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How Do I Connect With My Heady Client?

November 21, 2017

As coaches, connecting with our clients is a natural thing. We support and advocate for our clients, so why don’t we always connect with them?

I don’t know about you, but I have found that some of my clients are more difficult to connect with than others.  I’ve had clients that were what I call heady, operating mainly from their heads (their thinking dimension). I’ve been challenged to feel deeply, truly connected with them.

A few years ago, a close coaching colleague keenly articulated for me the challenge of connecting with heady people. We were in Rio de Janeiro attending TEDGlobal, having dinner in a loud, traditional Brazilian restaurant. We talked fluidly over a dinner of wine and LOTS of meat and enjoyed a lovely conversation. Then, we happened to see another colleague from the conference, and he sat down to join us.

As we chatted with him, I realized my coach friend, who is legally deaf, could not hear him. She often asked him to repeat himself. When he left, I asked her, “Why is it that you can hear me and you couldn’t hear him?” And she replied, “Because he speaks from his head!”  Remarkable.

Getting Out of The Head

For the most part, we don’t connect with our clients at a head level. So, connecting with our heady clients means getting them out of their heads. But how do we do that? And where do they go instead?

For you somatic coaches, you may take them to their body. I’m not a somatic coach, so maybe some of you who are will chime in here and offer your expertise.   

Trying to shift a determinedly heady client to their feelings may be an exercise in frustration for both coach and client. When heady clients express their feelings, it can often be threaded through their thinking (e.g. ”I think I feel like I want to do something different” – a thinking / feeling / wanting combo pack ☺). They may be left with the sense they aren’t doing feelings right, creating more resistance.

How to get our heady clients out of their heads and in touch with more dimensions of their experience? Invite them to share their internal experience through a tool called an attunement.

Attuning to Connect

What is an attunement? An attunement is an expression of one’s present moment experience for the purpose of connecting.

An attunement invites one to notice and name their present moment experience (e.g. what they are thinking, feeling, sensing, experiencing internally, in real time) and to share that with another.

The attunement serves 1) to bring us into the present (leaving the past behind and the future ahead) 2) to build muscle around noticing and naming our internal experience to continually create greater awareness of self and 3) to facilitate connection, allowing the space for both coach and client to see and be seen, accept and be accepted, empathize and be empathized with.

An attunement invites our clients to move beyond the face they might present to the public and connect with themselves and us in their present moment experience.

How do you use an attunement with a client? One way to use an attunement is at the beginning of a coaching session as a check in.

Here’s how it can work:

  1. Ask your client if they are willing to try something new (getting permission first always helps). You don’t need a bunch of preamble – that would engage their brain more, tempting them to over-think what’s coming.
  2. Suggest that your client close their eyes, ground their feet, and take a few deep breaths.
  3. Invite your client to tune into their internal experience – what they are feeling, sensing, experiencing – in the present moment
  4. Mirror for yourself what you are asking your client to do.
  5. Suggest that your client describe their internal experience metaphorically, using one of the sample attunements below, or one of your own making (e.g. ”If your internal experience was like the weather, what would be a description of the weather you are experiencing right now?).
  6. Then, if you’d like, you can share a description of your internal experience using the same attunement.

For your more heady clients, you may want to leave it at that, keeping the experience extra safe by not probing into their answer. As your client builds muscle around tuning into their internal experience, you may find that your client has expanded their capacity to go beyond their head and into other dimensions of their experience. You may find that you feel more connected with your client and with what they are experiencing.

Hearing More Than Words

I’d been working with Paul for a couple of years when he started talking with me about a pain he was experiencing. Paul was a brilliant young CEO, driven, passionate, generally healthy, though overworked, overwhelmed and overwrought.

Paul would talk about how much pain he was in, with a smile on his face. He’d laugh as I asked him to tell me about the pain, how he experienced it, what was underneath it and what was driving it. Because Paul smiled throughout our session and spoke from his head, I made the mistake of not tuning into how much psychic pain he was in.

