The Power and Importance of Choice


Choice: An act or the possibility of choosing between two or more options.


Over the last few weeks, the word choice has been coming up for me and I wondered what it was saying to me. The reason it became so important during the last six weeks was that at the beginning of May, one day before my big birthday, I tripped on the Thames tow path and ended up breaking my left arm (the humerus bone). Having got back home from the Accident and Emergency dept., I had some immediate life choices to make about how to manage this situation. A key choice the next day was: “Do I continue with my birthday celebration of a big zoom birthday party with friends around the world?”… Of course, I did!

Once the euphoria (and no doubt adrenalin) stopped, I had to make some key choices of how to live for the next while. The first was mindset! I could either feel very sorry for myself and be miserable or take a more pragmatic, positive approach and smile and get on with it and wonder what I might learn. Those who know me know that I took the positive route. They will also know that I am very, very independent. Again, I had a choice: I could continue to try and keep my independence and try to manage or accept some help that was being offered willingly. Once more, I did the latter. Some might say I didn’t have a choice – and yet I did. Put simply, I could suffer trying to support myself or not suffer and gladly accept help.

As I contemplated choice, three other things came into my view:

  1. Last month Tracy explored the new ICF Core Competency of Embodying a Coaching Mindset. The first point in that competency is: Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices.

  2. Recalling my very first coach training, one of the school’s guiding principles, which has stuck with me for nearly twenty years, is: People have a Choice

  3. I have been doing a lot of mentoring recently and started realising how easy it is for coaches to inadvertently and unconsciously take away clients’ choices. The ICF Core Competencies are peppered with how we can support clients to be at choice, their choice!

Here are some examples that I notice through my mentoring and when reviewing the new competencies.

CC2 – 2.1 Embodies a coaching mindset – Acknowledges the clients are responsible for their own choices.

How many of us take on the accountability role, either consciously (when clients ask and we accept), or subconsciously when a client doesn’t complete the task they committed to? As coaches, we may think we have ‘failed’ as their coach. In contrast, allowing clients to find their own accountability mechanisms (which do not include you as coach), keeps them at choice as to whether they complete the action or not.

CC3 – 3.6 Partners with the client to identify or reconfirming what they want to accomplish in the session.

How often do we, as coaches, assume that we know what the client wants to achieve and jump into that too quickly rather than delve deeper and allow the client to finally articulate their desired outcome back to us?

CC3 – 3.10 Continues coaching in the direction of the clients desired outcome unless the client indicates otherwise.

It’s absolutely ok to re-contract for a different outcome when it becomes obvious that there might be something else needing to be worked on, so long as we offer the client the ability to change and we accept their choice.

CC5 – 5.2 Maintains Presence – Demonstrate curiosity during the coaching process.

There are many ways we can inadvertently step over a client’s choice and a key one is making assumptions.

  • Assuming we know what they want and contracting too quickly.

  • Assuming we know what they mean and listening without curiosity.

  • Assuming they don’t know what to do and we do and advising.

  • Assuming we know where the coaching conversation needs to go and taking control of the agenda.

  • Assuming we know what the client is thinking or learning and telling them rather than asking their thoughts and perspectives.

All of these responses also link with other competencies such as Listens Actively (and with curiosity), Evokes Awareness and Facilitates Client Growth.


As we look into the future, we will all be faced with more choice and choices. This triggered my thinking that this might be something to explore with regards to what choice means for coaches and how we work with choice with our clients. I am reminded of why it’s so important that we allow clients to remain at choice and how easy it is to remove it and get in our client’s way.

I finish with offering two questions for further reflection:

  1. What do you notice in your coaching which may be removing choice from your clients?

  2. As we move forward into the new future, what will you take forward into the future and what will you leave behind?

I leave you at choice as to what and how either question speaks to you and what possibilities may present themselves.


If you are interested in learning more about the new ICF Core Competency Model and how to better understand and integrate the new framework into your coaching practice, we will be holding our final New ICF Core Competency Model Webinar Series in October 2020. The webinars come with CCEs that can be used towards your ongoing professional development and logged for your ICF Credential renewal. To learn more or to register, click here.


Hilary Oliver is a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor and Mentor Coach. Hilary trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an international Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Hilary also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. She has been the President of the UK ICF and is a Past Chair of the ICF Global Board.

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