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Application of Non-directive Coaching in Leadership

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What is Coaching
  3. What Does Coaching Mean to Me?
  4. The Journey – Key Insights & Learning


Alexander (2005: 15) notes that ‘Coaching is an enabling process to increase performance, development and fulfilment’. The purpose of this essay is to explore my understanding and application of non-directive coaching. This will be achieved through a combination of personal reflection and a review of literature.

Moreover, we will be looking at Alexander (2005) idea that a ‘SuperCoach’ pushes people to go beyond what they thought was possible. Firstly, a working definition of coaching will be discussed before going on to explore how it relates to me in my professional development. Specifically, my key insights and learning will be considered alongside my journey through the Coaching in Leadership (CIL) course. Secondly, sessions with my coaching partner will be examined alongside the tools used for non-directive coaching. Finally, I will reflect on how I will apply (CIL) in my practise whilst undergoing self-assessment to conclude with my self-development needs.

What is Coaching

A key part of my journey through (CIL) was understanding what the term ‘Coaching’ meant in this professional context. For me a coach was someone who throughout my childhood and professional life was someone with a whistle directing physical activity. Alexander (2005) notes that there are numerous definitions of coaching. For example, Whitmore (1996) describes coaching as unblocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. Connor (2012) adds to this noting that coaching is a learning relationship that supports someone taking charge of their own development.

A coach is a collaborative partner who works with the learner to help them achieve their goals. Alongside Alexander (2005) I understood that coaching in a professional context was about enabling, helping and supporting others reach their true potential. “A coach trusts that people have their own solutions and that they have inherent talents”. Whilst I did not enter into (CIL) with this rationale I certainly left with it. The main part of my development on this course came with understanding the rationale of non-directive coaching.

Alexander (2005: 13) notes that, “coaching was predominately a non-directive method of working with people to enable them to tap into their own capacity and, in the process, to find ways to perform more effectively, to resolve issues and to learn to grow”. Connor (2012) adds that clients must be enabled to take charge of their own development, thus realising their own potential.

Alexander (2005) explains that a SuperCoach will use non directive methods such as questioning and open comments rather than offering their opinion. My understanding of this is that you are creating a relationship with your client, to go on a journey, rather than simply suggesting solutions to their problems. This makes the process more authentic and worthwhile as you have pulled them rather than push them towards solutions. Without imparting any wisdom, simply listening and questioning. By grasping this process the penny finally dropped that whilst I have lots of opinions I don’t have the answer for everybody, they must decide what their success is.

What Does Coaching Mean to Me?

Simply put, I believe in following Alexander (2015) advice of being the best version of me I can be. As an Active Schools Coordinator working in Fife I have massive variations in the type of work I am involved in. It is a very difficult role to explain and can range from being involved in high level strategic meetings, working with schools, clubs, communities, young people & various partners both locally, regionally & nationally.

A huge part of the role is working with various people which involves wearing many different hats. I chose to attend (CIL) as I am at a point in my professional development where I am influencing and making decisions at a more strategic level. A colleague had recommended studying ‘SuperCoaching’ as a way to improve my leadership skills and in turn get more from partnership work.

Coaching in Leadership was going to help me build capacity in the people I am working with along with enabling me to learn about my strengths & weaknesses. My key strengths in a professional context are that I am a very proactive person who genuinely enjoys the job I do and care about the clients I work with. Whilst this falls into Covey (2015) description of very successful people; I have issues with keeping an end in mind. I found myself doing a good job at everything rather than a great job at a select few specific projects. This was not giving me job satisfaction where I had become caught up in what Holden (2005) describes as the busy generation. Little time was spent following Connor (2012) principle of reflecting and evaluating, while all time was spent doing, then jumping from task to task without feeling success.

My weakness was enabling and allowing my peers to support me with projects. Through (CIL) I began to understand the value of coaching and for me, the success of the whole thing was underpinned by relationships. The quote from Socrates that “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think” was really telling during the course. I learned very quickly that I needed to spend more time listening, reflecting and learning rather than simply doing. I already possessed values like being supportive, honesty and being self-aware. Although, as explained in Covey (2015) I hadn’t spent enough time just listening, rather I listened only to respond. Thankfully, this is something that really struck home with me once I grasped the concept of non-directive coaching.

The Journey – Key Insights & Learning

A big part of the journey through (CIL) was the paired coaching sessions. This allowed me to put into practise the things I was beginning to understand. As someone who advocated John Dewey’s ‘Learning by doing’ I found this process essential. My coaching partner was like me initially cautious and a bit sceptical about the idea of listening, questioning and reflecting rather than offering advice. Alongside this she was also having very similar issues my wife (teacher) was experiencing in her school – allowing me to practise both through coaching sessions and at home.