One day, he showed up to a coaching session looking drawn, pensive and unsmiling. This was new. So I asked him if he’d be willing to try something different.  He agreed. We walked through the process outlined above, using my favorite “weather” attunement.  He described his weather as a tsunami that follows an earthquake. Only then did I truly understand the magnitude of the pain he was in. I could connect with him in a much different, much more empathetic way.

Exploring the Tunes of Attunement

You can use your creativity and have some fun with attunements. There is no wrong way to do it, so play a little! Here are a few examples of possible attunements to get you warmed up.

  • If you were to describe your present moment experience as a weather report, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a clear, blue, sunny sky on a calm summer’s day.)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience now as a river, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a river after a storm, where there’s a strong current, wakes and swollen riverbed.)
  • If you were to describe your present moment experience as a holiday, what holiday would it be? (e.g. I’m feeling a bit sad so I’m feeling like Veteran’s Day, like I’m feeling a sense of loss.)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience like a sunrise or a sunset, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed so I’m feeling like a sunset that you can’t really see because of all of the clouds.)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience like a color and a texture, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a sandy beach, a little gritty, but warm and happy.)
  • If you were to describe your present experience like a phase of the moon, how would you describe it? (e.g. I’m feeling like a full moon, bold, bright, ready!)
  • If you were to describe your internal experience like a tree or vegetation, how would you describe it (e.g. I’m feeling a bit like a cactus, I’m feeling kinda rigid, sharp, prickly.)
  • What is one word that describe an emotion that you are feeling right now, using a feeling word? (That would be a word that is used to describe an emotion – melancholy, embarrassed, anxious, impatient, frustrated, sad – versus a metaphor – like I want to bury my head.)
  • What is one word that describes how your body feels right now (other than tired)? (e.g. tense, overwhelmed, antsy, full, tingly)
  • If you were to give form to your current internal experience as a character or an animal, what form would you give it? (e.g. I’m feeling wistful like Alice in Wonderland.)
  • If you were to paint the picture of your present internal experience, what would the picture look like (e.g. I’m having a lot of very different, mixed feelings so my picture would look like a rainbow colored checkerboard.)

Start Attuning

Your client will probably never ask you for an attunement. Attuning with self and others will rarely be in anyone’s coaching plan. Attuning is a powerful tool that we coaches can offer. We can create the space and the connection with our clients that leads to meaningful change. So be bold, be courageous, be creative and start attuning!

Do you have an attunement you love or an attunement experience you’d like to share? Please do. If you use one of these attunements for the first time, let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear!

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Posted in: Learning in Action

Your Responses to ‘Does the Client Really Have All the Answers?’

November 17, 2017

We received dozens of responses to our blog post “Does our client really have all the answers?” and we’re grateful to everyone who openingly and honestly shared their thoughts with us. It is clear that this is a juicy question at the forefront of coaches’ minds, your minds. So juicy and important, in fact, we are working to provide time and space to further this conversation via a webinar platform. Stay tuned, details to come.   

Did you miss our initial blog post? No problem, you can get caught up here. 

It turns out, our coaching community has been mulling over this hot button topic of whether coaches should advise their clients or not. And while this topic seems to be at the top of mind, the conversation around it takes many different valuable shapes and forms. With hopes of continuing this important conversation we are sharing a summary of your valuable perspectives. 

Do You Coach Outside of The Lines? 

Overwhelmingly, you answered YES.  You regularly reach beyond the traditional co-active approach by:  1) doing what works for the client with recognition that all clients are different, which calls for a unique approach for each 2) doing what the client hired you for by coaching (mentoring, advising, and educating) them to improve performance, attain goals, and achieve their defined results (whatever they may be) and 3) holding your clients creative, resourceful, and whole – while warning and advising  them if there is a cliff ahead. 

One of you summarized this approach so eloquently:

 “The coach works to create the delicate balance between sharing information that expand the client’s knowledge in combination with questions that enable the client to expand their thinking through reflection, creating new learning that supports their needs and goals.”    

