Simplified Coaching Approaches: YOU, ME or WE


Finding the common ground between introspective, directive, and collaborative coaching will help you maximize success in your most important coaching relationships.

Whether you are interested in how you personally coach those you lead or are considering hiring an external coach for yourself and others, understanding various coaching approaches can provide a helpful context in any upcoming coaching relationships. As a leader, being a good coach is no longer an option – it is an absolute requirement. But what exactly does the term “coaching” mean? How should a leader approach a coaching relationship? What should the person being coached expect?

In this article, we’ll look at three different coaching approaches to answer these questions. Every day, I discuss coaching with someone. I’m always fascinated by how differently individuals view what coaching is and is not. In fact, the only thing I find consistent about how different people define coaching is the reality that there is very little consistency on the topic. The exact definition of coaching isn’t as important as providing some context and clarity around what an individual does and/or does not expect around the topic of coaching. This is important for both the individual conducting the coaching and the one receiving it (whom I will refer to in this article as the coachee). I am often connected to leaders who are looking to hire an executive coach to help them in some area of their work life. Leaders understand that they are seeking outcomes differently than the ones they are getting, however, there is a wide range of expectations for the role they anticipate a coach playing in their situation. Is this because there are many conflicting thoughts on what coaching is and how it works? Maybe, maybe not.

The important thing here is that the coach and the coachee are on the same page with their individual expectations. Instead of presenting a catch-all definition that establishes a standard, “right” way of coaching, let’s look at a few simple reference points that can be used to help define a coaching relationship that works for both the coach and the coachee. In my experience, there are three distinct approaches to coaching: YOU, ME, and WE-based coaching. These labels describe where the majority of the information, knowledge, and answers come from during the coaching process. It also describes who is doing most of the talking.

The YOU approach is what I call the INTROSPECTIVE coaching method. This approach is the cornerstone for much of the professional coaching industry. The idea is that the coachee already possesses all the answers to his/her questions and the coach provides the pathway to help unlock the answers. In many cases, the coachee is too close to the situation; therefore, it’s necessary to step away to reset perspective. With this type of coaching, the coach doesn’t particularly need to be an expert on the topic for which the client is seeking coaching.

The ME approach is what I call the DIRECTIVE coaching method. This approach requires the coach to have experience or expertise in the subject matter surrounding the coaching in order to give advice and make suggestions. For example, as a new golfer, I hired a golf coach to teach me. I needed him to show me how to grip the club, where to line up in relation to the ball, and how to rotate my body. Without his direction, I did not have the information needed to advance. A more subtle strategy is providing information and knowledge that provides the coachee content they can use as they choose.

Finally, the WE approach is what I call the COLLABORATIVE coaching method. It is a combination of the previous two approaches. At times, the coach provides information, guidance, direction, and suggestions. At other times, the coach guides the coachee to come up with his/her own answers. Frequently though, both parties are working together as a team to come up with solutions to the challenges at hand.In my experience, the most powerful and specialized coaching features some combination of all three of these approaches. While the right mix is unique to each situation and individual, there are some common best practices for you to consider regardless of your situation.

Start with the YOU approach and stick with it as much as you can! There are many reasons why this introspective-based coaching is the cornerstone used by the professional coaching industry. First, when coachees are given the space to think and explore their own mind, the depth and quality of ideas they generate is mind-blowing. The next reason is ownership; when ideas come from the coachee, the ability to digest and own his/her answers is much more powerful than if suggested by an outside party. Finally, if the coach contributes input and suggestions, the YOU approach creates a stable foundation for the coachee to consider new ideas. Building on the foundation that comes from their introspective thoughts, input has a place to land and merge into the coachee’s deeper understandings.

The ‘introspective’ approach not only helps solve the topic at hand but also provides other great long-term benefits. This approach builds more self-confidence in coachees as they discover their own ability to uncover ah-ha’s and answers. It also provides a great first-hand reference to the power of this coaching method — and as more of your leaders experience the benefits, they will embrace the techniques and use them with others they are coaching throughout the organization. If you want to improve your ability to coach introspectively, remember the following tips:

  1. Invest time before each important coaching discussion preparing well-thought-out questions.

  2. Ask only open-ended questions that move the conversation forward.

  3. Be patient, get comfortable with silence, and give the coachee time to think through ideas.

  4. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Want to improve your coaching time with those you lead? Challenge yourself to minimize directive coaching and maximize introspective coaching. If you can consistently answer yes to the following questions, you’ll be on the right track:

  1. Am I investing more time asking questions than providing direction?

  2. Am I avoiding asking leading questions that may guide the coachee to MY answers?

  3. Am I patient enough, giving him/her space to process?

  4. When I wrap up a coaching discussion, am I encouraging the coachee to summarize the insights and takeaways instead of doing it for them?

While the topic of coaching can be very complex, this article simplifies how to look at it and approach it with others. In today’s busy world, it is difficult to find the patience to see new habits through. My hope is that, despite this, you’ll make practicing introspective coaching a priority. I promise you’ll be glad you did – the payoff will be great!