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Coaching Focus Group | Blog

Machiavellian Coaching: The Illusion of Non-Directiveness in Driving Agendas

Trayton Vance
May 6, 2023
3 min read
In coaching, the commonly idealized non-directive approach, emphasising the coachee's self-discovery, often faces a hidden challenge known as 'Machiavellian Coaching.' This term draws from Niccolò Machiavelli's political philosophy, representing the subtle ways in which coaches, believing they are non-directive, unconsciously guide coachees towards predetermined solutions. Despite coaches aspiring to remain neutral, their inherent biases and beliefs can inadvertently influence the coaching process. The crux of Machiavellian coaching lies in the coach's hidden agenda, impacting coachees by steering them toward decisions aligned with the coach's values rather than their own, hindering true self-discovery. Recognizing and addressing these tendencies through self-awareness and creating an empowering coaching environment becomes crucial to maintaining the integrity of the coaching process.
Who is this article for?
In this article
  1. The Disguise of Non-Directiveness
  2. The Hidden Agenda
  3. The Impact on the Coachee
  4. Recognising Machiavellian Tendencies in Coaching
  5. Conclusion

May 6, 2023
3 min read

In the realm of coaching, the ideal is often portrayed as a non-directive approach, where the coach facilitates rather than dictates the coachee's journey. However, a phenomenon that lurks beneath the surface of many coaching interactions is what can be termed 'Machiavellian Coaching.'

This term draws from the political philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelliolò, who advocated for cunning and duplicity in statecraft. In a coaching context, Machiavellian coaching refers to the subtle, often unnoticed ways in which a coach, believing themselves to be non-directive, actually steers the coachee towards a preconceived solution or outcome.

The Disguise of Non-Directiveness

Many coaches pride themselves on their ability to remain neutral and non-directive. They believe their questions are open-ended, their feedback is impartial, and their guidance is solely for the benefit of the coachee's self-discovery. However, the reality can be quite different. Coaches, being human, come with their own sets of biases, experiences, and beliefs. These factors can unconsciously influence their approach, leading them to subtly guide the coachee in a direction that aligns with the coach’s perspective or desired outcome.

The Hidden Agenda

The crux of Machiavellian coaching lies in the hidden agenda. It's not that these coaches are deliberately manipulative; rather, they are often unaware of their covert objectives. For instance, a coach might subtly steer a conversation to highlight the risks of a particular career move because they view it as imprudent. The coachee, often unaware of this subtle manipulation, might then veer away from a path they were initially excited about, adopting instead a course that aligns more closely with their coach's unspoken agenda.

The Impact on the Coachee

This manipulation, even when unintended, can have significant consequences for the coachee. It can lead to decisions that are not entirely their own, stifling true self-discovery and personal growth. The coachee may pursue goals that align more with their coach’s values than their own, leading to dissatisfaction and a sense of being unfulfilled in the long run.

Recognising Machiavellian Tendencies in Coaching

For coaches, self-awareness is key. Regular reflection and supervision can help identify and mitigate unintentional biases. Coaches should continually question their motivations and remain vigilant against the inclination to project their solutions onto the coachee. It is also crucial for coaches to cultivate an environment where coachees feel empowered to challenge the direction of the coaching if it feels incongruent with their desires and values.

Conclusion

Machiavellian coaching, despite its unintentional nature, poses a significant challenge to the integrity of the coaching process. It underscores the importance of genuine non-directiveness and the need for coaches to be constantly aware of their own biases and agendas. True coaching should empower the coachee to explore and embrace their path, free from the covert influences of the coach's unspoken preferences.

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