Giving Clients a Nudge

Some of you have found advising, directing, and “a little nudge” are essential to getting your client’s “unstuck.  Here’s what you had to say about offering a little something extra: 

“Some (clients) need to be taken by the hand, guided, and shown some options, even provided with suggestions or advice that they can take or leave, of course. Coaching, for me, is more than just listening and waiting for them to come up with their own answers (or not).”

“Do I ever offer my thoughts?  Sure, when the client runs dry, I’ll ask if I can offer up an idea or if he or she wants to do some brainstorming.”

 “Questions are important. I have gotten MUCH better at asking them. But – it’s not enough, sometimes.”

How Did We Get Here?

Some of you reminded us of the humble beginnings of the ICF core competencies by reflecting on how they were created to intentionally separate the coaching profession, created a platform for incredibly successful coaches, and now can be a springboard for continued conversations in the evolution of coaching:

“The ICF Core Competencies and certification track were developed at a crucial time in the emergence of the coaching profession. We, as a coaching collective, were becoming scrutinized by other professions that didn’t understand how we weren’t treading into their regulated areas and because we didn’t have a self-defined, self-regulated unified body of knowledge with a foundational set of competencies and a way to assess and measure proficiency in them, we left ourselves open as an emerging profession, to become defined by OTHER professions and adhere to outside standards of proficiency.”

The Questions We Are Still Asking Ourselves 

Some important and intriguing questions came up for some of you reflecting on the process of “when it comes to moving away from the client being the one that has all of the answers” including:

  • Where is the line between coaching and consulting?
  • How do we measure a coach’s ability to advise properly and correctly?
  • What if the wrong advice is given and has large repercussions?
  • How do you keep the client from holding the coach in a hierarchal position as the smartest one in the relationship?
  • How do you teach a client to be resourceful when they DON’T have the answers and you are not around as their coach?
  • How do you avoid client dependency on the coach for guidance on how to think and act?

We are inspired by the stories you shared around how YOU delicately balance the tension of self-inquiry around what will serve your client best – advising them in a way that can improve their performance or coaching them toward empowerment, resourcefulness and self-authorship:

“I’ve been doing some pro bono coaching recently for a good friend who is a business owner, and he’s been struggling with how to lay out clear expectations for a staff member who is in charge of all their marketing.  It’s a conversation he’s avoided for a long time.  I tried the coaching approach first – had him walk through pros/cons of having the conversation, asked him how he could approach the performance gap, asked him what’s been holding him back.  He just wasn’t seeing it.  Finally, I told him I thought he was avoiding a conversation he needed to have and that if he wasn’t direct, he was doing his staff member a disservice.  Once I gave him that little poke, he opened up and admitted he was afraid of being vulnerable with her about his lack of leadership.  I told him that vulnerability could increase trust and get the staff member to more readily hear the feedback – what he was avoiding was the very thing he needed to tap into.  Once we had that conversation, I shifted back into coaching and empowered him to build the plan for actually having the conversation.”

Some of you pondered how “the gurus” who have changed millions of lives through coaching fit into the equation. But wait, would Tony Robbins make it through the ICF exam?

“I read an article some years ago that claimed that Tony Robbins with his very directive coaching approach would not be suitable to pass an exam from the ICF. That made me think, that there must be something wrong, if somebody like Tony Robbins and his incredible successful method would fail.”

Where is the Coach in the Coaching?

Finding the space to interject with some “me” seems to be part of your special sauce and an essential way to coach, advise, mentor, educate, and consult your clients on the journey towards their goals (why they hired you to begin with). Many of you have experienced the value of a diverse toolkit when it comes to your coaching methodology:

“Do I provide advice?  You bet your biscuits I do!  I was just speaking to a colleague yesterday about this issue, someone who I have the privilege of mentoring.  I said to her that if a coach won’t be honest with their clients, who will be? When my clients hear about my downfalls or struggles they know that I bleed too, and our relationship is strengthened.  Also, it gives them the opportunity to learn and grow from my experience as well. ”

Another coach shares the importance of giving the client what they are paying for:

“My clients would fire me in a minute if I didn’t inject some “me” into the coaching. With that I mean, they WANT my perspective, shared experiences, suggestions and any resources I have for them. They WANT me to be a partner with them and act as a confident peer where they can say what’s really on their mind and not into a void of endless open-ended questions.”

