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Does the Client Really Have All the Answers?

October 27, 2017

I’ve been wrestling with this question for some time.  Must I only ask and never tell? Does the client really have all the answers? I recently completed a course intended to prepare me for MCC.  While it truly transformed my understanding of coaching (from an ICF perspective), I also found it frustrating.  When I tried this more MCC –like approach with my clients, many just didn’t want to play along.  (Likely because I had “trained” them to expect something different from me).  All the same, when I recently surveyed my clients about what works about our coaching and what they wanted more of from me, the comment most frequently made was “Tell me what you think!”

Does only asking questions work?

I attended the Institute of Coaching conference in Boston a couple of weeks ago and had the opportunity to get up close and personal with few high profile coaches to ask them this question.    I spoke with David Peterson, head of coaching and leadership for Google and asked him, “How much do you believe the idea that the client has their own answers?”  He responded “If you didn’t know where the bathroom was and said to me, ‘I want to figure out how to find the bathroom”, am I going to ask you how you feel about it, or why you want to go to the bathroom or what finding the bathroom is going to give you? No!  I’m going to tell you where the bathroom is!”  This pretty much summed up what I heard from a number of coaches who attended this very academic conference, focused on the research and study of the efficacy of coaching.  

Also, I had the opportunity to spend a day in a small group with Marshall Goldsmith.  I asked Marshall point blank his stance on the efficacy of the classic ICF-style approach of mainly just asking questions.  His response: “There is no scientific evidence of any kind that proves that approach to coaching works.  Mine works.  I have decade of proof that it does.”  BTW, Marshall requires all his clients sign a contract saying that they’ll do exactly what he tells them to do.  Neat job if you can get it. 😊

Do you break the rules?

Last, I had the good fortune to meet the funny and charming CEO of Coachville, David Buck, at a camp for entrepreneurs that we attended this summer.  We, too, got to talking about this question and he let me know that he had just written an article on a similar topic for Choice Magazine, entitled Breaking the Rules: Is it Time for the Coaching Paradigm to Expand.  In it, he compares the ICF model of coaching to yoga and  his model for “Real Coaching” to the Olympics.  The ICF Co-Active model as he calls it is not about performance and “Real Coaching” is.  BTW, Dave would love your feedback on his article.  You can email him at

What is coaching?

Do my clients come to me because they want to perform better?  Of course!  Do my clients also want clarity and restoration of the essence of who they are?  Do they not only want to perform better, but also BE better? Be more of who they want to be?  Be self creating?  YES!  So, I think for me, coaching is about being with the tension of self-inquiry around what will serve my client best – advising them in a way that can improve their performance or coaching them toward empowerment, resourcefulness and self-authorship.   Or more likely, a delicate blend of both.

What about you?  What do you think?  What is coaching to you?  What model do you follow?   

We’d love to hear about it.

– Alison


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Posted in: Learning in Action

5 Signs Your Clients are Asking for the EQP

September 25, 2017

Do you use the EQ Profile with everyone you work with?  I don’t.  (Uh oh.  Maybe I shouldn’t admit that). I do use the EQ Profile with every team I work with because I want to know what I’m getting myself into when I challenge them. (See an example of our new EQ Playbook for Teams here).  And I don’t use the EQ Profile right out of the gate with every coaching client.  I want to look for signs that the client is essentially asking for EQ Profile before I introduce them to it.

When I say asking for it, I mean that my clients expect me to help them see what they can’t see about themselves.  And when a client’s blindspots become apparent to me (and not so much to them), I’ve found that is the ideal time to introduce the EQ Profile to them, to help them see themselves more fully.


Do you want to become an expert at identifying your client’s blindspots? As an EQ Profile Practitioner, you can take advantage of a special offer for our upcoming refresher course.
More details below.


Here are five signs or indications that a client is “asking” for the EQ Profile by how they are showing up in the coaching:

1) Their focus is outside of themselves. 

Sally was exasperated with her boss.  “He’s micromanaging my department.  He’s never available.  He leaves me out of meetings that affect me and my department.”  And I would ask Sally, “What do you want around this?” to which she would respond “He won’t let me do my job.  The board believes in me, but he doesn’t.  Other companies would love to have someone like me on their staff.”  And I would return to the question “And what do YOU want?” and she would continue with her latest grievance about her boss.

