Book Review: 'Challenging Coaching' by John Blakey and Ian Day

March 24, 2017
Ian White

Ian White

Teaching Leaders Development Coach, North

Ian White reviews 'Challenging Coaching', a theory on going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS.

This blog is part of our coaching series.

Challenging Coaching presents challenges not just for coachees, as the title would suggest, but also for coaches and the principles of coaching that have been established over the past thirty years.

The authors’ note explains that coaching is a relatively young practice and they propose that some of the founding principles need to be reviewed and evaluated, especially when coaching senior leaders, systems leaders, or CEO’s. They suggest that the current nondirective, empathetic, open questioning approach needs to adapt into a more provocative, feedback driven, holding to account, direct approach. The reason for this is that the workplace, along with the needs of employees and employers, is changing. This is largely due to changes to the economy, both nationally and globally, which have exposed weaknesses in the current coaching model. Coaching was borne out of an environment where employees were resisting command and control leadership structures, and demanding greater freedoms. Although coaching enabled greatly improved relationships with senior leaders in this context, as well as improving motivation and productivity, it did not provide higher levels of responsibility and accountability to the organisation.

"“...the current non-directive, empathetic, open questioning approach needs to adapt into a more provocative, feedback, holding to account, direct approach.”"

The authors came to realise that in a more challenging environment with a greater demand for ROI (‘return on investment’ outcomes), the current coaching model was found to be lacking, with issues such as collusion and irrelevance being identified as risk factors. Collusion between coach and coachee is identidied as problematic because it allows a lack of challenge to the coachee’s worldview and perspective. Irrelevance is a risk because, by prioritisingthe coachee’s agenda and ignoring the wider organisational agenda, goals are often misaligned. Consequently, this can encourage self-centredness rather than developing a wider awareness, resulting in the coachee making decisions and creating goals that are poor for the organisation and for society.


The authors suggest providing a high support, high challenge approach. High support fosters skills such as genuine concern, respect, following the client’s agenda, summarising, paraphrasing, active listening, and acknowledging the client builds a strong rapport and relationship. Providing high challenge brings confrontation, holding to account, challenge to assumptions, provides feedback, uses intuition and takes risks, which produces strong performance and results. This joint approach will require coaches to move outside of their comfort zone and into the zone of uncomfortable debate (the ZOUD) – something currently not often experienced by coaches.

The model they propose is called the ‘FACTS’ model and this is used instead of other models such as the ‘GROW’ model (Goal, Current Reality, Options, Will). FACTS stands for challenging Feedback, Accountability, Courageous goals, Tension, and Systems thinking. It builds on the concept that leaders in particular are asking for greater challenges in the coaching relationship.

"“This approach will require coaches to move outside of their comfort zone and into the zone of uncomfortable debate.”"

Challenging Coaching is certainly not throwing out the baby with the bathwater–far from it–but it is clearly set to be a provocative message that challenges values and principles that coaches often hold dear. It may be worth asking ourselves some questions. Are we able to move out of our comfort zone and challenge our current practice? What is causing us to hold on to our current values and beliefs about coaching? Are we able to adapt, mould, alter, and evolve our practice? Are the needs of our coachees changing and can we change with them? How does the wider organisation, the community, society, and even the world, fit into our coaching sessions?

My own reflections are that the Challenging Coaching model is highly effective with leaders who want challenge within their context. These leaders want the coaching of their staff to be within the context of the organisation and to hold people to account. I have found that this often does not conflict, but actually allows, greater focus on personal and professional development and growth. I have found that operating the FACTS model as a coach has been liberating. There is no doubt that the needs of leadership and organisations in our country have changed and that we need to change with them. In fact, coaching needs to evolve under careful debate and scrutiny but, in that same spirit of reflection and self-awareness that coaching brings, evolve and improve our practice we must. We must always ensure that while serving the client’s agenda, we don’t do so blind to the effects that the client’s work has upon children and their life chances. The duty of the coach is to find ways to rigorously challenge clients about how their values and drives align with educational imperatives and the well-being of wider society.

Ambition TL14

Though a non-judgmental approach is critical in forming the basis of rapport with clients, as well as ensuring that our own prejudices and opinions do not interfere, we all have a moral obligation to the people whose lives will be deeply affected by our clients’ actions. We are not set aside from society as coaches, but we are integral to it and what happens to part of society ultimately affects us all. In this way we all have a high calling and responsibility as ‘helpers’ and ‘companions’ in other people’s journey and the FACTS model is an excellent first step on this new road.

To find out more about our programmes and how they can develop school leaders at all levels to create more impact, click here.

This article originally appeared on the website of the Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute. 

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