Seven Coaching Roles in the Voice Studio

The first life coaching book I read was The Mindful Coach by Doug Silsbee, creator of Presence Based Coaching®, an ICF Accredited Coach Training Program. (Sadly, Silsbee passed away in 2018, but the program continues.)

The Mindful Coach provides detailed explanations and discussion of seven “Voices” that Silsbee believed a coach should be alternating between as needed in order to help a client achieve their goals. Thinking this way about how I’m approaching my lessons has really expanded the ways I can help my students.


The Master

Maintains self-awareness, bringing a rigorous self-observation and awareness to the coaching conversation, noticing attachments and distractions that arise, and letting go of what doesn’t serve the client. 

Listens with focus and presence, extending presence to the client, listening deeply to what the client is expressing, and recognizing that the quality of her attention is as important as what she does or says. 

Models learning and growth with a lifelong commitment to self-development and integrates her own life experiences and self-awareness into coaching.

Embraces the client with compassion and respect, based on positive regard and acceptance, in order to create a supportive coaching space. 

Chooses which of the operational Voices to use at a given time, making decisions mindfully on how to most usefully serve the client at any given moment.

Silsbee, Doug. The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Facilitating Leader Development (p. 89-90). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Master is basically the mindful observer (including observing their self) who constantly decides which Voice is needed in each moment. Mindfulness practice in general is great exercise for this skill in lessons.

The Partner

Establishes and honors an explicit structure for the coaching relationship, such as fees, frequency and duration of conversations, confidentiality, and assessment protocols. This conversation is initially a contracting conversation and can be revisited as needed.

Advocates shared commitment to competency-based coaching outcomes in order to shape the coaching conversation and build accountability for both to specific and observable new competencies. The coach’s visible and demonstrated commitment to the client and her outcomes provides a clear sense of being on the same team.

Offers choice points and makes joint decisions about the coaching process so that coach and client share responsibility for the process, and the client becomes a better-informed partner, and ultimately independent and self-generative.

Silsbee, Doug. The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Facilitating Leader Development (pp. 110-112). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Partner usually shows up at the beginning of lessons with students, but needs to be called upon periodically to make sure everything that was agreed upon is still kosher. I’m a private instructor, so I have the flexibility to determine all of these elements along with the student. We establish guidelines and boundaries and create goals at the beginning of 6 month period and go over them at the end, and they let me know how they want to assess those goals.

In academic settings, many of the assessments and goals are pre-determined for students, but I think it’s still incredibly important to have regular conversations with students to make sure they are actually on the right track. Many young people don’t know exactly what they want, yet, and need caring, student-focused guidance to help them determine their own goals as clearly and authentically as possible. The sooner they figure out that a particular program isn’t actually getting them where they want to go, the better.

The need to focus on competency-based outcomes, independence, and self-generation is a particularly important reminder for me. We can be so focused on performance-based outcomes (gigs, recitals, recordings, grades, etc.) and on taking responsibility for providing help and solutions to the student that we can lose sight of the fact that our main job is to guide the student to a level of competency and independence at which they no longer need us. The students themselves may not realize that they should be striving for that goal, particularly if they are stellar students who strive for external stamps of approval. For every performance-based goal they list, we make a complementary goal that involves them becoming more competent and independent in the skills involved in that performance.

The Investigator

Asks questions that shift the client’s understanding of the situation, such that a new view and new possibilities become available. This is done by moving down through three levels of questioning, increasing depth and leverage for learning. These explore, in turn, the external elements, client contribution (behaviors) to the current situation, and the client assumptions and interpretations that give rise to the behaviors and situation identified in the previous levels.

Asks the client to articulate desired outcomes, or a possible preferred future revealed by the new view of the situation. The more clearly this is defined, the more it galvanizes action.

Asks the client to generate courses of action that help the client learn, build competency, and move toward the newly articulated future.

Silsbee, Doug. The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Facilitating Leader Development (p. 130). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Investigator is one of my natural Voices, and one that I’m tempted to use out of pure curiosity rather than out of serving the immediate need at hand, which I have to keep in check. This Voice is often a source of excitement for students as they find more clarity through self-investigation, but can be uncomfortable for students who would rather have someone tell them what to do. (See my article on boundaries.)