Her focus was almost completely outside of herself (a strong indicator of Other Orientation), to the point that she was nearly blind to what she felt, thought or wanted for or about herself.  This was a big billboard of a sign that she would benefit from the EQ Profile (and developing a deeper understanding of Other Orientation).  The EQ Profile provided the platform to discuss where we tend to focus under stress and how one can cede the locus of control to another without even realizing it.  With this new awareness, Sally has become significantly more empowered, more confident in her role and her boss has backed off, giving her more space to perform.

2) Their difficulty in seeing what’s possible.

Jeff was one of my most challenging clients.  We would start most every session by identifying what he wants to have come out of the session.  We would explore his situation, his relationship to the outcome he’s wanting and what his options are.   And one by one, he would explain in detail why anything we talked about wouldn’t work.  And I would ask “what else is possible?” And we’d explore another option, which he would meticulously dismantle.  And I would ask “So what is possible?”   And by the end of most of our early sessions, he’d talked himself out of every possibility we explored and was returned back to where we started the session.  Jeff couldn’t see or believe in what was possible (because of his strong Negative Orientation).

Jeff’s negative orientation served him well in his profession (as CEO of a professional services firm specializing in compliance).  However, it blinded him to any vision for the company.  If he couldn’t see it, touch it, feel it, it was “magic fairy dust.”

After the EQ Profile, Jeff gained some perspective about how differently he saw himself, others and the world, under stress.  He was able to reflect on how he had been successful in  situations of uncertainty in the past and came up with a way of framing the future that helped him get his head around it (e.g. we’ll probably never be able to do this, but if we did by some miracle in the future do it, here’s how we would have done it – kind of reverse engineering a vision).  It works for him and gave him the shift he needed to move forward.

3) They are not accessing their feelings.

Bill’s wife had “caught” him.  Bill’s business partner had “fired” him.  When I asked Bill how he felt, he said “Well, I think this will be a new opportunity to start over and do something new.”  And I asked “And how do you feel, using a feeling word?” (You can tell I’m persistent, like a dog with a bone).   Bill said “I’m pretty ok with it.”  Hmmmmm.  “You seem pretty disconnected from your feelings, Bill.”  “I don’t know. I feel pretty good.”

Bill didn’t have access to his feelings.  He didn’t know what he was missing.  And he was missing the essential information that his feelings would provide him.  Information that could help him save his relationships.

Introducing Bill to the EQ Profile gave me the platform to talk with him about the information that feelings provide and how not accessing distressing feelings can impair authentic relationships. The language of feelings is somewhat foreign to Bill and he’s slowly but surely learning to speak it.

4) Their Inner Critic is merciless. 

A serial entrepreneur, Randy’s life and career were like a roller coaster, with lots of ups and downs.  Randy had a merciless inner critic that shamed him relentlessly.  When Randy obeyed the Inner Critic, he was thin and buff and on top of his business game (while his sleep and relationships suffered).  And when Randy didn’t do everything his inner critic demanded, he felt like a failure, packing on pounds and doubting his business abilities.

When I introduced Randy to the EQ Profile, it gave us the opportunity to talk about shame and how it can be healthy for us in good measure and how it can make us miserable (as well as those around us) when we let the shame drive the bus.  Also, it gave us the opportunity to talk about the role of the inner critic, to give it a name and to discuss the role it plays in Randy’s life.   When we developed strategies for Randy to simply notice the voice of his inner critic and observe it as witness, he was able to find some distance from it and make more conscious and healthy choices.

5)  Their boss and subordinates love them – their peers, not so much.

Jane didn’t understand the mixed messages in her 360 feedback.  Jane’s people loved her.  They felt seen by her, supported and engaged by her.  To her boss, Jane was indispensable.  She always seemed to know what needed to be done and she was a problem solver, quick to step into action to fix whatever was broken.  Jane’s peers had a different experience.  They didn’t trust her.   They felt she was trying to compete with them, make them look bad.