“I try to default to a coaching approach, but I always have the “consultant” and “mentor” in my toolkit.”  

And finally, while you use a lot of tools in your toolkit, you recognize that the most transformational and valuable life shifting moments for our clients most often come from what our clients discover for themselves:

“Hands down (though), the biggest and most deeply resonating a-ha moments I’ve seen clients have over the years were the ones they found themselves, not the ones I had for them.”

Where Do We Go From Here?

So, now that we know we are all wrestling with this question, where do we go from here? As coaches, it is easy to become siloed and create our own processes. We must continue to leverage what our experience and gut is telling us by walking the line of coach, mentor, and advisor. We must keep pushing the boundaries through engaging in these uncomfortable conversations with the larger coaching community. We must use our voices and experience (with our clients best interest in mind) to successfully shape the future of coaching as a profession.

We invite you to continue to conversation.  Watch for our upcoming webinar to keep the dialogue going.


– Corrie

Corrie Weikle
Director of Training | Learning In Action

P.S. We have several upcoming EQ Profile certification courses. Check out our course catalog.

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Posted in: Learning in Action

How to Price Your Coaching

November 10, 2017


How to Price Coaching

Having met and gotten to know hundreds of coaches, I’ve come to believe that many of us suck at valuing ourselves. Personally, I find myself alternating, in equal measure, between the belief that I should be charging more and the belief that I’m charging too much already!  And idea of talking to other coaches about how much they charge for coaching just feels so taboo.

My belief that I should be charging more comes from my experience of just how challenging it can be to make a living coaching. (BTW, a huge percentage of coaches don’t make a living coaching. According to the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, on average, US coaches made $61,800/year. And unless you live in South Dakota, that’s simply not enough to thrive on.) I’ve coached full time (meaning as a focus for my career, not coaching 40 hours/week) for almost 15 years, have logged over 5,000 hours of paid coaching, completed three coaching programs, (two through Invite Change and one through Adler) and attained the PCC coaching credential (MCC proves to be elusive for me), and though I’m making a living, I feel that in any other profession (attorney, accountant, consultant), I’d be making a LOT more money for my level of experience/education/ability.

My belief that I’m charging too much already comes from this horridly guilty feeling that “OMG, what could I do in an hour that would be worth that?!” (Yup, I’m one of those coaches that sucks at valuing myself.) Logically I know that the value I create for my clients can be significant and meaningful and is, in essence, priceless. And that doesn’t keep me from having some emotional baggage around my pricing.

Taking the Emotional Baggage Out of Pricing

I had the good fortune to take a class on pricing during my MBA program at University of Chicago, from Nobel Laureate, George Stigler. He was a sweetheart of a guy and made pricing a subject that wasn’t just theoretical, but also logical. Even now, as I think about raising my prices and how I get my head around it, I’m grateful to have a framework for thinking about pricing that takes the emotion out of it for me, and gives me the distance to make a logical choice I can feel good about.

Factors to Consider In Determining Pricing

Obviously, there is no one answer to how all coaches should price. That said, there are a set of factors each of us can consider and use as guideposts in creating our own framework for determining pricing we can feel good about, or at least support logically. Below I offer up a way to think about pricing, examples of my own pricing, and other ways of pricing that coaches have shared with me. To be clear, I’m not presenting myself as an authority on this topic. My sincere intention is to help as many coaches as possible value themselves appropriately, make a living coaching, and capture more of the value they create for others.

Who’s Paying

For most services, who’s paying doesn’t matter when it comes to pricing. For landscaping, legal, cleaning, accounting, haircutting services, most everyone pays pretty much the same price (unless, of course someone has buying power that allows them to negotiate the price down). Not so true much for coaching. With coaching, who’s paying really matters in determining pricing (whether it should or not).

