The discussion of whether a coach is using a directive or non-directive coaching approach is not an academic discussion. As a person that has held internal and external coach positions, the primary reason to explicitly understand the expectations of the role and how those expectations can evolve is so that you can manage those expectations. As noted in Directive or Non-Directive Coaching, coaching one way or the other is neither good nor bad depending on the context. The big but is that when a person, team, or organization expects or needs you to act one way and you act the other things go awry.  Three basic scenarios can be used to illustrate when one approach is indicated over another. They are: 

Scenario 1: The coachee does not have the skills or knowledge needed for a situation. A directive approach should be your default approach. In a non-directive approach, the coach guides the coachee to form their own conclusions based on their knowledge, skills, and experience. If the coachee does not have the basis for making decisions in this scenario the risk of failure increases exponentially. In the long run, a non-directive would be useful for facilitating the organic acquisition of knowledge and skills that are owned by the coachee. Issues arise when time is of the essence or when there is a high probability of the coachee making a bad choice that can not be undone. If the coaching agreement does not give the coach permission to use directive techniques, such as providing direction, sharing skills, and knowledge transfer the risk of failure will increase.

 Scenario 2: A leader or coachee is used to one approach or the other. You need to level-set before you start any coaching engagement. I highly recommend establishing an agreement covering expectations. Some individuals have one coaching model stuck in their minds as being the preferred model. One of the most common experiences with coaches is through athletics during school years. Athletic coaches are predominantly directive in nature. If that is the model you expect and the coach is using non-directive techniques frustration will set in. A friend in India recently told me a story about a coach who was caught unaware when they got a new boss who viewed non-directive coaches as unassertive and unproductive. The coach nearly lost their job before developing an understanding that the rules had changed. 

Scenario 3: The person, team, or organization being coached has a mature understanding of the subject being addressed. A coach taking a directive approach in this scenario might as well put their hand in a running garbage disposal. The coaching agreement, in this scenario, needs to explicitly recognize that the coach should be drawing on non-directive techniques, such as Socratic questions, to help the team consolidate their knowledge and understanding into a decision or idea that they can own.

In their book,  Tame your Work Flow, Daniel Doiron and Steve Tendon make the point that the risk of failure is great for any significant change. Coaching is one of the primary tools most organizations leverage to mitigate the risk inherent in change. However, unless pressed, very few step back and consider the coaching approach the coach (or coaches) will take. There is often an expectation in some quarters that the coach will bring their skills, knowledge, AND experience to bear on the problem in an active manner. While in other quarters, there will be expectations that the coach will help the teams do their own thinking. In almost every coaching engagement both approaches will be needed but one will tend to dominate. Level set before you start and then monitor how that approach is work and level set again when things begin to wander off track.  

Next:  Enter The Guide.