Strategy & Tactics in a Coaching Relationship


April 18, 2013

Chess gameOne of the coaching questions I’ve found myself asking more often in recent sessions is “How does that action step help you achieve your goals?” It’s a pretty bold question…and forces the leader to evaluate their plan with an useful lens.

The bad news is that too often the answer is “I don’t know…” or “It doesn’t…” A question like this really plumbs the tension between the urgent (the things that are on fire at the moment) and the important (the stuff that helps you make the most progress). Another way to say that is that bold questions bridge both strategies and tactics.

The best coaching relationships are both strategic and tactical. In fact, a lot of coaching conversations are both…and the best coaches understand how to balance the two options. Think of it like a chess game (or any game)…to have the best chance to win, you have to think about what it will take to ultimately get a checkmate AND what you can do next.

First some definitions: Strategy: a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim. This is the big picture of why you’re working with your client. You might describe it as the master plan.

Tactical: actions carefully planned to gain a specific end.

Do you see the difference? Strategy is big picture, the large scale objective(s). Tactics are the steps to get there. In the International Coach Federation competencies, think of strategy as Planning and Goal Setting (Competency #10) and tactics are more of Designing Actions (Competency #9). Strategy is the route you’ll take to get where you’re going, and tactics are what you’re going to do along the route..

Strategy comes into play when you’re aligning the actions that your client designs with equal for all purpose of the coaching relationship. Strategy gives you a lens to use to line up each of your next steps so you make as much progress as possible. Effective coaches touch on big picture strategy in every session, but it rarely dominates the conversation.

Tactics get chosen & implemented when the client is designing individual action steps to move them closer to the overall vision. You’ll spend some time in every coaching conversation talking tactics. The best tactics line up with your stated goals and provide forward momentum that moves you closer to your vision.

Think of strategy as a physical fitness plan that includes, diet, cardio, weight lifting and yoga. Tactics are things like leg workouts, interval runs, and back stretching routines.

Any coach that's worth a darn has seen both strategy & tactics in a story you'd like pass on? I'd love to hear how you walk the line between these two key elements.  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

For more from Jonathan Reitz, please click here.

Jonathan ReitzJonathan Reitz has a number of impressive titles at CoachNet Global (Chairman/CEO/Guy with Coffee).  Jonathan has been coaching since 1996 and has worked with over 500 clients in the church, the non-profit sector and the business world. 

  “Coaching plays a part in the kind of leadership the world needs,” says Jonathan Reitz.  “I want to be a part of that.”

For a daily coaching question from Jonathan Reitz, follow him on Twitter @jonathanreitz  Or, you can email hime at or by phone at 440.550.4374.

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