Jane felt like she was the same person with everyone.  She didn’t understand how people could see her so differently.  Her peers just didn’t know her.  They didn’t understand her.  (And let’s face it, they weren’t that smart, anyway).

The EQ Profile helped Jane gain some clarity about her relationship strategies, the ones she was comfortable with and the ones she wasn’t.  Jane wasn’t comfortable depending upon someone else, especially when the chips were down.  If the going was going to get tough, she was going to get going.  She wasn’t going to wait for someone else.  And Jane didn’t really realize this about herself until the EQ Profile debrief of her relationship strategies.  And it brought all of her 360 feedback into perspective.

There you have it.  Five signs that your client is asking for the EQ Profile.

Are your clients asking you for the EQ Profile?
Are they missing some perspective?
Do their issues sound the same?
Is there a pattern to your coaching sessions?

If so, your clients might be asking you to help them see what they can’t.  The EQ Profile can support you in showing your clients themselves and what they’re missing.

With the EQ Profile, you can open up all new choices for your clients that would never have been available to them otherwise.  Wow!  What a gift you have to give them.

Many of our EQ Profile Practitioners have found that taking a retraining course is an excellent way to get clearer on how to use the EQ Profile to go deeper with your clients faster.


Our next virtual EQ Profile refresher training starts October 19th. 

Already a practitioner? For a limited time, we’re offering 2 free EQ Profile’s with the purchase of our EQ Profile Certified Coach Retraining Course. That’s worth over $300, which is more than the price of admission.

This offer ends on Oct 6th so be sure you register before then here.

Please email our team at if you have any questions.


Hope to you see you there!

– Alison Whitmire

President | Learning In Action Technologies

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Posted in: Assessment Tools|Consulting & Training Programs|Emotional Intelligence|Learning in Action

4 Things They Don’t Teach You in Coaching School

November 18, 2016

coaching school

Do you know the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? It’s a marvelous book written by a Seattle-area author. I wish I could write the same book about coaching school, All I Really Need to Know About Coaching I Learned in Coaching School. However, after 10 plus years of coaching, I’m realizing how much I didn’t learn about coaching in either of the two certified coaching programs I completed.

While I really could write a whole book about what I didn’t learn about coaching in school, I’m focusing this article on four key insights I’ve gained only from thousands of coaching hours, much of which has felt like trial and error. I’m hoping these four key concepts that coaching schools don’t emphasize will help make your learning curve steeper than mine was!

#1: How Both Challenging and Essential it is to Get A Clear Contract For Every Session


Sure, pretty much every coaching school provides direction on contracting. After all, ICF Core Competency #2 is Establishing the Coaching Agreement. It relates to determining the client’s desired outcome, both for the coaching relationship as a whole and for each coaching session.

What they don’t teach you is how difficult and sometimes slippery it can be to actually obtain that contract.

Clients frequently show up for a session with a turbulent mix of emotions, about a myriad of topics. Some are related to the coaching work and some are not. They want to dive into the safe space you’ve created, spill it out, and basically, get whatever’s going on off their chest. Because you are caring, warm and empathetic, you connect with them and share in their feelings. And if you’re not intentional, you can get caught up in the client’s emotional tide and come to the end of the session without having forwarded the client’s agenda.

coaching school

How do you establish a contract with an emotional client? First, acknowledge the emotion. Then determine if it’s something they would like to clear or if it’s something they’d like coaching on. If it’s something they would like to clear and not be the focus of the coaching, you can ask a question like “What would you like to say or do to clear this and be present for the coaching?” Usually, the client just wants to vent a bit more and after, is ready to move on. Then you can begin to establish the contract for the session.

You can begin to create the contract with a question like, “What would you like to focus on today?” or “What would you like to accomplish for our time together today?” Be prepared to ask this question two or even three times. Emotional clients can launch into one story after another, without actually naming their focus or what they want. And sometimes you’re helping them to sort through their emotions enough to name what they want coaching on is the highest value they receive from the session. Score!

