Intent and attitude in coaching

Intent and attitude in coaching

What is the essence of coaching from the perspective of a coach?


The fundamental essence of being a great coach is your intent.

Most of us usually act with what we consider to be the best of intentions, so why are we drawing attention to intent here? Unfortunately, when you interact with one of your team, there are lots of things that might interfere with the interaction. You might, for example, have limited time or some expert knowledge or beliefs about the coachee that impact on your way of building rapport and managing the conversation.

In your coaching, it is important to fully consider your intent in the interaction. If it is simply to get something resolved quickly so you can get on to the next issue, then your coaching will be impacted negatively. If you want to help, but you believe that you have the right answer for the person, it might be easy for you to tell them, which will undermine your coaching. Most of us rarely think consciously about what our intent is, but it’s a really good place to start improving your coaching abilities. Your intent will underpin or undermine your ability to listen, question, get to the heart of the issue and provide what the coachee really needs.

Positive intent

Here are some examples of positive intent in coaching that will support you doing a good job:

  • Believing this person has all the potential to be great at this role.
  • Wanting to help this person unlock their true potential.
  • Wanting to help raise awareness and responsibility with this person.
  • Recognising that this person’s potential will be realised by optimising their own individuality and uniqueness.

Think about how a coaching session – or any communication for that matter – would be different if you held one of those things as your intent rather than one of the following less supportive or empowering intents.

  • How can I make this conversation as easy as possible for me?
  • I just want this person to do what I need them to do, and how I need them to do it!
  • Let’s get this over with.

It’s vitally important to keep positive intent or beliefs firmly in mind when practising the core skills of coaching.

You have to believe in the other person. If you do not, then it will infect your coaching and reduce its effectiveness. It will do this through infecting your attitude and hence your questions and how you communicate and interact with the other person.

The impact of a negative attitude

Coaching is based on mutual respect, mutual trust and freedom of expression. Think for a moment about the impact on this if you hold a negative or limiting attitude or belief about the people you coach. What is likely to happen to you and to your coaching if you hold negative attitudes and beliefs about the people you coach? Typically, these attitudes and beliefs will ‘infect’ your conversation and a number of things will happen.

  • At some level – probably subconsciously – your negative attitudes and beliefs are likely to get communicated to the other person. They may not be able to ‘put their finger on it’, but they are likely to get a feeling that all is not ideal. This could make them defensive, anxious, closed or any number of other things.
  • If you choose to hold a limiting feeling about the person you are coaching it is going to impact on the questions that you ask and, therefore, the responses that you get in return. If you think someone is not capable of something, this is what will come across in the questions you ask.
  • You may discount something of importance that is said and miss opportunities to give positive feedback if you are not ‘filtering’ for them.

What is a useful attitude to have?

Recent research into the effectiveness of coaching in the US has revealed that these are the core attributes required of a successful coach.

  • Patience
  • Detached
  • Supportive
  • Interested
  • Good listener
  • Awareness
  • Self-awareness
  • Attentive
  • Retentive
  • Perceptive
  • Technical expertise
  • Knowledge
  • Experience
  • Credibility
  • Authoritative

Coaching generates, and demands, a more positive perspective on others.


All of us are capable of improving who we are and what we do. Given the right environment and support, human beings love to learn and grow.

In short, any attitude that enables you to think about the other person with respect and with a belief that they have significant potential is going to be beneficial to your coaching of them.

It is actually very easy to choose to hold an empowering belief – especially if you have become aware that your current belief is not helpful. Before you enter a coaching session, just think about what you currently believe about the coachee and whether this is helpful to the coaching or not. If it is not, think about a different belief that you can choose to hold that would be more helpful. This does not mean that you need to think that this person is fantastic and capable of anything. Just think about a different perspective that is more empowering and beneficial to hold.

Tim Gallwey, the creator of the Inner Game books created an interesting equation.

This simple formula helps us to see that whatever level of performance a person is delivering, it is not equal to their potential – there is always more, and how much of their potential we see depends on the interferences that are present.


Coaching is about future possibilities, not past mistakes. We need to see people in terms of their future potential, not their past mistakes.

How would your coaching be if you thought of the other person as having a potential that you are currently not seeing, due to whatever specific interferences are in the way? It is likely that an attitude based on this belief would be supportive, forward looking and helpful to your coaching.

In business coaching, the coach is not a problem solver, a teacher, an advisor or an instructor. The coach is a facilitator, an awareness raiser and a sounding board. They can have a huge impact on the attitude of the coachee by how they coach, and by helping the coachee notice and reduce the interference that is getting in the way of allowing performance to equal potential.

Self awareness

Coaching, at one level, is a way of being, a mindset that covers our view of people, their potential and their ability to resolve their own issues.

You can also look at coaching as a set of tools, skills and processes – things that you can do with other people to bring about a result. However, the danger in doing this is that you miss the real benefit of taking a coaching approach as part of a well-rounded management style.

If you have, for example, a very directive personal style with a tendency to tell people what they need to do and how they need to do it, this will impact significantly on your coaching unless you are aware of it and adopt some flexibility. Using coaching tools, but with a directive style, can be counter-productive and send the wrong messages to your people.

Being aware of your own preferences helps you to be a better coach through enabling you to have flexibility where appropriate. Your own self-awareness is key to becoming a great coach and to using coaching appropriately.


A key to developing coaching as a mindset and to unleashing the full potential of your coaching is to develop your own self-awareness in all aspects of your management.

How do you develop this self-awareness?

You ask yourself questions that enable you to reflect on your skills, experiences and preferences. Specifically, you might ask questions like these:

  • What is my preferred style of management? (Am I more directive, affiliative, democratic or authoritarian?)
  • When is it really appropriate to use this style?
  • When is it not appropriate or counter-productive to use this style?
  • What specific behaviours do I notice in myself and how do they impact on my effectiveness?
  • What are the implications of these behaviours on my ability to coach and truly embrace a coaching style?

Seek feedback from your peers and reports on your management style. They are better placed to notice how you manage than you are. Your management style will affect the way you coach.

Your own attitude as a coach has a significant impact on the effectiveness and success of coaching. As human beings, it is very easy for us to have fixed opinions, views and beliefs about others.

Also see the awareness exercises in the topic on Emotional Intelligence.

What if I don’t ‘like’ the person I am coaching?

We may not all be able to go through life liking everybody we meet. In our work, we may not have any real choice about the people we interact with on a daily basis.

The good news is that you definitely do not have to like someone to be able to coach them successfully. Liking someone is different from the ability to create and keep rapport with them. So, as long as you focus on building and deepening rapport (for more, see Rapport), you can create an environment and relationship that is conducive to great coaching irrespective of liking the person.

It is important to remember that coaching is affiliative rather than power-based. It is based on a relationship of mutual trust and respect and will only work if both parties want it to work.