, new customers who didn’t know Peter prior to the coaching are singing his praises not only on how smart he is, but how easy it is to work with him."

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