Seven Coaching Roles in the Voice Studio: An Overview

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.

I will be looking at each Voice individually in its own post, discussing the ways each can show up in the context of the voice studio.

I’m beginning by simply sharing Silsbee’s summaries of each (all are direct quotes from the text). As you read through, begin considering how each one shows up in your studio:


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.

Read more about The Master here.

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 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

This 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. Just gather information.

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