In general, companies will pay more (much more) for coaching than an individual will. By way of example, my target market is CEOs/Entrepreneurs/Owners.  I like to coach where business meets personal. So both the individual and the company are paying, as they are the same. A few years ago, I had a C.E.O. client that I was charging the rough equivalent of $250/hour. At the same time, I was coaching his wife (who worked for a Fortune 500 company who paid for coaching) and charging $500/hour. What I offered was the same and what the buyer was willing to pay was quite different. And I did not feel guilty about it, though sometimes I think I should.  🙂

Target Market

While target market is similar to who pays, it’s not the same. For example, the C.E.O. client’s wife I mention above, referred me to her best friend who worked at the same company in a similar role. Her friend didn’t ask or couldn’t get her company to pay for coaching. She couldn’t afford to pay personally the rate I charged the company, but could afford the rate I charged my C.E.O. clients, so that’s what I charged.

While I don’t have the data to prove it, I’m confident in saying that the 70% of coaches who identify as leadership, executive, business or career coaches make substantially more money than the 30% of coaches who identify as life, vision, health, wellness or spirituality coaches. (To be clear, I’m not in any way suggesting that is deserved or related to quality or ability.) It’s simply, IMO, related to target market and who’s paying.

Targeting individuals (or teams) at higher levels at companies with greater revenues will yield (in general) more than targeting individuals at mid-levels or at privately held companies or outside of a company setting. The more money people have access to, the more money they’ll pay for coaching. (I know, obvious, right? And sometimes it needs to be said.)

Years ago, I coached a woman who was a coach herself, had a best-selling book, and was a keynote speaker for Global 1000 companies. Her target market was Global 1000 CEOs and she charged them $95,000 for an annual coaching contract. (Yup and I was coaching her for $250/hr, 2 hours/month. Definitely something wrong there!).


Even though the telephone was identified as the delivery method 68% of US coaches use in the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, geography still matters, even if the coaching isn’t in person. There remains a relationship between coach pricing and the cost of living of the location in which the client resides/works. On average, clients in New York, DC, and LA will pay more for coaching than clients in Texas, Nebraska, or Colorado.

A senior coach who works with high level executives at Big Pharma companies in NY recently shared that she charges $18,000 for a six month coaching assignment. She works with her clients about one hour every other week. (Of course, it’s never that simple. There’s always discovery and development of the coaching plan and maybe a 360. And $18,000 for one client for six months doesn’t suck.) BTW, most senior coaches I talk with in the DC area charge $12,000 – 18,000 for similar six month coaching packages.


Coaches package their services in many different ways, and those differences have some significant implications for long term revenue. Below are a few different ways I’ve learned that coaching is packaged. I’d love to hear from you what I’m missing.

Lump Sum for a Six Month Plan

I would call this a traditional ICF coaching packaging. It’s basically a single price (paid upfront or maybe in two parts, half as a deposit and the remainder at the three month mark) for the completion of the six month coaching plan. Coaching sessions are typically every other week.

The upside of this arrangement is that payment is made upfront for services performed over time. A downside is in six months you’ll be looking for another client, or your client has a big decision to make as to whether or not to spend that big lump sum again.

Coaching by Day/Week

When I was at the Institute of Coaching Leadership Forum last month, I met the CEO of a coaching business in Colorado. He has a staff of 30 employees, all coaches. Borrowing a pricing model from the oil and gas industry, he “sells” coaches to companies for a certain number of days or weeks per month. Those companies can use those coaches for whatever they want – coaching, facilitation, training, interviewing. And they are willing to pay a healthy price to have that coach “on staff.” (I didn’t get the pricing, but he told me his business was thriving and all 30 of this employee coaches were engaged and making good money). Of course, the coaches he employed were like Swiss Army knives, with a number of different tools for a myriad of applications. (That sounds pretty awesome to me.)


About 4 years ago, taking a song from the Vistage hymnal, I made the switch to a membership model for my coaching. My clients pay a flat amount every month (like a gym membership, which is drawn automatically each month using PayPal) for a package of benefits that includes a certain amount of coaching time. The benefits include: 1) invitation to a quarterly dinner/ workshop series – and they still pay for dinner, 2) 360 feedback every six months, and 3) one EQ Profile assessment per quarter (for them or one of their people, and it’s free to me since I own the company).