Once you know what the client wants to focus on, the contract still is not complete. From there, you’ll want to complete the contracting process by anchoring it with 1) what makes the topic important to the client, 2) the outcome they want for the session and 3) how they would measure that outcome. Ideally, you want the client to recap all of that so they know and own what they want to have come out of the session. Once you have all of that, then and only then, do you have a clear contract for a session.

When a client shows up in an emotional or otherwise distracted state, they often don’t know what they want from the session. It’s the coach’s job to help the client get clear about what they want and secure the contract for the session. The contract is an essential element to moving the client forward toward their overall desired outcome.

If there is no contract, there is no coaching. Definitionally. A session without a contract isn’t coaching.

#2: How to Get from the Contract to the Desired Outcome


Coaching schools are great at teaching principles, frameworks, and competencies. And principles, frameworks, and competencies are set pieces while the act of coaching is fluid and dynamic. While coaching schools do everything they can to help you to develop your craft by providing you opportunities to coach, they leave it to you to learn your own way of navigating each coaching session from the contract at the beginning to the desired outcome, hopefully, at the end.

coaching school

Many new coaches get into the middle of a coaching session and get stuck, unsure what question will lead the client to their desired outcome. Even coaches with many hours experience will get to the end of the session having coached their client to a different outcome than the one they ask for.

Coaches with years of experience develop an intuitive sense for divining a dynamic path of questions that will lead to the client’s desire outcome. I call this the Coaching Path.

The Coaching Path is a sequence of the fewest, most robust questions that lead to the fulfillment of the client’s desired outcome. Any experienced coach will tell you, there is no one right path and no one right set of questions. (One of the joys of coaching is its creativity and the freedom to use intuition.) And one can learn the guideposts for navigating a viable Coaching Path without the trial and error of hundreds of hours of coaching.

The key concept here is that the Coaching Path does exist in every session with every client. We just have to know how to find it.

#3: How to Divine the Coaching Path – The Long Way and The Short Cut


Coaches with many years experience often develop an unconscious competence in divining the Coaching Path. They masterfully intuit the question, request, acknowledgment, reflection that guides the client to their desired outcome.

Coaches do this by inhabiting three states of being: 1) Being wholly present with the client, in the moment, attuned with their feelings, thoughts, and desires, hearing what is unsaid, seeing what lies beneath the surface, feeling the unexpressed emotion. (BTW, every human is designed to be able to do this. It’s a muscle.) 2) Being present with their own feelings, thoughts, desires and intuition (not because the coach is driving the agenda, but because the coach’s experience of the client contains information for the client) and 3) Being a detached observer of the coaching process, present to the moment, the desired outcome and the arc of the coaching session, planning the path of questions that lead to the client’s desired outcome. And constantly checking in with their sense of the client’s deep desire, comparing it to what they said they wanted and re-contracting as needed.

You might be thinking, “Yeah, right! And then I’d teleport to my next coaching session.” Yes, this is the long way. It requires time in the coaching saddle. And there’s a short cut.

“The client has the answers” – we hear this all of the time in coaching, including in coaching school. What we don’t hear as often is the corollary which is “The client is constantly giving the coach clues to help them find the answers they seek.” The client provides the coach with clues or guideposts that tell the coach where they want to go. The guideposts to the Coaching Path come in the form of energy and information.

The single, most reliable guidepost of the Coaching Path is the client’s energy. If the coach does nothing more than tune into the energy of the client, track it, attune with it, and ask about it, many times, the Coaching Path reveals itself.

Clients reveal their energy 1) in the tone, volume, and pace of their words 2) in their body language and facial expressions 3) in the words they use. (You know that). Example: Client: (words pour out, eyes are wide, a slight smile on the face) “I can’t believe my friend just quit. I had no idea. It came out of nowhere.” Coach: “And you seem excited about it!” Client: “I am. I want his job and now it’s open. But I’m struggling with how to talk with my boss about it so soon.” Coach: “What’s the struggle about?” The key to divining the Coaching Path is staying with, reflecting and inquiring about the client’s energy and emotion, without making assumptions of where you think it is going or should go. The client leads the way with their energy and information.

