Blog Post: 5 Temptations of a Coach

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Life is full of temptations and some temptations are distinct to a particular calling.  For those of us called to be coaches, the temptations we face pull us away from effectiveness and toward mediocrity (or downright failure!).  The worst kind of temptation is the one we didn’t realize was a temptation – we just thought it was a natural part of life.

In my experience, coaches who recognize the temptations they face are far better suited to overcome the temptation and succeed in providing value to those they coach.  To help you prepare for and overcome temptation, let me share five of the most common temptations faced by coaches.

  1. Believing the client knows how to be coached. You’ve spent a lot of time and energy pursuing your calling as a coach.  You know how to coach.  You know the skills to use.  You know the coaching models.  It all makes sense to you and you’re ready to be highly effective – if only your clients would cooperate!
    All too often trained and skilled coaches are less than effective because they are tempted to believe clients know how to be coached.  They don’t.  In fact, it takes work from you, the coach, to prepare a client to make the most of the coaching relationship.  As coaches, we must educate our clients.  We must help them know what’s expected of them.  We must prepare them for success.  Educating the client is our responsibility, and we must resist the temptation to think it’s not.
  2. Expecting new clients to fall in your lap. It can be frustrating to feel a call to serve through coaching, to invest in yourself as a coach, and to then have nobody to coach.  It’s tempting to think clients will somehow find their way to you once you’re qualified and capable to help them.  Unfortunately, new clients do not grow on trees or fall in your lap.
    The calling to coach is the calling to go get clients.  While it may be tempting to expect clients to just show up because you’re so awesome, you must avoid this temptation.  A significant aspect of what it takes to be successful as a coach is a willingness and skillfulness at getting clients.  Many coaches resist this aspect because they mistakenly think it’s self-serving or undignified.  But if you think about it logically for more than two minutes, you’ll recognize that there is no reasonable way to have people to coach unless you work to secure new clients.  And you’ll realize there is nothing selfish about you getting out of your comfort zone to connect a potential client with real coaching.
  3. Relying too heavily on questions. Once you have a client, it’s tempting to overdo it with asking coaching questions.  Coaches love questions.  And questions are great.  However, like anything good, you can overdo it with questions.  It’s tempting to ask question after question in an attempt to evoke awareness.  Too often a barrage of questions has the opposite effect – it shuts down the client and slows down their forward movement.
    As tempting as it is to ask lots of questions, our coaching conversations are more productive when questions are paired with superb listening, well-articulated observations, and a well-placed insight from time to time.  Beginner coaches tend to (rightly) emphasize all new learning coming from the client, thus they rely almost exclusively on questions.  Masterful coaches are much more adept at lacing the coaching conversation with offerings from the coach.  They do so without making the conversation about the coach.
  4. Ignoring the admin. If you’re reasonably successful as a coach, you will soon enough be forced to do more administrative and support functions than you are comfortable doing.  Invoices must be sent.  Calendars must be kept.  Websites must be designed and updated.  Contracts must be signed.  And so on.  If you give in to the temptation to ignore the administrative aspects of coaching, it won’t be long until the administrative tasks recede because you’ll have fewer and fewer clients.  We cannot give in to this temptation.  Instead, we have to embrace the details and/or partner with someone who can help us cover this important aspect of coaching well.
  5. Living in the coaching echo chamber. A church leader I respect very much once told me his theory of pastors who earn their Doctor of Ministry.  He said that about the time a pastor realizes the stuff they were taught in seminary doesn’t really work in the real world of church, they are tempted to go back to seminary to get their biases affirmed.  It was his contention that a church leader needed to get through the wall of theory before ever earning the D.Min.  A similar dynamic is at play in the world of coaching.  The real world is not the coaching class, it’s the conversations with real coaching clients.  It’s tempting to invest too much time in the echo chamber of coaching classes, coaching communities, and coaching resources.  These things have their place, but it’s a place to visit, not to live.
    Living in the coaching echo chamber hinders our effectiveness. We get enamored with the theory of coaching and give too little attention to our real-world clients, their mundane challenges, and the pragmatic ways we can support them in their everyday narrative.  Coaching classes, communities, and resources are means to a far more important end: clients who actually move forward in life.  We must resist the temptation to focus too much on the means to the neglect of the end.

Temptations are not destiny.  Just because we are tempted in one (or more) of these ways does not mean we are destined to give in to the temptation and hinder our coaching effectiveness.  The best way to resist and overcome the temptations is to emphasize the alternative to each temptation before we face it.

What are the alternatives we should embrace?

  1. Believe your clients can learn to make the most of coaching.
  2. Expect to work hard for the privilege of coaching a new client.
  3. Rely on coaching questions as one among many ways to support client growth.
  4. Embrace the administrative requirements of coaching.
  5. Tap into coaching theories to the benefit of real-world coaching success.

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