Coaching time within the membership is typically one or two 55 minute sessions. Most of my coaching sessions are conducted via Skype or phone. If my client prefers to see me in person, they come to me, either at a coffee shop ten minutes from my home or a Regus office suite that is 15 minutes from my home, which I rent by the hour.

The benefits of the membership model include: 1) keeping clients for long, long periods of time because there’s no big decision to make at the completion of a coaching package. (Of the clients on my current client roster, I’ve worked with them on average for four years.)  2) a steady, predictable income stream (I get paid whether I meet with my clients or not. My clients cancel A LOT. And I’m ok with that because I don’t have to pay the price for it)  3) coaching becomes for my clients, less of an event, and more of a habit/lifestyle.

While this model wouldn’t be attractive to some coaches, I love it. My client roster is always full and I have long term, meaningful relationships with my clients. Oh, BTW, I charge $399/month for a package that includes one hour of coaching and $699/month for a package that includes two hours of coaching. Sure, it’s a pittance compared with what I could make if I were working with executives in Corporate America. And having spent decades working in a series of Fortune 500 companies, ending up an SVP at Bank of America, I find working in that environment to be soul-usurping. That said, as I noted before, I am contemplating a price increase. What do you think? (BTW, if you have significant, first-hand experience coaching CEO/Owner/Entrepreneurs I’d love to get your thoughts.)

Performance Based Pricing

Marshall Goldsmith is well-known for his performance-based model of pricing. When I met Marshall last month at the IOC Leadership Forum, he shared a bit of his approach. He does some benchmarking work with his clients upfront, which includes a 360 to determine where they are in terms of their performance. Then he contracts to improve the performance of his clients, on the agreed upon benchmarks. If his clients don’t improve, he doesn’t get paid. Also worth noting is that his contract requires his clients to do what he tells them to do. And when they do, and they improve, he gets $250,000. From every client, every time. (This is where the mic drops.)

Hourly Pricing

Some coaches, usually newly certified, charge by the hour for coaching time, usually for the duration of a contract. Most senior coaches don’t ostensibly price by the hour, but any contract eventually comes down to price for time spent coaching. A direct (and perhaps obvious) correlation exists between how much a coach charges per hour and how much they make annually.

The ICF Global Coaching Study found that coaches making greater than $150,000/year charge an average of $607/hour. Coaches making $100,000 – $150,000 per year coaching, charge an average of $365/hour. That’s a huge difference! So you CAN make a thriving living coaching, depending upon who pays, what your target market is, where they are located and how you package it. (And of course, it helps a lot if you’ve written a best-selling book, have developed your own coaching model and/or have tons of relevant experience.)

We can package our coaching in lots of different ways. At the end of the day, the price for coaching is whatever the client will pay. And the more value we bring as coaches, the more a client is likely to find the experience of coaching and what they get from it, indispensable. What’s important is that we coaches value ourselves and respect the value we are creating for our clients. That way, we can all thrive, making a sustainable, bountiful living doing what we love. (I’ll keep you posted on whatever I decide to do with my pricing)

Would you like to know more about how comparable your pricing is? How other coaches like you price?  (Yeah, maybe it’s taboo to talk about money – and hey if it means that all of us can begin to make a better living as a result, let’s get rebellious!)

If so, complete this brief survey about you, what you offer, and how you price. Once the results are in, we will compile the data, keeping it all anonymous, and share it with you.

We’d love your thoughts on all of this and anything else you’d like to share. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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Posted in: Learning in Action

Coaching Outside the Lines

November 3, 2017

Even though I’ve been coaching for 15 years, I still sometimes ask myself, “Am I doing this right? Do I have permission to do this?”  (No doubt, that’s my doubt showing up.)  And yet, when I look at the World’s Top 30 Coaching Professionals for 2017, it’s clear, to me anyway, that they didn’t ask anyone for permission.  And apparently, they didn’t ask the question “Am I doing this right?” Instead, they opted for figuring out what was right for them and did it.  (And of course, wrote a book about it, got it published and successfully promoted it – which is nice. 😊 ).