Everything the client says, does, writes, thinks, feels, is information for the coach. Whether it’s in what they say and how they say it about their weekend before the coaching session starts, or if it’s in the coffee they order and how they order it. (Yes, I do a lot of coaching in coffee shops. Sacrilege, I know!). Every client is consciously and/or non-consciously seeking answers to their own questions, constantly working on them in the background of their own experience.

The coach’s job is helping the client to connect the dots of their experience, using all the information the client provides. For example, I had a client who said she was running a bit late for our session as her routine eye exam ran long. My question to her, “What is it you’d like to see more clearly.” That question allowed her to connect with her desire for clarity, creating an opening to a breakthrough.

The client reveals the Coaching Path with their energy and information. Track the energy and information signposts and you’ll divine the Coaching Path toward the client’s desired outcome.

#4: The Importance of the Coach Understanding Their Own Hidden Patterns


Coaching school doesn’t teach you how you can unconsciously direct the coaching in a way that may be comfortable for you, yet doesn’t serve your client.

Coaching school curriculum involves training that helps you to understand yourself better. It also prepares you for the actual experience of coaching itself. This serves to help you to better understand both yourself and your clients. However, that level of training doesn’t delve quite deep enough. It doesn’t make you aware how your unique hidden patterns can inadvertently influence the coaching process. And if you’re not hyper-aware of your own patterns, they can dramatically affect your coaching as well as your client’s outcome.

coaching school

My hidden patterns were recently revealed to me by the EQ Profile. My EQ profile report told me something that I intuitively knew, but didn’t have conscious awareness of. When I’m stressed, what makes me feel better is to have a plan. For me, a plan is like salve on a wound. It makes everything better. However, I realize that’s not true for everyone.

The EQ Profile made me aware that I tend to diverge from the Coaching Path and non-consciously coach my clients under stress toward creating a plan. I suppose my unconscious reasoning went something like “If a plan makes me feel better, it’ll make my client feel better too.” And frankly, that’s just bad coaching. And I had no idea I was doing it before my EQ Profile report revealed it to me. Now I can notice my tendency and stay attuned to the energy and information provided by the client and continue to follow the Coaching Path toward the client’s desired outcome.

You will find that there are many concepts that aren’t taught in coaching school. Here I point out those that can impact you and your clients the most. Hopefully, these concepts will be like a coaching “hack” for you, allowing you to enrich your coaching without requiring hundreds of hours of experience to do it!

Are you aware of your unconscious hidden patterns? Do you know how they could be affecting your coaching? If you’d like to learn how to uncover them, you can learn more about them at

coaching school

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Posted in: Learning in Action

Getting in Sync with Your Client Through the State of Engagement Model

November 10, 2016

coaching tool

As a coach, few things are less satisfying than a disengaged client. Let’s face it, most of us coaches do what we do to make a difference in the lives of our clients. And when WE seem more engaged in our client’s progress than THEY do…. well, that’s a bummer!

I’ve previously discussed the importance of creating and maintaining the rhythm of the coaching relationship. And that structure isn’t always enough to keep the client consistently, proactively engaged in their own progress. In fact, most client’s commitments wax and wane throughout the coaching relationship. And what can be most useful for nurturing their forward movement, is naming with the client, their level of engagement in the work and introducing it into the coaching conversation.

coaching tool

To enable that conversation, we’ve created the simple, intuitive coaching tool, The State of Engagement Model. The purpose of the tool is to initiate a dialogue with the client about how their current level of engagement is creating what they want for themselves….or not.

The Four States of Engagement

coaching tool

The State of Engagement Model is a coaching tool that identifies four possible states of engagement the client may be in: Inactive, Reactive, Active and Proactive. Like a runner before a race, the client’s level of engagement directly impacts their progress. The runner on their toes, ready and set, will move forward faster than the one standing at attention, back on their heels or laying down on the job. The same is true for our clients and bringing their awareness to that might just get them up on their toes again.


In the inactive state, the client is “laying down on the job,” not doing anything to move herself forward. For any number of reasons, the client is bringing the same issues, questions and challenges to the coaching and isn’t doing anything to improve her situation. She is treading water, not learning, not moving forward.

Example: In session after session, a client complains about a co-worker. She says she wants to improve their relationship, explores possibilities, identifies options and creates a plan of action, only to do nothing afterward. And returns to the next session, inactive and complaining again.

