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Can we know too much as coaches?

Posted By Alison Dixon (Griffiths), Success Coaching & Development Ltd, 10 September 2017
Updated: 21 August 2017

I’ve been holding this question for some time and explored it with other coaches. At its heart, is whether we do our best coaching when we are less informed?

Considering how we are as coaches with expanding knowledge is important.

When I began as a qualified professional I understood the process, principles and ethics of coaching. With continued CPD, practice and supervision I coached in more complex organisational situations and better managed, lead myself as a coach. I readily applied or created psychological models and principles. However, I did not always relate the session to scientific theory or relevant research in the way I can do now. Coaching simply worked and I was absolutely present, congruent (and raw!)

CPD is essential in reaching a level of mastery and as a champion of life-long learning I’m not suggesting stopping. However, in observing other coaches and from my own experience, I wonder, can we know too much? Does our style, skill or indeed attitude automatically change for the better with increased knowledge? There are three common situations that have fuelled my curiosity:-

1. Client consultations - We may be clear on a solution. However, does our motivation remain as high when new techniques are disregarded for the tried and tested?

2. One-to-one coaching sessions – others tell me that their energy can be expended on “trying to remember” or selecting the best model from an expanding knowledge bank.

3. Group Coaching – can we so easily suspend judgement when coachees are not ready for proven methods?

It’s difficult to ‘unknow’ what we know. In all three examples, knowledge has the capacity to challenge neutrality, attention and unbiased expectations of our self and others – some of the basic skills of coaching.

Knowledge therefore creates an interesting paradox. Is what I’ve learnt informing a session, supporting the client or taking something away from it, them or me?

OK – a little self-coaching would help:-

• How can I be in meetings with this knowledge whilst holding onto the qualities of a novice?

• How can I demonstrate the art and science of coaching and be a coach not a mentor, a consultant not a guru, a facilitator not a trainer?

• In what way will mastery best serve the client, community and me in the meaning of coaching? My responses come from a meta-awareness of knowledge. By • establishing more consciously the driver and purpose behind each development activity before embarking on it

• remaining present, accepting and suspending my knowing at a given moment

• contracting with my inner coach as novice and expert so that I can sit in enquiry whilst each receives what I have learnt at the right time I can better balance professional and social expectations and personal desire whilst staying in service of clients, the coaching community and myself.

Ultimately, we can lead ourselves from a more mindful position of knowledge with wisdom and hold onto Socrate’s wise words regardless of how much we know:

“I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.”


Alison is a Master Accredited Executive Coach and a founder member of the AC who has been professionally coaching individuals and teams for almost 15 years. She is the creator of walnut™ - leading wisely - the self-coaching resource designed for the executive. Website: LinkedIn: Email: or

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