The Secret Sauce of Coaching

I don’t know what “My Way” of coaching is, my “secret sauce.”  And I sincerely respect (and am somewhat pissed off by) people who do.   I barely understand my way of coaching well enough to do it, much less write a book about it.  That said, I don’t believe there is any ONE secret sauce of coaching.  There’s a secret sauce we make for and with our clients.  Perhaps if we each could figure out the recipe for our own coaching sauce, we each could bottle it and sell it.  And what feels important is that we coaches create that secret sauce with our clients in a way that brings out not only the best in them, but the best in us, as well.

Coaching Outside of the Lines

I’d only been coaching a few years, when I realized that one-to-one coaching was wonderful and awesome – and not enough for me.   I wanted to do more for my clients…and for me.   Fortunately, while I have my doubts, I’m not afraid to try things.  So I began creating unique coaching experiences that allowed me to express more of myself and granted me the ability to try things with my clients that weren’t possible in the traditional one-to-one coaching model.  

Here I offer you ways in which I’ve experimented with coaching outside-of-the-lines, in the hopes that it encourages you to create coaching experiences that you love and that reflect the uniqueness and wonder of YOU.

Experiences that Inspire

In 2009, the US was in the depths of a recession. My CEO/business owner clients were feeling the devastation of it.  I was desperate to find some way of restoring their hope, reconnecting them with the inspiration of why they do what they do.  So, I organized one of the first TEDx conferences in the US.

Luckily, I stumbled on to Simon Sinek, author of the then soon-to-be-released book, Start with Why.   I paid to fly him from New York to Seattle to be the opening speaker for my conference, TEDxPugetSound.   Simon gave what is now the third most viewed TED talk of all time.

In this TEDx Talk, he presented, to a group of 50 of my coaching clients and prospects in the Georgetown Ballroom in Seattle.  This conference, this experience I created, gave my clients something that traditional coaching couldn’t.  I went on to organize two more TEDx conferences as an extension of my work as a coach.

Expanded Perspectives

The question of whether or not my clients have all of their own answers is one that I’ve wrestled with for years.  And at one point, for better or worse, I determined that if I couldn’t or wouldn’t give them advice, I’d find someone who would.  😊  For many years, I ran peer roundtables through Vistage.   Peer roundtables gave me several opportunities:  to see my clients outside of the traditional coaching setting, to facilitate their receiving multiple perspectives on their internal and external challenges, and to provide them with advice -even if it wasn’t from me!  I still run a CEO roundtable in DC, and love the freedom it gives me to co-create a group coaching experience.

Deeper Learning

By the end of 2014, I’d completed my time with both Vistage and the TED organization.   I was coaching on my own, and acting as an advisor for a company called Netcito that created and supported roundtables for entrepreneurs in DC.   Once again, I found myself wanting to do more for my clients than traditional coaching.   I wanted to go deeper on essential topics, playing with them and exploring them in ways that my coaching didn’t allow.  So I’ve created a quarterly dinner/workshop series for my clients on both east and west coasts (DC and Seattle).

The purpose of these dinner/workshops is to connect people to an idea, to like-minded peers and to a deeper understanding of themselves.   We do that by exploring a single meaningful topic (like shame or anger or the ladder of inference or mindfulness), sharing and connecting through our fears, doubts, and vulnerabilities, and resting in a safe and creative space.  All while eating yummy food and drinking good wine.   It’s pretty much the most fun I have all quarter. (If you’d like to experience a taste of the workshops I do with my clients, and you’re in the Seattle or Boston area, please join us.  We’d love to have you.)

What about you?

My hope with sharing these examples is to encourage you to explore coaching outside of the lines, giving yourself permission to define coaching however you want.   Maybe you already coach outside of the lines. Bravo!   I believe that what the profession of coaching calls on us all to do is to create our lives in a way that we love and that expresses the fullness and preciousness of who we are.   Because when we do, we lead the way for our clients and they flourish as a result!

How do you coach outside of the lines?  How do you make your coaching yours?  What’s your secret sauce?  I’d love to hear it.

Alison Whitmire

President | Learning In Action

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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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