This is a stuck position. I call these as “Groundhog Day” sessions: same session, different day. If this happens too often with a client, I tell her I can no longer take her money, because what we are doing isn’t coaching. This usually jolts her enough to increase her level of engagement, at least for a time.


In the reactive state, the client is only acting when acted upon. The client shows up to sessions unprepared as if hoping or expecting the coach to set and drive the agenda.

Example: The client is considering making a career change and has expressed a great deal of dissatisfaction in his current job. Beyond that, he shows up to coaching sessions without a specific focus. The coaching is hit and miss. He responds to a few of the possibilities presented by the coach and forwards his thinking during the coaching conversation to an extent. And he might follow up on some of the co-created action items. However, he’s not preparing for the sessions to set the agenda and drive the outcome and he’s not tapping into his own resourcefulness and creativity between sessions to direct his efforts and maintain his momentum.

This is a passive position. The client is moving forward mainly through the prodding of the coach and the impetus of the coaching sessions.


In the active state, the client is ready and engaged in the process, preparing for coaching sessions, following up on action items. However, she either doesn’t really know what she wants, can’t seem to decide or isn’t prepared to face the reality of a difficult choice. (This is surprisingly common.) Many people spend so much of their energy just keeping up with what’s coming at them. They lose sight of the choices they have to create their life. Or they remain in the relative comfort of their current situation versus face the uncertainty, ambiguity, discomfort of a divergent path.

Example: The client says she wants to create a plan for retirement at a certain age, living a certain lifestyle. She identifies and begins work with a financial advisor to learn what she can afford to do when. She learns from her advisor that if she remains in her current job, she won’t be able to achieve her retirement goals unless she significantly cuts her spending or works significantly longer. During the coaching session, the client stubbornly sticks to her original retirement plan, is unwilling to change jobs, cut spending or work longer. Her discomfort is kicked down the road to another day.

This is a choice-less position. The client is actively engaged in the coaching process and isn’t accepting that she has choices or isn’t making the choices to move to her desired outcomes.


In the proactive state, the client is engaged, prepared, and clear about their goals for each coaching session as well as for the coaching relationship. (This is surprisingly rare. Very few people both know what they want to do and do what they know they want, which may be why they need coaches. So if you have clients who aren’t consistently proactively engaged, it might be why they hired you in the first place. :O)

Example: The client wants to enhance his performance in his role as CEO. He’s learned about the roles and responsibilities of the CEO and what high-level CEO performance looks like. He’s prepared for each session with what he wants coaching on, is clear about his choices, make decisions and takes actions in line with his goals.

This is a creating position. The client is proactively engaged in creating his life.

This four-states model provides a rare opportunity to create an awareness for your clients as to their involvement in creating a life of their own design through their engagement in the coaching process.

The State of Engagement Model


When you introduce the Model to your clients, explain the coaching tool as a way of thinking about one’s state of engagement on any given task, project, relationship, etc. It’s the measure of the extent to which one is engaged in creating a desired outcome.

Then explain to the client each of the four states within the context of the coaching relationship and what they might look like as a client. Then ask the client which state they feel they fit into. Most likely the client’s assessment will be similar to your own. In most cases, they are somewhere between the Inactive, Reactive, and Active states on the model.coaching tool

Once the client identifies their state of engagement, consider the following awareness creating questions:

  • What caused them to identify with that state vs. another state?
  • What’s causing them to be in that state? What’s driving it?
  • What is it like to be in that state? How does it feel?
  • What’s the result of their being in the state? staying in that state?

Clients may acknowledge that they are in a state other than Proactive for a myriad reasons. And opening up the conversation about these possibilities may expand every aspect of the coaching work. They may share that they are:

  • Overwhelmed by all they feel they need to do
  • Having challenges prioritizing all of their responsibilities
  • Focused outward on pleasing/accommodating others
  • Deeply depleted and don’t have the vital energy to engage
  • Avoiding the coaching work because it’s uncomfortable and/or confronting
  • Misunderstanding what coaching is and their role in it

Stepping back from the coaching itself to assess and discuss the client’s engagement in the coaching may actually move the client forward faster than any action step the client could take.