The Reflector

Provides direct and honest feedback, which allows the client to see herself as one other person sees her. These, of course, are simply the coach’s own observations and interpretations, which serve the client in becoming more able to observe herself accurately.

Directs the client’s attention toward his or her capabilities and potential, thus encouraging the client to see herself as resourceful and as having available more choices for action.

Encourages self-observation and reflection through bringing mindful attention to her actions. The Reflector invites the client, over and over, to build this capacity for self-awareness and self-correction. The Reflector may suggest that the client use self-observation exercises.

Silsbee, Doug. The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Facilitating Leader Development (p. 148). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

This Voice should always be used for the ultimate goal of directing students to see their potential. We can reflect a pattern or behavior that is not serving the student’s goals, but we should never make statements about their character based on those behaviors. Such statements are likely to make the student believe they aren’t capable of changing the behavior because that behavior is just part of who they are. The term “lazy” is particularly unhelpful in this way. It is up to us to make sure we keep ourselves focused on their potential so we can reflect that back to them. If we aren’t capable of seeing their potential, we should refer them to a teacher who is.

The Teacher

Provides new distinctions, information, and knowledge that the client can then use to self-observe and develop a fuller picture of his or her situation and possibilities.

Challenges and stimulates the client’s thinking process by inviting the client to examine her assumptions and thinking process by pointing out, for example, where she may be making faulty inferences that go way beyond the real data or by helping the client explore the underlying values and assumptions that subconsciously guide her actions.

Explains the coaching process, theory, and models being used in order to educate the client in the very nature of development. In the short term, this serves mutuality in the coaching partnership. In the long term, the client becomes self-generative and increasingly able to author her own self-development for a lifetime.

Silsbee, Doug. The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Facilitating Leader Development (p. 166). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Knowing things is both the superpower and the kryptonite of effective teaching. I believe most voice teachers, not surprisingly, overuse this Voice. It can be a heady experience to impart knowledge and see a student’s positive response. It’s obviously very important and necessary because the student wants to know some of what we know, otherwise they wouldn’t be there, but we have to be careful not to bludgeon the student with our ego-driven desire to be seen as knowledgable. The focus has to stay on helping the student achieve an “a-ha!” moment about their next steps, not on seeing us in awe.

The Guide

Encourages the client to take some action of the client’s choosing, providing impetus by nudging her toward some action. This can be particularly helpful when the client knows what she needs to do but hasn’t quite taken the plunge.

Offers options for action by sharing experience—her own and that of others—with successful approaches in related situations. This provides a possible direction, with no impetus for action.

Recommends specific courses of action, thus providing direction and impetus. This is the most prescriptive of the three Aspects, and potentially the most problematic if the coach’s agenda comes into it.

Silsbee, Doug. The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Facilitating Leader Development (p. 182). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Recommending specific courses of action is the last step of the Voice, not the first. We always try to help the student find their own impetus and figure out their own path before resorting to making specific recommendations. And when we share our own experience, we don’t take it personally if the student doesn’t take that path.

The Contractor

Establishes clear agreements about actions at the end of each coaching conversation, so that the client has meaningful and relevant fieldwork.

Explores and resolves client doubts and hesitations by testing for fit and commitment and negotiating specifics until the client is fully committed to actions that feel realistic and achievable, given her busy life.

Follows up with client about agreed-on actions in subsequent coaching conversations, building psychological and behavioral accountability. If the client ran into difficulties, the Contractor supports the client in seeing the breakdown as an opening into a new conversation.

Silsbee, Doug. The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Facilitating Leader Development (pp. 199-200). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

It’s not necessarily the act of providing action items that can trip us up as teachers, but rather, the act of checking in with the student to see if they feel they can and will actually do them. If they don’t, we have to make adjustments together or talk through potential issues or blocks until something is agreed upon.

We check in with clients on their action items, but we don’t participate in shaming or character judgment if the student didn’t do them. Every action not taken is an opening to greater self-understanding. Turn on the Investigator and help the client figure out where they breakdown happened and why, and return to the Contractor to create adjusted action items together.


For a week, consider reading through these descriptions before your teaching day, then observe yourself non-judgmentally throughout the day. Make notes on the Voices that show up in your sessions as you notice them. To dive deeper into each Voice and how to use it, please check out The Mindful Coach.

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