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John Blakey

John Blakey Ltd

Challenging Coaching - Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS

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How do you balance support and challenge in coaching?


We are delighted this week to have our first guest blogger, Angela Sabin. If anyone else would like to blog on a theme related to Challenging Coaching then please get in touch. Here are Angela’s intriguing thoughts on the topic of the ‘loving boot’:-

‘I am a passionate advocate for John and Ian’s work on Challenging Coaching, especially their notion of the ‘loving boot’.  It seems to me that offering high challenge (that’s the boot) together with high support (the love), must create the best space for client high performance.  Without this vital fusion, coaching sessions could fall into the other quadrants – pointless, over cosy or stressful.

The key for me was how I could translate this to my own coaching interventions – what do my loving boots look, sound and feel like? I started by explaining the challenge and support model (see below) and asked 14 clients to mark their perception – where on the model did they feel the majority of our session fell?  And guess what?  Explaining the quadrants introduced challenge as a key coaching component and made clients more receptive to challenging interventions. What a bonus!

support challenge matrix

I also listened to recordings of my sessions and, using a simple version of behavioural analysis, calculated the percentage balance between supportive and challenging interventions to compare actual balance to client perception.Whether the client was on their first session or a later one, they rated challenge and support as balanced, even though I presented a lower actual percentage of challenge to first timers.  I infer that as our relationship builds, I increase the stretch and this does not affect client ratings – a greater receptiveness to the stretch I present as we build our relationship?

Checking out critical incidents – defined as those interventions I made that enabled the client to make noticeable progress – was interesting.  The most powerful supportive critical incidents included silences; reflecting, especially feelings as well as phrases like: “What I’m sensing is….”. The most powerful challenging critical incidents included offering observations on behaviour patterns and inviting the client to experiment – chair work, timelines and role play.  I found that I definitely presented higher levels of challenge when playing another “player” during client role play.

It was interesting to find that there were different levels of challenge within my questions.   Higher levels included meta model questions such as “Expected by whom?” and “Absolutely never?”.  Others were “If you asked a wise woman for advice, what would she say?”.  “As you hear yourself saying that, what are you thinking?”; “On a scale of 1 – 10, how committed are you to this?”; “For what percentage of this problem are you responsible?”.

So, do these findings suggest I wear a fluffy slipper on one foot and a sharp toed spiky heeled boot on the other?

Not always.  My most effective interventions fused a high degree of challenge withsupport.  These were challenging, but ‘marked’ as supportive in some noticeable way, such as a much gentler tone of voice or by offering the challenge with a tentative verbal marker (such as “I’m wondering if…?”).

Overall, this piece of reflective learning has given me fresh ideas for polishing my loving boots.  Finding an appropriate balance to create a high performance space isn’t just about an equal frequency of interventions that challenge and support.  It is just as much about fusing both aspects and calibrating appropriate levels for each client and for different points in the coaching relationship.

What do your well-polished loving boots look, feel and sound like? Please add your thoughts and comments via our challenging coaching linkedin group.’

Angela Sabin specialises in coaching leaders and leadership teams.  For a copy of her complete findings, email

One Response

  1. LMS administrator Support

    To balance support and challenges in coaching Learning Management administrative support is needed. With this organizations can get effective training and learning. I have a webinar related to this which you may find helpful. Have a look on it.

    Free Live Webinar: Why Overlooking LMS Administration Can Prove Costly?


Author Profile Picture
John Blakey

Challenging Coaching - Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS

Read more from John Blakey

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