On the other hand, some clients may see themselves in the Proactive state and be unconscious or unaccepting about their level of engagement. This is where the very gentle mirroring of the client by the coach can create powerful awarenesses. The coach’s providing more concrete examples of what Proactive engagement would look like for the client may help the client see the discrepancy. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Wherever you go, there you are.” The client may be creating the same sub-optimal results throughout their life if they are unaware or unaccepting of their level of engagement in it (or more likely, their degree of choice in it).

Once you and your client are aligned as to their level of engagement and have explored their experience of that, determine the client’s ability and willingness to move to a different state. Consider the following questions:

  • On a scale of 1 – 5, how important is what we are working on together? (If it’s not at a 4 or 5, consider asking what would be a 4-5 and how they would like to be working on something more important to them)
  • Why is this important? (You may want to ask this several times – “and what makes that important?” to get to their deepest level of motivation.)
  • What choices do you have to create what you want? What can you control?
  • What state would you like to be in?
  • How would that feel?
  • What would moving to a greater level of engagement give you?
  • What would need to change to create a greater level of engagement?

coaching tool

By walking through an intuitive coaching tool like the State of Engagement, it can help the coach and client to look at the model together and think about the situation from a common perspective. It creates some space for the client to see how and why they might not be getting the results they’d hoped for.

You can use the State of Engagement model to move clients from disengaged and/or unconscious states to Proactive and creating states. Doing so may lead to better results for your client and greater fulfillment for you.

coaching tool

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Top 5 Mistakes New Coaches Make (and How to Avoid Them)

September 22, 2016

All too often I see new coaches struggle to get their business off the ground.

And it starts with focusing on the wrong things. Many times, new coaches focus too much on creating the structure around the business and don’t focus enough on finding the business. Sure, the organizational stuff has to get done, and focusing on the wrong things can be an exercise in self-deception.

In this post, I detail the five most common mistakes I see new coaches make (and some established coaches too) and how to avoid them to create a thriving coaching business.

Wasting too Much Time Getting Your Business Set Up

You probably received lots of advice when you announced that you were going to start your own business. You were likely told that you need to:

  • Write a business plan
  • Create a website
  • Develop a logo
  • Get established on social media

While these tasks do eventually need to be accomplished, they’re not your first priority. Your first priority is to coach. You don’t have a coaching business if you’re not coaching, and you’re not coaching if you don’t have clients. Too many coaches distract themselves with these so-called “necessary” tasks while putting off the truly essential and potentially intimidating work of getting clients.


Initially, I found the process of getting clients to be quite confronting. I felt like I was selling myself (and who would want to buy me?) :(. When I stopped thinking of selling myself and instead gave prospects a sample of the coaching experience, the coaching sold itself. And I stopped feeling quite so scared and quite so unworthy. All you really need to start your business is a solid LinkedIn profile and the courage of your convictions about the value of your coaching. You can tackle the other tasks as your client roster builds.

Lack of a Clear Target Market

It’s easy to think that as coaches, we can coach anyone. While that is true to some extent, we want to be defining our target much more narrowly.

You may think that by narrowing your target, you end up excluding too many people. The truth is that when your target market is clearly defined, people can recognize themselves in it (and their friends and colleagues too). When they see and hear you articulate who you work with, they will feel drawn in because it speaks directly to them.

My target market is 35 – 45 year-old male, CEO/Owners of businesses with $5 – $50 million in revenue. They are high achievers who work hard, play hard and are athletically inclined. Articulating this target market alone has gotten me business. Because it encourages the question, “Why? Why male? Why athletically inclined?” and that’s just the opening I’m looking for. Do I work with clients outside of that narrow target market? Sure, I do. I’m not that crazy! And that target market articulated that way gets me business. It’s my foot in the door.

How do you choose a target market? While there is no single, right answer, here a few aspects to consider:

  • Who you are attracting and attracted to
  • Who and what you are interested in
  • The kind of work you want to do and the environment you want to do it in
  • Who is paying (personal or company) and the impact of that on your earning potential
  • Your past experience, education, skills and what you have to offer the client that’s unique to you

Also, by identifying a clear target market, you create the opportunity for people to refer business to you. Realize that defining a target market too broadly will hurt you more than help you.