Reflecting on the first coaching session we had I can only imagine Graham Alexander covering his ears. It’s clear our proactive “this is what you need to do” mind-set was actually inhibiting the process. I thought about what Alexander (2005: 123) tells us, “Why, within 10 minutes of meeting a coach, would somebody reveal aspects of himself, his concerns, hopes and dreams that he may not have previously shared with anyone? Over the years, we have come to recognise that one of the primary factors that enables this to happen is being non-judgemental. ” Upon reflection and gaining a better understanding of non-directive I started practising listening.

The work of Covey (2004) was very helpful in teaching me the importance of empathetic listening which resulted in my coachee becoming much more open and trusting in me. We began to get much deeper into the issues my coaching partner had which I interpreted as a successful session.

During the coaching process we had a range of tools we were shown alongside the outlined coaching skills required for success. The one I found most useful was the GROW model. Whitmore (1996) notes that the GROW model was formulated on the back of himself & Graham Alexander being tasked to create an underpinning framework for coaching. Alexander (2005) explains the model as the following 4 stages; Goal, Reality, Options & Wrap Up. Alexander (2005: 229) notes that “Grow captures a key aspect of what coaching is and does: enabling people to grow, to develop their capabilities, achieve high performance and gain fulfilment”.

Alexander (2005) comments that the GROW model when applied to coaching involves agreeing a ‘Goal’, looking at the ‘Reality’ of the situation, looking at available ‘Options’ before finally outlining a way forward in the ‘Wrap Up’. Whilst my coaching partner and I used this tool it was very interesting that as we progressed our initial goal changed. Alexander (2005) explains this well noting that when we finally begin to truly reflect, we are able to look objectively at our issues rather than make quick judgements on them. Our realities were not as we had first imagined them, neither was our goals and success criteria.

As my coaching skills improved and our relationship developed I started to realise that the majority of my coaching partner’s frustrations came from a need to control. Moreover, she couldn’t understand that others didn’t have the same work ethic and emotional attachment to their job as her. In her own words “they didn’t do the job to the level she wanted therefore she is better off doing it herself”. Evidently, this wasn’t a productive way for her to lead. I read about Alexander (2005) point regarding the need for a coachee to have a mission statement that captures their reason for being.

I then utilised the 3 chair role play tool outlined by Alexander (2005). The coach had a turn formulating her mission statement which as expected related to emotional attachment to her work and a drive to do her absolute best. We then switched to her playing one of her employees. Whilst role playing the difficult employee she noted that the job was just a job to them, they weren’t as emotionally attached and they performed the job in different ways.

Finally, switching her into the chair of the observer the coachee realised that not everyone is like her. Other people have their own measures of success and ways of working. At this point my coachee broke down in tears which I found very unnerving for a coaching session, worried I had pushed her too far and upset her. However, after I comforted her she admitted we found eureka moment where she realised not everyone shares her mission statement and measure of success. Through my non directive questioning we agreed she would think more about how her employees feel and look at tasks rather than expecting others to be as fantastic as she clearly was.

Alexander (2005) comments that a main benefit of coaching is having time to think. Our way forward was simply a change in the coachee’s thought process rather than any wholesale changes in practise. I felt really happy that without a massive inside knowledge of her situation I managed to provide a positive outlook. This was supported by the Hay Paper (2013) note that coaching does not require the coach to be knowledgeable in the subject matter, only experts in the art of coaching. Reflection:I thoroughly enjoyed the (CIL) course.

A big success for me was going away feeling like I understood my own parameters for success. Alongside this I felt as if I was less stressed about a large workload. Subsequently, I was able to reflect much better as I internally thought about my coaching questions and the GROW model. My focus and job satisfaction was back plus I no longer feel stressed in the workplace. Moreover, I now feel like I get much more from partnership work & mentoring. What I learned from Alexander (2005) allowed me to set clear achievable goals and get the best form the people I work with. This is something I have applied on both personal and professional life – which I also thank Covey’s (2015) 7 habits for.

The next steps for myself are to continue to challenge myself to be the best person I can be. I will continue to remind myself of the importance of listening to understand as well as assigning real time to reflect. Moreover, I will use the principles I have learned through (CIL) to support my colleagues, peers and myself to be successful. Simply using the language, listening skills, empathy & self-awareness in my day to day life. In practical terms I am using non directive coaching along with the grow model with my employees, volunteers and peers through regular catch ups. Subsequently, I am an advocate of the (CIL) course and sell the ideology to people regularly.

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Application Of Non-Directive Coaching In Leadership. (2020, July 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
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