I don’t get clowns. I find circus clowns troubling. Stephen King’s Pennywise character is just plain terrifying. Even Ronald McDonald freaks me out. But perhaps the most disturbing type of clown isn’t of the painted face variety – it’s the ego-driven kind.
The ego-driven clown covers up his/her insecurities with a false façade of confidence, bravado, and braggadocio. They proclaim to the world, “Look at me, I have it all together!” The comedian Brian Regan calls this kind of person a “Me Monster.” His comedy bit is hilarious, but the reality of ego-driven clowns is anything but.
I ran into an ego-driven clown late last year at a holiday mixer. Like a clown who puts on makeup in attempt to be funny but ends up scarring (yes, not just scaring, but also scarring!) all the children, this guy got a very different outcome than the one he wanted. The experience was painful. The young man tried mightily to give off the impression of confidence, but what came across was a mixture of conceit and low self-esteem. His nuclear-powered attempt to make everyone think he was awesome backfired. Within twenty seconds, anyone in conversation with him wanted out.
I have the privilege of coaching a lot of leaders, and one of the most enticing pitfalls for many of them is the temptation to be a clown – to strive mightily to give the impression of greatness in the hopes that people will follow.
But would-be leaders aren’t the only ones susceptible to becoming an ego-driven clown. The “clown coach” is also a real thing – a really frightening thing!
In order for a person to hire you as their coach, they have to know, like and trust you. That’s a truth that’s as real as sunshine. But getting people to know, like and trust you is challenging. Nobody trusts an incompetent, unqualified coach. On the other hand, flashing your credentials can severely diminish your credibility. Coaches display clownlike behavior when they
- Brag about their A-list clientele. “My client called me from his private jet…”
- Speak as if they’ve reached the pinnacle of human perfection.
- Fail to empathize with clients who struggle, second-guess, or stumble.
- Polish their image on social media and the web to sparkle like a diamond.
- Talk down to other coaches, their clients, or pretty much anyone.
- Wear the title of “coach” as a badge signifying their transcendence beyond the mundane.
Clowns are not harmless – they are dangerous. Ego-driven clowns pull others into their own narcissism-fueled orbit where such hapless victims eventually crash and burn. Clown coaches can fool some people into signing up based lots of hope and promises of reaching big goals. But eventually their ego makes it obvious that the coaching relationship is coach-centered and not client-centered. The result? Clients who wish they’d never met – let alone hired – such a coaching clown.
Clown coaches give coaching a bad reputation. If your goal as a coach is to fuel you own ego, my advice is to please quit coaching and go join the circus.