Charging Too Much

Your coaching business is, after all, a business. So it’s only natural you will want to make money from it. Unfortunately, I see a lot of new coaches charge too much at the expense of getting valuable experience.

As a new coach, your top goal is to get as much experience as you can. When you forfeit clients because of fees, you lose the opportunity to enhance your expertise in your craft. The key to charging fees that support you is doing work you are proud of. And that only comes from experience.


When I moved to the DC area, I didn’t know a soul and didn’t have a single client. I found my first client on the metro. He was an artist who overheard me telling a friend what I do. He said, “Pardon me, I need some of that.” (I gave him my card and my “artists” rate). My second client was a woman who’d catered an event I was involved with. She said she was leaving catering to head a non-profit. I offered her six free sessions and after, she became my second paying client. My third client, I met because his yoga mat was next to mine. The conversation went something like “You’re a CEO, right? You need a coach, don’t you?” And it turns out, he did. Opportunities to coach are everywhere, and the key is to just get busy uncovering them.

Being a Generalist Instead of a Specialist

If you went or are going through an International Coaching Federation (ICF) accredited coach certification program, you know that the ICF sees coaching as all process and no content. Meaning the coach has the questions (and the structure and the process) and the client has the answers (the content). And that’s what coaching is. And everything else is something other than coaching.

That’s fine. They’re the ICF. They can define what coaching is and isn’t. And I’ve found it’s tough to build a coaching business on that definition of coaching. Virtually every coach I know who makes a living coaching either combines what the ICF refers to as “consulting” with their coaching or they’ve made a career out of coaching other coaches. To be clear, these successful coaches aren’t consulting per se. They are simply incorporating their knowledge of a specialized subject matter into their coaching.

Specializing in a subject matter is another way to differentiate yourself as a coach and provide unique value to your target market. Your specialty can be anything that’s meaningful and desirable to your target market. And you can develop it as you go. (You don’t have to be an expert to start.) Your specialty will help you both differentiate yourself from other coaches AND make you more valuable to your clients.

I have three specialties: 1) understanding the role of the CEO (many new CEOs don’t clearly know what that means), 2) developing functional partnerships (because many of the clients are in partnership with others) and 3) leading with emotional intelligence, because that’s important for pretty much everyone, particularly CEOs. All of these specialties build upon each other, differentiate me as a coach and make working with me much more valuable for my clients, allowing me to charge more.

Being Territorial

My experience is that many people in professional services (including coaches) are surprisingly territorial. If a coach, consultant or other professional has a client, they tend to be very protective of that relationship and not refer in other professionals. The cost to us coaches of being territorial (beyond the lost chance at karma credits) is that we miss the opportunity to develop a close working relationship with a professional in a contiguous space.

A good percentage of my clients have come as the result of referral relationships with colleagues in contiguous spaces – finance, training, leadership development, organizational development, other coaching specialties. I’ve found that clients who purchase one of these services are likely to purchase many of these types of services. One of my clients recently told me that he has seven coaches. Yeah. That’s right. Seven. And one of them I referred to him.

What’s the moral to this? “Do be a Do Bee and don’t be a Don’t Bee.” Huh? Pardon my Romper Room allusion.

Do have an abundance mindset and share the wealth. Identify other types of services that your target market might consume (e.g. personal training, financial planning, nutrition, estate planning, organizational development) and seek out like-minded colleagues in those spaces. Get to know them, what they do, the value they add and how to advocate for them. Then, look for opportunities to refer them. Hopefully, over time, they’ll respond in kind. The good news about so many helping professionals being territorial is that it makes it so easy to spot the few with an abundance mindset.

You have the power to create your own community of advocates. Not only will doing so help you grow your business, you may find that it eases some of the loneliness that can arise when you’re a “single-shingle” solopreneur. It can be lonely at the top. Especially when the top and the bottom are the same place.

Have you encountered any of these challenges in your own business? Feel free to let me know by leaving a comment below.


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